When I once asked the finalists of the APM Project Manager of the Year Award to provide one pearl of wisdom, one piece of advice for their peers, they all focused on the same critical component: People.
Projects are delivered by people in teams. Effective teamwork is the oxygen for any project, of any size.
Successful projects are delivered by effective teams, so how do we create a culture of effective teams? If you are running a project now, what practical action can you take to develop your team into an effective team?
Firstly, what is an effective team? Let’s be clear, teamwork is a group of people working in collaboration or by cooperation towards a common goal (APM Body of Knowledge, 6th Edition).
Some classic management theory suggests that teams go through a number of development stages; Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing (Dr. Bruce Tuckmann). This suggests that all teams reach a ‘performing’ stage but actually many projects are delivered by a group of people treading water in the ‘storming’ or ‘norming’ stages. They never turn into an effective team.
So ask yourself, is your project team an effective team? Are we still discussing who should do what? Are some team members semi-present? Are people pointing the finger at each other? Are team members hiding issues or slow to raise risks? Which of these diagrams best reflect the work your team is doing versus the defined project scope:
People need to see why they are working on something. Consider; “Why am I on this project? I’ve got a million other things to do, this is a low priority for me”.
Ensure all team members see the wider picture, why the project is important and the benefits it will bring to the organisation (& them!).
Often a project has no greater benefits compared to other initiatives, so working to create comradery amongst team members can make all the difference. How does your project team dynamic compare with others?
Differentiate your project and make it feel special, even if the final benefits are on a par with other initiatives.
Structure & Process
Let’s make things as simple as possible for the project team. Let’s have clarity on the defined scope. Let’s have clarity on roles & responsibilities. What role do you expect each team member to perform? This can be subtly different to their day job so make sure you define the role of each team member, setting expectations.
Once everyone understands the scope and their role, then ensure there is clarity on who is responsible for delivering each task. If four people are responsible for delivering a task, then no-one is.
Make one person Responsible for each task, highlight who is going to Support them with completing this work, who might be Approving each task, and finally who do they need to Communicate with. This gives us a variant on the classic RACI Matrix, but with a much more practical CARS acronym.
List tasks that are planned for the next 4 – 6 weeks and apply the CARS definitions so there is absolute clarity on what relationship each person has with each task. Agree start & end dates and your team has clear goals.
Build on this with clearly defined processes for progress updates and issue escalation. The daily/weekly/fortnightly team meeting should happen like clockwork. Same time, same place. It becomes the rhythm or heartbeat of the project.
Each meeting should be very focused; what did we achieve (honestly!) in the last period, what are we therefore planning to do in the next period, and any issues?
In regard to issues, all team members must be clear on escalation routes. If something is going wrong, what should we do? Who do we call? Make this clear so team members know exactly how to respond when issues develop.
An effective team is one where people can lean on each other and be confident that their team members will complete work to the right standard within the agreed timescale. Elite performance team focus on dependability.
This is true within the context of any project team. We need to know that team members will take ownership and complete work.
They should not want to let the team down, this only happens when you are a committed team member. There should be a culture of support and encouragement for team members that might be struggling. When other team members go the extra yard, this builds a stronger team dynamic.
So if you are managing a project team, ask yourself, do I have an effective team? A group of people don’t turn into an effective team by osmosis, the Project Manager has to consciously work to develop this culture.
Think of practical steps you can take and recognise change happens over time; but the shifting sands of change need blowing in the right direction.