University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Building a High Performance Project Team
In order to deliver a high-quality project [one that successfully balances scope, time, and cost] in which the needs and expectations of the users are met, the project team must not only be effective and work well together, but also the project manager must have the ability to lead and manage the team while focusing on people issues. This is often a difficult task since many project mangers are usually expected to lead teams without formal authority. Controlling a project blends the art and science of project management – building a strong, committed team at the same time you are making progress against the plan (Verzuh, 2012).
This means that project leaders should seek to discover and solve problems while they are still small and at the same time monitor progress while putting in place measures to ensure the team’s continued focus on the goals and expectations of the project. Thus, it is critical for project managers to understand that project success does not hinge only on the science of project management, but also on the ability to build a committed, cooperative, and cohesive team. A project manger who exhibits practical understanding of how to evaluate and sustain an effective team performance, along with the ability to identify and quickly resolve key resource issues throughout the project life cycle, is more likely to reach a synergistic potential of the team. Consequently, drawing from contemporary projects, this brief study focuses on distinct human attributes the effects on leadership as the key to the aforementioned controlling activities that ensure that a project evolves in an orderly manner, rather than turning out of control.
2Recruiting Project Team Members
Every project manager plays a pivotal role in building a high performance team. While the leader must consciously invest in building a strong, cohesive team capable of working together, the process of selecting and recruiting project team members vary across organizations. Two important factors affecting recruitment are the importance of the project and the management structure being used to complete the project (Larson & Gray, 2011). However, it is the project manager’s responsibility to optimize the team’s performance regardless of whether he/she gets to choose the team
members or not. Hence project managers must develop strategies that help build a high performance team right from the selection stage. 2.1Project Team Dynamics
Negative interpersonal team dynamics is not only unproductive, but can make a project manager’s job a daily grind of frustration and resentment (Verzuh, 2012). When selecting and recruiting team members, project managers naturally look for individuals with the necessary experience and knowledge/technical skills critical for project completion (Larson & Gray, 2011). However, when identifying project resources project managers more often than not find themselves thinking about who they need rather than what they need. Thus, more emphasis is placed on pervious working relationships. Aside from selecting team members who hold the “right” level of skill and expertise needed to support the project requirements, it is just as important to identify team members who are able to work well with others and exhibit consistent levels of cooperation. These social intelligence skills include the
ability to persuade, negotiate, compromise, and make others feel important (DiTullio, 2010) Consequently, the key to creating a high performance project team lies in understanding and embodying the language-action relationship. This is critically important to building relationships, trust, gaining alignment and commitment to produce breakthrough results (Strategic Momentum, 2006). 3Defining Criteria For Project Team Members
To fully discuss this topic, we must start with a simple definition of a team. Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith define a team in their best-selling book The Wisdom of Teams (Harper Business Essentials 1994), as “ a small number of people with complimentary skills who are committed to a common purpose, a set of performance goals and an approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable” (Katzenbach & Smith, 1993). In other words, as Sarah Cook (2009) suggests, the characteristics of a high performance team therefore are: * A clearly defined and a common shared purpose
* Mutual trust and respect
* Clarity around individual roles and responsibilities
* High levels of communication
* Willingness to work towards the greater good of the team * A leader who both supports and challenges the team
* A climate of cooperation
* An ability to voice differences and appreciate conflict
However, project teams have another characteristic: They will be temporary, formed specifically for the purpose of achieving the goal, after which they will disband (Verzuh, 2012). Thus, to get the people on the team to be mutually accountable to a common goal, trust each other, and be treated with respect while putting in the effort to accomplish a task, the project manager must be able to put the pieces together by establishing strong ground rules and team identity that is built on commitment to a shared goal. In this respect, the criteria is for the project manager to engage his team in simple exercises and hold multiple discussions with the team about the obvious benefits of teamwork by encouraging best practices and innovation for the benefit of stakeholders. 4Developing Trust Among Project Team Members
As noted earlier, projects are temporary endeavors that begin and end, and so do project teams. Managing project teams is even more complicated given the trend towards cross-functional, organizational, and sometimes national boundaries. This unique characteristic only increases the likelihood that the composition of a new project team will comprise of more individuals with little or no previous working relationships. With this in mind, as (Verzuh, 2012) rightly suggests, “developing trust, respect, effective communication patterns, and the ability to maintain a positive relationships despite disagreements takes time. Most importantly, it takes a conscious effort by the project team leader”. Once the project leader understands that high performance teams rarely occur naturally, a strategy must be put in place to help transform the way team members think and act in order to create and maintain the highest level of commitment to the plan.
According to (Strategic Momentum, 2006) conversational dynamics is critical in building relationships and trust. By conversational dynamics they mean the conversational mode used when the project team works together. Project leaders must encourage collaborative conversations among team members since they help build trusting relationships, and are able to effectively deal with real issues, thus accelerated results. Collaborative conversations are open and authentic and they breed mutual respect and commitment. Project leaders can rely on authentic conversations to deal with interpersonal relationships and trust issues. In the event of breakdowns, the focus is on restoring relationships and trust to insure on going alignment and commitment. It is apparent therefore that high performance teams have a culture that embraces trust, continuous review and clarification of goals, robust communication and holding each other accountable (Wagner, 2006). 4.1Communicating Effectively with Project Team Members
Once an atmosphere of trust has been established, the project manager’s biggest challenge is communication and clarity. Communication has long been ranked very high among factors attributing to project success. In this respect, Tom Wagner suggests that the project team leader must ensure the group stays firmly rooted in reality, sets clear goals and priorities, and follows through on all tasks (Wagner, 2006). This means that the entire project team shares the responsibility of all the project goals, and receives relevant and concise information at the right time. This also ensure that team member do not engage in conflicting agendas that arise when team members pursue incompatible objectives. Consequently, when communicating within the project team (Verzuh, 2012), outlines four major communication needs: *
* Responsibility: each team member needs to know exactly what part of the project he/she is responsibly for. * Coordination: as team members carry out their work, they rely on each other. Coordination information enables them to work together efficiently. * Status: meeting the goal requires tracking progress along the way to identify problems and take corrective action. The team members must be kept up to speed on the status of the project. * Authorization: Team members need to know about all the
decisions made by customers, sponsors, and management that relate to the project and it’s business environment. Team members need to know these decisions to keep all project decisions synchronized. 5Leading the Project Team Members
In spite of advances in the project management profession, research studies have shown that many projects fail, underlining the importance of the project manager’s role as manager. Specifically, the manager’s leadership role is of great importance in motivating people and creating an effective working environment in order for the project team to meet greater challenges in today’s global economy (Anantatmula, 2010). In other words, there are four specific elements that help create an effective team-working environment. The leader must establish ground rules that explicitly define expected personal behavior in reference to team values; he/she must build a team identity based on shared commitment and objectives – the
key here is goal and project scope clarity and a solid understanding of team members strength and diversity; a good leader must be able to teach his team to apply the proper problem solving techniques which involves exchange of ideas and thus the ability to listen to different perspectives; and last but not the least, the leader must be able to manage meetings effectively. By conducting team meetings that are actively steered toward the project goals, the team can share pertinent information, coordinate activities, uncover new problems and make informed decisions that produce synergistic outcomes. Ultimately, adding value to the team’s effort should be the goal and role of the project team leader. Defining a clear vision can do this and goal, facilitate a working environment, set clear expectations and responsibilities, and provide the team enough autonomy where they can work and do their jobs with full commitment and confidence (Wikibooks, 2010) 6Managing Challenging and Dynamic Issues and Conflict
It is not an easy task to get a team to jell but the productivity and joy that come with high performance teams are so significant for a project team leader to assume it can occur naturally. According to (Verzuh, 2012), every project team faces two central challenges, two obstacles to becoming a high
performance team. * Project teams are formed to solve complex problems, and they must solve those problems together. * Project teams are temporary and so the must learn to work together.
Thus, it is the responsibility of the project leader to understand these two challenges and harness the problem solving power of a rather diverse team. In other words, it will take a conscious effort on the part of the project manager to transform the team from a loose collection of talent and expertise to a cohesive unit. For the team to produce superior decisions needed to solve complex problems creativity is required. This means that disagreements are bound to occur and hence conflict-resolution skills become essential to make the best decisions possible without jeopardizing interpersonal relationships. Deborah Kezsbom, in her article entitled: (Managing the Chaos:
Conflict among project teams (American Association of Coast Engineers 1989), perfectly concluded, “conflict is an inevitable and necessary part of the project environment. Given the proper atmosphere, attitudes, and training, conflict can broaden perspectives and stimulate innovative and cohesive interactions.” Project managers who realize that preventing conflict is as important as solving them, are likely to be effective. The author went on to recommend the following for improving project leader effectiveness and minimizing conflict: * Communicating key decisions in a timely fashion to project related personnel. * Adapting leadership style to the status of the project and the needs of the project team. * Recognizing the primary determinants of conflict, when they are likely to occur over the project life cycle, and the effectiveness of handling approaches. * Experimenting with alternative conflict handling modes. *
* Proving work challenge to motivate team members.
* Developing and maintaining technical expertise.
* Planning early and effectively in the project life cycle. * Demonstrating concern for project team members.
7The London 2012 Olympics Construction Project
The construction of the London 2012 Olympic park was widely praised for its
successful delivery. With £9.3 billion budget, the Olympic project was one of the most high profile projects one could ever imagine. The project finished on time and under budget much to the delight of its sponsors who according to Sir John Armitt, the man in charge of the team that built the park, knew what it valued, balancing cost and quality, and made that clear to its suppliers. But it was the ability of the project leaders to blend the art and science of project management that prompted some soul-searching about lessons that can be applied to future developments. The value placed on relationships between individuals and organizations working the project was a crucial ingredient in the projects successful delivery. According to a study conducted during the project which focused on the underpinning role of 13 distinct human characteristics – including respect, trust, clarity, motivation, collaboration, openness and fairness – and how these concepts have a practical influence on effective leadership, worker involvement, safety culture, communication, risk management, monitoring and assurance.
The lead researcher Helen Bolt said: “The most important thing we discovered in this research was the value of the relationships between individuals and organizations. Of all the characteristics of the relationships in evidence during the project, the most critical were respect and clarity -they underpin everything, are not costly or difficult to achieve, and can have a significant impact on safety culture and standards.” 8Conclusion
As outlined throughout this paper, project team members are faced with the challenge to work interdependently to achieve defined goals. These goals can be simple or complex depending on the nature and scope of the project. Nonetheless, every project presents peculiar challenges for the team and its leader who essentially make a series of decisions in accomplishing these goals. As the magnitude of interdependencies increases so does the need for the team members to trust one another and rely on refined skills to work collaboratively. Since project teams are temporary, they must learn to work together to reach its synergistic potential. A high performance team does not evolve overnight, it take time and effort by the leader who facilitates the team, establishes a positive working environment and leads the team in learning problem solving as well as conflict resolution skills. It is no secrete that leadership is the foundation of a high performance team.
Whilethere are many constant traits a leader must possess to be effective, there are however, many important components of leading a high performance team that lack a true definition. One of the components of great importance is the ability to be adaptable in your leadership style, and let your leadership adapt and evolve as the team progresses through its developmental stages. Project team leaders must also exhibit the same accountability they demand from the team members and display the energy, attitude and commitment to propel the team forward. Ultimately, communication is the key to all the aforementioned activities. Project leaders spend a great deal of their time communicating. In fact, every project management technique is a form of communication and hence it is crucial to communicate in a timely and effective fashoin among all stakeholders.
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