From time to time on this blog forum, I have talked about PMBOK (Project Management Book of Knowledge) as an industry standard on areas of PM responsibility and best practices. To continue my journey through the book, I would like to talk about an area that is often overlooked but critical to project success: Building a Team.
A collaborative team functioning effectively provides an essential ingredient in successfully executing a project. I know senior project managers who believe a team is more effective and productive than even a group of superstar players in getting the job of a project done well. However, turning a loosely affiliated group of people into a team requires skill and intervention by the project manager.
A bit later in this post, I will talk about the wisdom gained from PMBOK on human resources and building a team. Before that, let me stray for a minute into a world where building a team is quintessential to success and survival – coaching. Whether you are coaching peewee football or a professional sports team, the coach (read project manager) creates an environment, a set of rewards and punishments, and acts as a role model that makes being a team possible. Successful coaches also say inspiring things like:
“Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” Vince Lombardi
"Good teams become great ones when the members trust each other enough to surrender the Me for the We." Phil Jackson
“When you’re part of a team, you stand up for your teammates. Your loyalty is to them. You protect them through good and bad, because they’d do the same for you.” Yogi Berra. Of course, Berra also said, “Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical.” (So, he probably would not have been hired on any IT projects!!).
My first thought for a new project manager or a project manager with a new team is, BE PATIENT. It takes time for a team to gel. A project manager should act as a facilitator and coach to get things going in the right direction.
Building a software development or project team from scratch begins with breaking down natural barriers to camaraderie that come from a lack of knowledge. This is especially true when you use staff from many organizations including external companies. So, begin building the team by providing an overview of the project goals, the execution time frame and the roles of the players. In the beginning, you will be more directive – then later in the process you will switch to a facilitative role, when the team-based momentum can carry the ball.
Another characteristic of teams is that they have fun when things are not serious. Having fun together builds relationships that support working effectively together (read my post on projects and fun). To the extent possible, add some fun to a regular project meeting and keep a relaxed and open communication style. It is not necessary to go off together to a resort to build a team. However, taking lunch together occasionally or having a treat brought into a meeting helps.
The project manager and coach should reinforce team-like behavior through praise and reward.
- Do not reinforce behavior that works against the team by picking favorites or reinforcing negative behaviors through your attention.
- Demonstrate trust by trusting.
- Celebrate successes, even small ones.
- Resolve conflicts fairly with a constant eye on the desired result – meeting objectives on time and within budget.
The last thing I will say about building a team culture is that it is easier when you have face-to-face contact on a frequent basis. As the project manager, you will have to be more creative and work harder to build a sense of team when players work remotely. There are several posts on managing remote and virtual teams as well as tools in this blog if you need to do some reading on the subject.
Guidance on Team Building and Human Resources from PMBOK
The Project Management Book of Knowledge in chapter 9 “Project Human Resource Management” makes it clear that the project manager is responsible for the team, not a team member. It is your job to develop team competencies, facilitate team interaction and create an overall team environment to enhance project performance.
You are responsible for developing training plans for project members to gain competencies needed to execute the project. By the way, attending training together helps build a team. You can schedule team building activities that include informal communication and trust building activities during the first five minutes of regular status meetings.
Remember: You must handle project problems as team issues.
You should reward appropriate behaviors that help the team reach its objectives. Decisions on recognition and rewards should be part of the Human Resources Plan developed before work begins on the project. The PMBOK cautions you to take into consideration both individual preferences and cultural differences in creating a project reward system. Rewards include not only monetary compensation, but (more importantly) also recognition and opportunities to grow and apply skills to meet new challenges. Remember that rewards given during the project are more useful in shaping behavior on the project than rewards given at the project’s end.
If you have had any training in small groups then you understand the formation of teams – the PMBOK describes the process of building a team as:
- Forming – team meetings to learn project objectives and meet each other
- Storming – begin project work, develop detailed plans and make technical decisions. With strong personalities and individual competencies in an environment of under-developed trust in one another’s skills this can be a contentious time
- Norming – work habits and behaviors have adjusted to support the team
- Performing – the team is well organized and working through issues smoothly and effectively
- Adjourning – work is completed
So bottom line is that you should think about the human component of a project team when you are the PM and not just leave it up to the organization or HR staff. If you have had successful in building teams, please share some tips.