Skip to main content

How to Build Your Open Source Dream Team

· 6 min read
Bekah Hawrot Weigel
Developer Experience Lead

We've talked a lot about the challenges of being a maintainer, especially a solo maintainer. But like I say in our recent newsletter, open source is a team sport. But finding the right teammates can be a tricky situation as well. You might not get it right all of the time. And that's ok. Taking steps to make sure you and your project stay healthy can help to create a smoother and more rewarding open source experience. In this blog post, I'll provide a checklist and examples to help you build and manage an effective team for your open source project.

Checklist for Building Your Dream Team

  1. Recognize the Need

    • Is the workload overwhelming for you or your existing team?
    • Are you taking on complex challenges that require specialized expertise that you don't excel in?
  2. Scout for Superpowers

    • Do you have contributors who have consistently shown their commitment and skills through active involvement in your project?
    • Do you have contributors who have demonstrated enthusiasm, a collaborative spirit, and alignment with your project's goals?
    • Do you have contributors who are good communicators, have a good understanding of your project, and receive feedback well?
  3. Invite Your Team Once you've identified people who would be good for the team, extend a formal invitation to potential team members, acknowledging their contributions, sharing any requirements you have, and a list of the responsibilities for the rol.

  4. Grant Appropriate Permissions

    • Assign specific permissions based on the team's role and responsibilities (e.g., triage, maintainer, documentation).
      • You can start with more restrictive permissions and review them regularly as the project evolves.
    • Consider utilizing code owners for different parts of the codebase.
  5. Expand Your Horizons Because open source projects are constantly growing and changing with the community, you should do a regular evaluation of the needs of the project.

    • Identify areas that require specialized attention (documentation, community engagement, etc.).
    • Talk to contributors with relevant expertise, even if they're outside your existing community. (You can use our Contributor Insights feature to understand which potential contributors might be a good fit.)
  6. Onboard New Team Members

    • It's important to clearly define roles, responsibilities, communication channels, and project goals.
    • Set expectations and timelines for their contributions.
    • Consider creating guidelines or documentation to streamline the onboarding process.
  7. Keep Track of Your Team

    • Monitor team participation and contributions using tools like Contributor Insight Pages.

Here's an example of a Contributor Insight Page tracking our Engineering Team:

engineering team activity levels

Using a tool like insights will make it easier to identify when it's time to remove someone from your team due to inactivity.

Handling Team Departures

If there are departures, be respectful and understanding. If you have to remove a team member, communicate the reasons behind the decision privately. Acknowledge the individual's contributions and express gratitude.

Practical Application

As your project gains traction, you might notice an influx of issues and pull requests that become challenging to manage alone. This could be a sign that you need a dedicated triage team. Look for contributors who have consistently demonstrated their commitment by actively participating in issue discussions, providing thoughtful feedback, and submitting well-documented pull requests.

Once you've identified potential team members, extend a formal invitation acknowledging their contributions. For example:

"Hey @contributor-username, I've noticed your dedication to this project through your insightful comments and high-quality pull requests. Would you be interested in joining our triage team? Your help would be invaluable in managing incoming issues and pull requests. Here's a link to our Triage Guide with more information about how we approach triaging."

If they accept, grant them the appropriate permissions, such as the "Triage" permission on GitHub, which allows them to manage issues and pull requests without directly modifying the codebase.

Questions to Help You Build Your Dream Team

Team Building and Management

  • What skills and expertise are currently missing in our team that are crucial for our project's growth?
  • How can we identify potential contributors within our community who demonstrate the enthusiasm and skills needed for our team?
  • What criteria should we use to evaluate the contributions of potential team members?
  • How can we create a welcoming and inclusive environment that encourages diverse contributors to join our team?
  • What are the specific roles and responsibilities for each team member, and how can we communicate these clearly?
  • How frequently should we review and potentially adjust team members' roles and permissions to reflect their current contributions and project needs?
  • What strategies can we employ to keep our team motivated and engaged over time?

Project Governance and Decision-Making

  • How do we make decisions within the team, and how can we ensure this process is transparent and inclusive?
  • What measures do we have in place to manage and resolve conflicts within the team?
  • How can we effectively manage the transition of team members, including welcoming new members and gracefully handling departures?

Community Engagement and Contribution

  • What steps can we take to actively engage our community and encourage new contributors?
  • Can we support contributors who are new to open source? How can we clearly communicate the answer to that question?
  • How can we make our project more accessible to newcomers (if you have the bandwidth), including clear documentation and easy-to-start issues?
  • In what ways can we recognize and reward contributions to the project, beyond code, such as documentation, design, or community management?
  • What platforms and tools can we use to better understand and track our contributors' engagement and contributions?

Project Sustainability

  • What are our long-term goals for the project, and how can we align our team's efforts to achieve these?
  • How can we ensure the project remains sustainable, with active maintenance and development, even as individual contributors' availability may change?
  • What funding models should we consider to support the project's growth and sustainability?

Open Source Best Practices

  • How can we stay up-to-date with best practices in open source project management and governance?
  • What partnerships or collaborations with other projects or organizations could benefit our project?
  • How can we leverage insights to better understand our project's impact and areas for improvement?

Building your open source dream team is more than filling roles; it's about creating and encouraging a community that shares your passion and vision for the project. The right team can move your project forward and enrich the open source ecosystem.

If you like this post, watch our Intro repo where we'll be launching a new intro course for maintainers soon!