The whole is equal to the sum of its parts. Likewise a successful project is founded on a strong team made up of proficient team members. The question is: do you know how to build a team into an efficient unit that is able to take on the project at hand?
The chain is only as strong as its weakest link. You may have a sound project management plan, but if the team that is to carry out your plan does not work well together then you have a major problem. The science of project management is founded on the assumption that the project team is a committed and cohesive unit. As a project manager you need to know how to forge your team members into an effective and motivated team.
This article describes not only the importance of cohesive project teams, but also how a positive team environment as well as a collaborative problem-solving team environment combined with project manager leadership will build a strong and successful project team. It is based upon the book “The Fast Forward MBA in Project Management” by Eric Verzuh.
The Importance of Cohesive Teams
A team that does not work well together is a major problem for the success of a project. Not only so, but teams with friction and personality clashes can make your job frustrating and a real chore to go to every day. People often quit their jobs because of negative interpersonal team dynamics. Team relationships matter. Many people would cite good team relations as one the top reasons for project success. Learning the factors that contribute to strong team dynamics has the greatest potential to improve your daily work life experience.
The Demand for Interpersonal Relations
Some projects do not require team members to work together, as they can perform their duties at the direction of the project manager and independent from one another. Other projects require close team cohesion. To gauge your project’s interpersonal team requirement ask the following:
- Must individuals cooperate to complete their tasks?
- Is the final product a whole or individual components?
The answer to these questions determines the degree to which good interpersonal team dynamics is important for your project.
Project Team Challenges
Two obstacles make team work challenging: 1) we all solve problems in a variety of ways; 2) teams are temporary. Some of us solve problems more intuitively while others have a more factual approach. We may focus on the minute details while our team member prefers to examine the big picture. These problem solving approaches may be effective as individuals, but when combined in a team they can create friction.
The project manager’s challenge is harnessing the problem solving skills of a diverse team. The other issue is that teams are temporary, meaning that the likelihood is high that the project team is made up of members that have not previously worked together. Yes, it takes time to develop team trust, respect, and positive communication channels.
Elements of Strong Teams
The three main components of proficient teams are: positive team environment, collaborative problem-solving team environment, and leadership.
Positive Team Environment
A positive team environment promotes trust and respect among team members. A positive team environment is instilled by introducing four elements:
- Stated ground rule expectations about personal behavior that reflect team values
- Commitment to a shared goal, which relies on scope clarity
- Listening skills that enables differing perspectives to be clearly understood
- Effective meetings that include an agenda and steers the team toward its goal
Collaborative Problem-Solving Environment
Project teams must work together to solve problems. Learn to work together by focusing on the following
- A problem-solving process agreed upon by team members.
- Appropriate application of decision making modes.
- Conflict-resolution skills that leverage the conflict to achieve the best decisions and to maintain strong relationships.
- Continuous learning which includes risk taking because of the common understanding that the team can learn from both success and failure.
Leadership is considered the keystone of an arch built upon a positive team environment, leadership, and a collaborative problem-solving environment. The leader sets the tone and must embody the characteristics in the two sides of the arch. It is true; we lead through our actions. The project manager should focus on five areas of leading the team: team health, strategic vision, individuals, accountability, and energy.
Focus on Team Health
As project manager you will have to demonstrate that your project is on time, on budget, and on scope. Not often will you be asked to provide your team-building plan and to demonstrate that your team atmosphere fosters creativity and learning. However, team health is pivotal to the success of the project. So a focus on the well-being of the team is worth the effort and required time you will have to make for your team.
Focus on Strategic Vision
The project manager must focus on the ultimate goal of the project, while team members may focus on the daily short-term problems. The project manager must also ensure that these daily issues are resolved in the context of the main goals of the project. The project manager is aided in this task by the project charter, statement of work, and work breakdown structure (WBS), which describes the deliverables in an organized hierarchy.
Focus on Individual Team Members
As project manager, focus on treating team members as human beings by showing them respect, and recognizing their efforts and successes. Do not overwork them so that they burnout. You treating them with care will help motivate them to put forth the extra effort often required by projects.
Focus on Accountability
Execution is crucial to a project. Project managers delegate responsibility and team members must respond by embracing their role. Project managers set the tone by their own responsible actions. Project managers also hold team members accountable through tough conversations and consequences for nonperformance.
Focus on Energy
The energy you bring to the table is an important motivator. Team members respond in kind, so leverage your energy to get the most from your team. All your actions done with energy will be a visible indicator of your personal commitment to team members and the project objectives.
Team environment is a major factor in work satisfaction. If your project deliverable is a whole product that is dependent upon team member interaction then your project will require a strong cohesive team unit. The two challenges to cohesive team dynamics are the diversity of team members and the temporary nature of projects.
These challenges may be overcome by promoting a positive team environment, emphasizing a collaborative problem-solving environment, and focusing on project management leadership. With these arch stones and keystones in place you will build a strong team and bridge to a successful project.