The CES Guide to: Implementation Teams

The ‘CES Guide to’ series lifts the lid on some of the approaches we use for our work with agencies, service providers and government departments. One of the core areas of our work is supporting implementation of programmes and services. Implementation Teams are widely recognised in implementation science as helping implementation to be successful, and have been used to support implementation across lots of settings from health and social care to education, justice and services for children and young people, or older people.

If you already have teams in place, why would you set up an implementation team?

When you’re looking at introducing a large change it is important to have a team in place to oversee and support the change, and to push it forward. This is where implementation teams come in. They lead change in an organisation or service and provide guidance to others who will be affected by that change. They should not be confused with steering groups and other governance structures – their primary purpose is to implement change. Implementation teams can help in identifying the barriers and enablers to implementation, engaging with stakeholders, building collaboration across sectors and units, and monitoring progress.

Three questions to help you build great implementation teams

The most important factor involved in implementing a change is having dedicated people who can provide direction and support. This may seem obvious, but implementation teams work best when they include a range of skills and competencies. This may include content or subject matter expertise, along with organisational knowledge, implementation expertise and change management. You don’t have to start from scratch and can repurpose an existing team to work on implementation, but the team must have the skills and expertise to implement change. You may need to recruit additional team members.

When setting up your implementation team, ask

  1. Is your team diverse? Do you have the right balance of experience, expertise, perspectives and relationships?
  2. Does your team have decision making authority, or access to decision making authority? This helps the work to progress.
  3. Does your team have the knowledge needed? Grounding the work in a strong knowledge and evidence base is essential.

Tips for effective implementation teams

  • Involve many perspectives but keep it manageable – a team of anything between 3 and 12 is ideal.
  • Appoint a chair who is skilled in group facilitation and has credibility and respect from those involved in whatever is being implemented. The chair does not need to be an expert in the subject but should be comfortable with diverse perspectives and be able to support the team to move forward. Implementation specialists can also bring external support to teams, particularly if large scale, complex change is involved.
  • Clarify the role, scope and mandate of the team – progress is often delayed when people aren’t clear about their role. The same goes for teams. Putting together a simple Terms of Reference document when the team is set up can help to articulate the purpose of the team, and how it relates to other teams and structures.
  • Use evidence and data to inform your decisions – you may already have access to a range of data, or be able to quickly identify gaps. There are lots of ways to gather evidence, from literature reviews through to surveys, focus groups and hard numbers. Grounding your decision in strong evidence can help build consensus, challenge bias and build a compelling case.

Read about how Implementation Teams helped to implement the HSE Nurture Programme.

Interested in sharing your experience of implementation with others? Join the Implementation Network of Ireland and Northern Ireland – a free network to share best practice and learn more about Implementation Science. To join, email

Related Guides


Work with CES

Get in Touch