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Projects rely on teamwork - is team building in your plan?

Projects are made up of a network of interconnected teams, so you need great teamwork in and between teams for them to work.

And if you’ve worked on any projects, you may have experienced the opposite!

Poor teamwork will quickly derail a project and make the project a very unpleasant place to work.

Creating high performing teams is a primary role of the team leader. But your team leaders may not know how, or have the skill, to do that.

If you can’t guarantee the quality of the team leaders on your project, then leaving effective teamwork to chance is risky, as your project success depends on it.

But in my experience, that’s what happens.

The project has a kickoff that covers who’s who, the plan, governance etc and that’s normally about it. Allocating any more time to really build the teams is left to the team leaders' discretion and skill.

And the odds are stacked against great teamwork happening ‘naturally’ on projects as

  • The teams need to be effective quickly so they can crack on with the plan.

  • The start of the project is a time of high complexity and uncertainty which can be stressful in itself, let alone having to find your way with a new team.

  • The team is often made up of very different types of people with different skills, objectives, and ways of working. And that makes misunderstandings, misaligned expectations and relationship issues much easier!

What can you do?

Develop leadership skills and emotional intelligence throughout your organisation

And maximise the chance of your ongoing project success and the ability for your organisation to change. I talk about that more in this blog.

Build time at the start of your project to focus on team building

  • Make sure that EVERYONE understands what makes a good team

  • Encourage the whole team to take responsibility for role modelling good teamwork

  • Set aside time for each team to get to know each other, understand each other and establish their ‘ground rules’. The behaviours that they will all commit to for the duration of the project. And do the same between teams. Each team is a team member of a wider team and they need to establish how they will work together too.

What makes a good team?

Through my own experience, analysis of that and research, I've come up with five essential ingredients that need to be in place for high performing teams that feel great to work in.

People need to understand them and you need proactive action to establish them, supported by the team leader, and possibly some team coaching.

Team coaching can help accelerate team building as well as help to address any performance issues that pop up later on in the project.

My 5 essential ingredients for high performing teams that feel great to work in (and the questions they answer) are:

  • Good team relationships and a psychologically safe environment - What’s it like to work here?

    • This is the most important ingredient. If you have this, you can figure out the rest.

    • This relies on the attitude of each team member and the relationships between them.

    • Teams need a trusting, collaborative and supportive environment to do their best work.

  • Common team purpose - Why are we here?

  • Clear roles and responsibilities - What does everyone do?

  • Agreed ways of working – How, when, what if…?

  • Clear inter-team dependencies – how does our team work with others?

    • This is about establishing the first four ingredients for the team in its role as a team member of its wider team(s).

You can find more details in these blogs and you’ll see that the last one covers what you can expect when these ingredients aren’t established.

Some of those ingredients are naturally covered in the project kick off or by governance arrangements, but not all.

I would encourage you to think about the teams that you’ve been in. The good, the bad and the downright ugly.

What difference did the existence or absence of any one of these make to

  • how well the team performed, or

  • what it felt like to work in that team?

The last ingredient of establishing clear inter-team dependencies is one that is often overlooked and that leads to various issues on projects.

For example

  • Siloed working. As an example, I worked on one project where there were two teams who never really established the four ingredients between the teams. This meant that both teams often tried to take responsibility for the same thing. Things also got missed and more time was wasted blaming each other, arguing and trying to put things right.

  • In ERP projects, this missing ingredient can also lead to siloed design and end to end business processes that don’t really work for the people involved or the business as a whole. E.g. A process that is great for the sales teams may not give finance the information they need to invoice the customer.

  • It’s absence can also lead to poor communication and frustration. For example, you may have a key business leader or stakeholder and never agree who has the responsibility for the relationship with them. This means that person may get bombarded with requests for meetings and information by many different people on the project. The leader may also get conflicting messages about the project from each different person. This can make the project team appear disorganised and damage the leader’s confidence in their ability to deliver.

  • Aligning the purpose of each team to the overall goal is also really important on projects. How do all the individual teams come together to contribute to the wider team or the project goal? How does one team's delivery impact another's ability to fulfil its purpose? In technology projects in particular, teams sometimes focus on creating a perfectly formed solution when what the business really need is something that’s just workable or more cost effective.

So remember

If you want project success,

you need to build in time to build your teams

Don’t leave it to chance. Give everyone on the project the information they need to build a great team and give them the support to help them do that.

And if team issues arise, look to the five ingredients to see where the problem lies and get yourself a team coach to help the team get back on track.

If you’d like to explore this topic with me further, please book a free call.

And if you’d like to subscribe to my monthly email so you don’t miss any of my blogs, you can do that here.


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