Assembling the Team - Project Management

One of the most important activities you'll perform as a project manager is managing and leading the team. You've created the Planning documents and gotten approval for the budget, but you will have difficulty keeping the project on task and on time without a smoothly running team. And guess who's responsible for putting the team together and keeping team members motivated? You guessed it, the project manager.

Projects exist to create a unique product or service, and they require the cooperation of a team of folks to do the work accurately and completely. Aside from the robots on Star Wars and those found on some factory floors, most project teams will be made up of people. And here's the tricky part: Team members are people and all people come preloaded with personalities, biases, work ethics, abilities, and so on. It's your job as the project manager to manage these folks and channel their energy into getting the work of the project completed.

One of the activities that will help your team function effectively is team building. Team building starts in the project Planning phase when you begin to assemble some of the key team players, and it continues throughout the life of the project. Team-building activities help improve your team's performance and keep team members motivated. Team-building activities can be elaborate or simple.

You could consider throwing pizza parties as team-building activities or taking the team out to a ball game one afternoon. You could hire consultants to come in and host team-building activities or take the entire team offsite to a rope course or similar team-building activity. There are many books available on team-building activities, and it's beyond the scope of this book to go into all the possibilities. I encourage you to engage the help of consultants who are specialists in this area or read some books on the topic. Engage your team, encourage participation and open communication, and find out what motivates them to perform at their best.

We've already identified the types of skills needed to complete the work of the project in Chapter , "Planning and Acquiring Resources." We've also assigned some of the key individuals to the project team and used their expertise to help create the project schedule, determine estimates, and so on. Now it's time to identify all the other team members and bring those folks together and get them started on the work of the project. We've already covered how to negotiate for team members and the importance of assuring their availability for the time you've scheduled them on the project schedule. Let's take a look at what happens when you get all these people together in the same place.

Project Team Kickoff Meeting

Now it's time to get everyone together in a room and get the work of the project started. The kickoff meeting with the project team includes those folks who are going to do the work of the project. This is a different meeting than the project kickoff meeting we talked about after the charter was signed. That meeting included the stakeholders, the project sponsors, etc. This meeting is for your project team.

The purpose of this meeting is to lay the groundwork for the project. Not only will you inform the group of the goals of the project at this meeting (among other things), you'll be setting the example for what's to come in future meetings. Start this meeting off by sending out an agenda ahead of time. Let everyone know you intend to start promptly, that you'll be requesting them to participate in the meeting, and that you're sticking to the agenda.

At the first meeting, allow time for all the team members to introduce themselves and spend a minute or two describing their role on the project. You will take it from there and discuss the following information:

  • Project goals and objectives
  • Critical success factors
  • Deliverable due dates
  • Project schedule
  • Task assignments
  • Task due dates
  • How to alert the project manager of problems or issues
  • How and when to turn in status reports
  • Dates of future team meetings

It's critical that this first meeting convey the information shown in the list above and that the team members understand what you've told them. Ask them for feedback and ask them to confirm that they understand the project goals.

It's also important that team members understand from the get-go what you expect out of these meetings. Don't let them carry you down rabbit trails, but do allow time in your regularly scheduled team meetings to discuss status, problems, and what they expect to accomplish during the next time period before you meet again.

Now that everyone has been introduced, it's time for them to start working together. Once they do, they'll progress through several stages of team development, which we'll look at next.

Four Stages of Team Development

The process of team development and team building seems very simple—bring a diverse group of people from inside and outside the organization onto the same team and get them to work together in the most effective and efficient way possible. While this is easier to say than it is to do, there are ways to make it happen.

One of the first things to recognize when working with your project team is that they'll progress through several stages of development. These stages occur with any group of people who work together, and it doesn't matter whether the people know each other or not. In fact, many times your project team members will not know each other prior to working on the project. You'll want to make certain that you hold project team meetings to allow the team members time to get to know one another and to progress through the stages working as a group. It's important for you as the project manager to understand these stages so that you can help them progress to the most effective stage of development. Let's take a look at the four stages of development.

Stage One: Forming The forming stage occurs when all the team members have been brought together and introduced. Here they'll be told about the project objectives, the tasks they've been assigned, and the expectations the project manager has regarding the project and the team. At this point team members are asking themselves several questions, including:

  • Why have I been assigned to this project?
  • What's expected of me?
  • What roles do the other team members have on this project?
  • Will I be able to successfully complete the assignments given to me?
  • Will I get the resources I need to perform the job satisfactorily?
  • Can I work well with the project manager?

During this stage of team development people will be somewhat reserved. They'll usually be polite and have a formal business approach communication style. Teams progress through this stage rapidly.

Stage Two: Storming The storming stage is where the team starts to realize what the work of the project entails. The team members become more comfortable around one another and start challenging one another for position and status within the team. Then the sparks start to fly. Conflicts arise about the task assignments, and team members start asking these types of questions:

  • Who is going to do what?
  • How will the work get completed?
  • What process should we use to do the work?
  • Who should do it?

You'll know you've entered the storming stage when conflicts start to occur.

We'll discuss some conflict-resolution techniques in the next section that you can use to help the team work through these issues. Remind the team of the project goals and keep everyone centered on those goals. Conflicts aren't bad in this case; they're actually necessary to get the team into the next stage. Team members need to get a feel for where they stand, where the extent of their responsibility lies, and how they'll accomplish their tasks working with the other personalities of the team, and that usually involves some tussles. Questioning and conflict help clarify the goals of the project for everyone on the team, not just the person in conflict, so encourage your team members to ask questions and discuss conflicts openly. But you won't progress to the next stage until the team has resolved the conflicts.

Note:Some teams never progress out of the storming stage. It's difficult to manage a team in this stage, and it could have a negative impact on the project if relations are particularly nasty among team members. Consider replacing team members who are not cooperating or are the cause of unnecessary conflicts if the team doesn't seem to be making any progress.

Stage Three: Norming The norming stage is where the team starts to calm down, settle in, and do the work of the project. They know what's expected of them, and they have accepted and understand the goals of the project. The team members are comfortable with one another and with their own positions within the team, and they'll exhibit affection and familiarity with one another. Conflicts subside, and the team members confront the project concerns and problems instead of one another. And they make decisions jointly, getting input from all the team members.

Continue to hold team meetings, especially during this stage, because team members can fall back into the storming stage if left to their own devices. Monitor each team member's participation, and encourage the team to continue to remain focused on the project's goals and alert you of any problems as soon as they arise.

Teams in the norming stage are efficient, functioning teams. If your team has progressed to this stage, they'll likely be productive and work effectively toward meeting the project goals. But they still aren't performing at their absolute best— that happens in the next stage.

Stage Four: Performing The performing stage is the most mature stage of all the development stages. The team functions in the most productive and effective ways possible.They support one another, they monitor themselves, and they achieve great things in this stage.Teams that operate in the performing stage are almost unstoppable.

However, not all teams make it to this stage. If you're lucky enough to manage one or two teams during your career that are functioning in this stage, you'll never want to work any other way. There's a harmony and a synergy among the team members and in their relationship with you that cannot be duplicated.

This stage cannot be forced. It happens because team members have mutual respect for one another and for you and are fully dedicated to the goals of the project. They've accepted the project as their personal responsibility and hold themselves accountable for doing the job well.

The most effective teams perform at stage four. As we stated, you can't force this stage on the team. There are some things you can do as the project manager to help the team progress to this stage, though, including communicating effectively, asking team members for input, and using effective conflict-resolution techniques. Each of these ideas is recapped below.

Communicating effectively: Schedule regular team meetings and individual meetings with each team member. Encourage them to bring concerns and problems to the meetings. Be certain to inform the team of anything that impacts them directly as soon as possible.

Soliciting input: Ask team members to participate and contribute. Teams that feel they have some control over the project and project decisions will be more productive than those that feel they have no control. The project manager can give them decision-making authority over day-to-day activities to help encourage support and buy-in.

Resolving conflict effectively: Encourage the team to try to resolve their own conflicts as they arise. Whatever they cannot resolve on their own should be escalated to you. Encourage the team members to voice their concerns and attempt to reach mutual agreements concerning alternatives whenever possible. Remember to start by getting all the facts, and then examine the facts for possible solutions.

Effective Team Characteristics

Effective teams are those that function in the norming or performing stage of team development. They're energetic and enthusiastic about the work of the project, and they become good problem solvers. Effective teams are a joy to work with and will amaze you with their creativity. Encouraging individual participation, maintaining an open-door policy, and engaging the team in team-building activities will go a long way toward making your next team a smoothly running team. We'll talk more about the project manager's role in team development in a later section. Some of the characteristics of effective teams are shown here:

  • Good conflict resolution
  • Enthusiastic commitment to the project
  • Dedication and commitment to the project team members and project managers
  • Creative problem solving
  • High job satisfaction
  • Productive team members who have a sense of belonging and purpose
  • Enhanced communication
  • Decisions made jointly by all team members

Dysfunctional teams operate with the opposite characteristics of effective teams. This is not the kind of team you want on your next project. Be aware of the warning signs of dysfunctional teams shown below:

  • Status meetings that turn into gripe sessions
  • Lack of motivation and apathetic attitudes
  • Team members not finding the work of the project satisfying
  • Poor communication
  • Lack of respect for one another
  • Lack of respect for the project manager

I've had the experience of working with both types of teams, and the effective team is much more fun to work with. Successful project results happen because of the energy and focus the team pays to the project goals. Problems are resolved effortlessly, and everything just seems to click. Dysfunctional teams, on the other hand, take up all of your time and all of your energy, and there is little benefit in return. Sometimes you have no choice but to tough it out with the team you've been given, even if it is dysfunctional.

If you're working with a dysfunctional team, my best advice to you is to get your team into team-building activities and open up the lines of communication. Also consider whether your team members are misplaced. Do they need training? Have they been asked to perform tasks they aren't prepared to work on? Do they have the resources they need to perform the task? If team members don't feel as though they're prepared to handle the tasks they've been given, or they don't feel like they're a valuable part of the team, they'll likely take on "don't care" attitudes, which leads to dysfunctional teams.

Note:A poor attitude is like the common cold. Once one member of your team catches it, they all catch it. You'll want to cure or help prevent a poor attitude before other team members catch it.

You can help prevent and correct your team's dysfunctional behavior by following the guidelines outlined in the next few sections of this chapter.

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