Typically, when you have a project that you need to staff, you pick the person or people who you deem to be the most qualified and assign them to do it. While this top-down method is an efficient way to get the ball rolling, it shortcuts a valuable feedback loop as well as an opportunity to build a stronger team.
When Behance CEO Scott Belsky and I recently interviewed Long Tail author and WIRED editor-in-chief Chris Anderson for Scott’s forthcoming book, Anderson outlined his bottom-up approach to staffing new projects. Anderson: “If one of my projects can’t attract a team, I pretty much figure that there’s something wrong with it. With a parenting site called Geek Dad, I gave myself six weeks to build a team. If I didn’t build a team around it, I was going to be out of it. Fortunately, I did and now it’s all team.”
Anderson’s example emphasizes two key benefits of voluntary staffing that you don’t get with top-down assignments: useful preliminary input and passionate ownership. If you assign a team to execute on a project without first gauging their interest and gathering their feedback, you may miss a valuable opportunity to refine the idea behind the project or to understand why it shouldn’t be executed on at all. The inability to attract a constituency should not be seen as a shortcoming of your team, but rather of the project itself.
Perhaps even more important, though, is the level of passion that you gain by allowing employees to self-select into the project. It is the leader’s job to put the project idea out there, to explain the reasoning, and to evangelize it. Then, if the idea is ripe, the right team will step up to own it. By allowing a team to emerge more organically, you are more likely to foster enthusiastic ownership – the single most effective way to ensure that your project will be well-executed.
***The Behance team researches productivity and leadership in the creative world. These entries are adapted and edited by Jocelyn K. Glei from the Behance team's past articles and research. Behance runs the Behance Creative Network, the Action Method project management application, the Creative Jobs List, and develops knowledge, products, and services that help creative professionals make ideas happen.