How to Build an Effective Team Environment27 January 2015

Project Management

High-performing teams are necessary for optimal project outcomes, and establishing an environment where team members are performing at their best starts with trust.

Your organization might appoint a team to oversee an important cyber security project, for example. But whatever its goals, members of every team have their own communication styles, work habits, motivations, and career agendas. The team leader – usually the project manager (PM) – is tasked with having members come to trust one another. The sense of mutual trust is the driving force behind the successful performance of any team.

Here are some things project managers can do to help teams excel:

  • Ensure each member of the team has clearly defined goals and understands his or her role and responsibilities. When team members are encouraged to do their best and are motivated about a project, they are more likely to do whatever is necessary to improve their individual skills so they are more efficient and effective in performing their assigned activities. Moreover, when team members understand the importance of interacting with each other, they are more willing to identify and proactively deal with issues jointly. Project managers must also ensure that work distribution among team members is fair and equitable.
  • Encourage member discipline. Members should participate in all required meetings, take their assigned tasks seriously and continuously strive to improve their skills.
  • Ensure the team has a clear decision-making process delineated. High-performing project teams are empowered to make decisions or are included in decision-making processes. This is the essence of team project ownership.

The Four Phases of Team Development
A new team will progress through the classic four phases of team development: forming, storming, norming and performing. There are unique activity types for each phase that are appropriate to encourage team growth leading to the desired high-performing team.

For large teams, to kick start the process it may be beneficial to draft an actual documented team plan or charter. One reason is to document a team’s mission, processes, roles and responsibilities, membership, operating procedures, empowerments and basis for any internal team metrics for self-monitoring.

Another reason is to foster stakeholder buy-in to the team concept by: 1) including all team decision-makers in the plan/charter development process and 2) having them actually sign their concurrence on the final plan/charter for commitment. A team plan or charter may also include the designation of a team name and/or logo to further promote team identity on large teams, but this not a requirement.

Team Environment Chart

Often an organization will draft a single policy that addresses the required processes, organizational roles and responsibilities, required membership/representation, operating procedures and empowerments for virtually all teams. This eliminates the need for each team to develop a unique plan/charter. This helps to provide standardization to the operation of project teams but takes away from the effectiveness of the plan/charter development process in guiding individual teams through the “forming” phase of development.

The PM should specifically consider implementing some or all of the following activities to encourage the development of effective team characteristics:

  • Identification Activities. In the early “forming” stage of a project or project team development (if they have not worked together before), activities to build a team identity and sense of mutual respect are important. Activities include kickoff meetings with introductions, definition of the project mission, development of a team directory, “ice breaker” social events, and development of team operating rules.
  • Conflict Management Activities. During the “storming” stage, team members begin to assert themselves. Control issues often emerge. Personality differences also begin to arise. The use of delegation and conflict resolution activities will assist the team to manage its problems.
  • Team Development Activities. During the “norming” stage, the team should begin to work productively, without worrying about personal acceptance or control issues. While there are still conflicts, they tend to be focused on process issues rather than personality differences. Actions should be taken specifically to concentrate on and improve the performance of the entire team. Activities can range from short items on a meeting agenda to off-site activities. Team development activities provide opportunities for team members to improve their interpersonal and working relationships, eliminate barriers and also provide opportunities for recognition.
  • Team Recognition Activities. In the “performing” stage the PM needs to “stay out of the way” of the team and let it manage its own problems in most cases. In this stage, the team is working at optimal productivity. It is collaborating easily, communicating freely and solving its own conflict problems. Team members feel safe in reporting problems and trust their fellow team members. Recognition of team performance is important. Activities need to be focused to promote, encourage, and reinforce desired behavior or exceptional performance.

Whether tasked with heading up a crucial data-security project, managing a major new client initiative or given some other goal, effective teams are necessary to any organization’s business objectives. And teams work optimally when leaders are deliberate about how they’re composed, and how they proceed. For more information about how you can build an effective team environment within your organization, contact North Star Group.

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