Project managers don’t usually have a specific budget for team development, and yet, as the PMBoK says, teamwork is a critical factor for project success, and developing effective project teams is one of the primary responsibilities of the project manager.
Of course, there are many dimensions to team leadership. However, this article looks at just one aspect of this – how to balance the competing imperatives of work delivery versus team development.
Blake & Mouton’s ‘managerial grid’, which classifies leadership style according to the variables of ‘concern for production’ and ‘concern for people’ is over 50 years old, but still provides a useful framework for thinking about the best leadership approach.
Production or People?
Over-concern for production (Line 1 in the diagram) may produce results, but don’t be surprised if no-one in the team wants to work for you ever again.
Concentration on people-aspects alone (Line 2) may make you popular, but work discipline (sometimes forceful!) is generally necessary to drive results.
Is it possible to steer a direct course between the two?
Well possibly, but most experienced leaders realise that the course should not be direct, but, instead dependent on context (Line 3).
Forming, norming, storming, performing, adjourning, provides a basic framework for assessing the context (Tuckman). It seems evident that significant effort must be put into developing the project team during the forming stage, but development processes must be integrated into ongoing project activities, and the project manager must always be alert for symptoms of the team regressing into storming or project fatigue leading to adjournment.
When this happens, the curve should certainly switch back towards concern for people.
Team Member to Project Manager at meeting setup: All the presentations are set up and ready to go, but it looks like the coffee hasn’t arrived yet.
Project Manager: We don’t have a budget for coffee.
Sadly this happened. There was only one thing that the participants remembered about the launch meeting.
So what practical things can we do to integrate ‘concern for people’ into our everyday project team activities?
One approach is to build some aspect of team development into every project team activity, be it a kickoff, planning meeting, risk review, monthly meeting or whatever.
Over the last year, in the course of supporting companies with their project management, I have canvassed experienced project managers in how they achieve this.
I have a list of over 50 suggestions, some of which I’d like to share here. I’ve tried to categorise and consolidate where possible:
Team Building Best Practices
- Social – Monday breakfast, charity events, JCB day out (if it’s engineers then they like nothing better than seeing big machines 😊), Friday samosa day (!) Escape Room (better than LaserQuest as it’s a team experience). Tip: be careful about the over-physical – many people aren’t motivated by swinging on a rope above a gorge.
Cross Team Understanding
- Vary locations, e.g. workshop, off-site.
- Off-project presentations (e.g. STEM, latest developments, feedback from training attended, safety share before a meeting, spare-time interests).
- Presentation on a team member’s area of expertise.
- Shadowing other team members to understand roles.
Our new project manager, over from the US, insisted on starting each meeting with a ‘round-table share’. Everyone had 2 minutes to say what was on their minds, whether work or otherwise.
At first, we hated the idea, but the truth is that it worked well and got the meeting up and going. We stopped doing it when the project manager went back to head office though, and we’re back to our old unproductive meetings.
TIP: Team development does not happen of its own accord, but needs active commitment.
Better Team Management
- Physical meetings where possible.
- This week achieved / Next Steps/ Risks/ Help Needed cycles.
- Agree written role boundaries so that there is no confusion/ conflict.
- Remove pressures where possible. Think about what helps individuals, e.g. meetings at a convenient time of day, a coffee machine etc.
- Actively gather and disseminate lessons learned and process improvements. Take time to review meeting quality.
- Meet individuals and understand their perspective and motivations.
- When promises are not met, find out why – does team member know the importance for example?
- Remember cultural differences.
Team Identity & Focus
- Communicate (and continue to communicate) project objectives and vision. Continuously communicate vision & explain the why (‘this means that…’).
- Try to increase the feeling of responsibility as well as buy-in.
- Create a visualisation centre (physical or virtual) and keep it up to date.
- Make time for brainstorming ideas.
- Emphasis worth of projects so that there is a motivation to share knowledge.
- Take time to communicate to ‘old-heads’ that this project might have special requirements and it cannot simply be treated as ‘business as usual’.
- Explain and engage — for example, targets, reasons decisions.
- Share successes, and failures as opportunities to learn.
PM: At the very first project core team meeting I went to, our manager started the meeting with a simple communication exercise, involving playing cards and some boards. It seemed so simple (and to be honest we initially thought it to be a bit trivial), and yet I remember to this day how one team member would say ‘left’ and another hear ‘right’, or one member say ‘Ace’ and another hear ‘Eight’.
It drove home to the team the challenges in communication that we were going to have during the project. I’ve repeated this exercise, or similar, literally in every project I’ve run for the last 15 years.
- Give feedback on teams and individuals.
- Communicate the impact of team members’ work.
- Agree SMART objectives
Drive Better Senior Management!
- Protect the team from poor senior management so that it does not damage motivation.
PM: It was a great project review meeting: we’d made good progress and had jointly come up with workable solutions in the areas where we had some issues. Everyone was fired up. That is, until a senior manager, who had asked to attend the meeting, used the 5 minutes at the end of the meeting to berate the team for some expenses items that ‘contravened company policy’. It was some unreceipted claims for coffee. My team had been working upwards of 50h per week on this project.
Remember – the key to project success lies in balancing concern for production with concern for people. As suggested above, it is not difficult to do this but does need commitment, motivation and action from you as a project manager.
For more information about how to develop better project team, check our Certification on Adaptive Leadership and our course on Building Effective Project Team.