Projects are collaborative efforts. So, if you want your project to be a success, you need to be able to create effective teamwork.
This is at the heart of your role as a Project Leader. You need to bring people together, facilitate great communication, encourage the right attitudes, and harness the best that effective teamwork can deliver.
So, in this guide, we’ll look at all of that with a practical eye, and ask:
What can you do, as a Project Manager, to create effective teamwork?
For those who want to fit this into the PMI’s knowledge framework, teamwork falls clearly within the Team Performance Domain of the 7th Edition of the PMI’s Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK 7). We have a full article on the Team Performance Domain: Team Performance Domain: How to Establish a Base for a Successful Project.
For PMP candidates, your syllabus does not track closely to the PMBOK Guide. It is contained in the Examination Content Outline (ECO). Domain I of the ECO, People, has 14 tasks. This article will help with your preparation for Tasks:
2: Lead a team
3: Support team performance
4: Empower team members and stakeholders
6: Build a team
14: Promote team performance through the application of emotional intelligence
Before we get into the ‘how’, it always pays to be clear about what it is we are talking about. We need to understand what we mean by teamwork, and what makes it effective… or not.
Teamwork is a collaborative effort among a group of people, to achieve a shared goal or complete a piece of work. In collaborating, they rely on one another and therefore hold each other accountable.
Believe it or not, I have actually written a book about effectiveness, that applies the principles of project management to personal effectiveness. It’s called Powerhouse. In that book, I define effective as…
Causing the desired result, successful, productive, able to deliver what matters.Powerhouse: Turbo boost your effectiveness and start making a serious impact
by Mike Clayton
It’s important that we distinguish effective from efficient:
If you want to create effective teamwork on your project, there are five things to attend to. So, these form the structure of this article:
In addition to these, you will also face a number of challenges along the way. So, we have a sixth section that signposts resources to help you meet them:
This is sometimes known as ‘onboarding’ your team. It’s where they receive their basic understanding of the project, the way you work, and of who you and their other colleagues are. I have a video in which I interviewed Elizabeth Harrin on the subject of Onboarding a New Team.
For your team to be effective and also motivated, they must know both:
Of the two, the purpose, or the why, is the more important. If they understand the meaning behind your project, then they:
So, task 1: Be crystal clear about what the purpose of your project is.
To help you with this, take a look at our video: How to Set a Clear Vision and Mission for your Team | Video.
You cannot get anything done as a team without a level of trust. And your role is to build it in two ways:
First, you need to establish a base level of trust quickly, so your team can start to work together. Do this by:
Then, you need to grow long-term trust. Do this by building relationships with your team members and fostering:
So, task 2: Develop trust quickly, and then continue work to deepen it.
The third component of your team-working environment is the way the team organizes itself and works together. These are the ‘rules of the road’, the ‘operating model’, or the ‘norms of behavior’.
From the Tuckman Model of Group Development, we know that you will evolve and formalize these at the Norming Stage. But early on, you need to engage your team in:
This will get people working together and learning about each other’s styles and contributions. This will be the basis for agreeing on how your team will work together in the delivery stages of your project.
An important part of this is fostering inclusion for the full diversity of your team. We know that a more diverse team can be more effective, but it does take work. We have two great resources to help you with this tricky aspect of team working:
It is often well worthwhile to get your team together in a meeting to articulate and document some of the basic team ‘ground rules’ that you will all commit to adhering to. We have a full article on creating ground rules, as well as a video on defining your ground rules.
Whilst you can incorporate this into your Project Kick-off Meeting, this will only work where the team has already developed a level of mutual trust.
Often you’ll need to wait. But then, you can call a meeting and focus on this topic.
So, task 3: Start your team started working together by working together on the strategic and planning aspects of your project. Develop your collaborative approach with a more formal team agreement later on.
There can be no doubt about the centrality of communication to good project management. But here, we’ll focus on what makes good communication within an effective project team.
Team members need to get on with one another if you want effective teamwork from them. This is different to trust and is usually founded upon something people have in common. So giving people time to get to know one another is a valuable investment.
Create opportunities at the start of your project. And, during the project, be sure to give time to social interaction at the start and end of every meeting – especially when they involve team members who work apart from one another.
So, task 4: Prioritise the social interactions that allow team members to get to know each other and find common interests.
It’s hard to force respect. But you can enforce respectful behaviors.
The most effective teams are the most diverse. And diversity – especially cultural diversity – loads additional challenges on a team. As a minimum, set the standard for courtesy and respect in your own behavior. And then expect the same standards from everyone. Come down hard on any form of disrespectful behavior.
We’ll return to this topic, under constructive attitudes, below. Recognition of contributions not only makes the person we are recognizing feel good. It also encourages the rest of us to see what they can do. And so, it helps build respect.
So, task 5: Craft a respectful atmosphere by showing and expecting respectful styles of communication.
This is what a lot of people think of as ‘communication‘… relaying a message from one person to another. Particularly in a linguistically diverse team, making yourself easy to understand is not always easy.
Ask people to take their time with written communication, and to use only jargon that is truly shared among the team. Be patient with people who don’t get it when you explain things. They aren’t stupid just because the language you are using isn’t their first language. Constantly communicating in a second or third language can be a huge strain.
To help with this, we have an article: Great Team Communication: The 10 Commandments.
So, task 6: Work hard to make communication clear and unambiguous. Encourage everyone to do the same, and t be patient with each other.
It’s easy to look at the extremes of confidence and humility, and to see them as opposites. But they touch at the perfect point of balance, where my confidence in my abilities allows me to use them without arrogance, and to serve the people around me. When I do that, I can be confident, humble, and generous at the same time.
So, task 7: Encourage your team members to be confident in their abilities, and to collaborate generously, sharing their capabilities.
We can always improve on effective teamwork. And one way is to keep reviewing our practices with a mindset of growing our abilities and learning new things. And there is a role for structured team training too. We have an article: Training Team Members & Stakeholders: 8 Vital Disciplines to Ensure they’re Well Trained.
This is also a valuable part of your role to motivate your team (which we’ll return to below). The chance to develop mastery of our roles and extend our abilities is one of the most powerful intrinsic motivators. And offering team members that opportunity will cost you and your project little or nothing.
So, task 8: Create a learning environment where team members can learn from each other, and use their assignments to extend their capabilities or learn new ones.
This helps your whole team to see the strengths of their colleagues and therefore fosters respect. We saw this above. But it does so much more. Because we all have a strong need to be recognized for our achievements and contributions. Take a look at my short video on The Value of Positive Feedback.
We can take this a step further too. If your project’s atmosphere is predominantly positive, with significantly more praise and celebration than there is criticism and blame, then it brings out the best performance from your team members.
Couple this with the observation that the opposite creates a toxic environment, and I hope you can see why prioritizing this can really contribute to effective teamwork.
So, task 9: Role model recognition of contribution, praise for achievement, and celebration of successes.
But it is also important to cultivate the skills of giving effective feedback. To help you, take a look at our article: Performance Feedback: How to Turbo-Charge Your Project Team Members. Better yet, I also have a free video course about giving and receiving feedback, on my Management Courses YouTube channel and on the Management Courses website.
Now we are getting to the nub of things. You want effective team-working to get things done. So what are the skills you can focus on to achieve that level of teamwork? I’d select three…
Creativity never arises from everyone thinking the same. Neither does it emerge from out-and-out conflict.
Creative conflict is where team colleagues are confident in challenging one-another’s ideas in a respectful manner. They can put their own points of view robustly and expect others to listen to them In return, they will listen when those others put their own ideas to the group.
So, task 10: Engineer debates and discussions to find creative ideas and test them among your team. Where necessary, impose structure on the process to ensure everyone is heard.
Creative conflict is, by the way, very different from the kind of conflict that can rapidly erode team performance. If you are concerned about dealing with this, we do have you covered:
And, for a masterclass in dealing with conflict, take a look at our full course: Dealing with Conflict in Projects.
Problem-solving often needs a structured process too. But it starts with good access to raw information.
I am a big fan of the idea of ‘going to the Gemba’. This is a Japanese term that, in my terms means:
Get off your chair and out from behind your desk. Go as a group to where the problem exists, and examine it from every angle
There’s something special about being where the solution needs to happen. Then you can apply your favorite problem-solving method.
So, task 11: Engage team members in active problem-solving. Point them at the problem and facilitate the process.
As you would expect, we have a wide range of resources to help you with your project problem-solving:
Good decisions need the best information, the right people, and a sound process. So, once again, engage a diverse cross-section of your team in debating important decisions.
It’s often tempting for people in a leadership role to think they need to make every decision. The truth is that your leadership role means you need to endorse every decision, and take responsibility for them. But the more you can devolve decision-making to the people who know the details and need to be in the lead when they implement it, the better. Their different perspectives are valuable.
So, task 12: Take a variety of input before committing to decisions. Let your team tell you what they think, before you weigh their reasoning and either endorse it or make your own decision.
Arguably, this is the least important of your five keys to creating effective teamwork.
‘Why’s that?’ you ask.
I’ll tell you… It’s because if you do the other four sets of things, you’re already leading effectively. So, this is just the icing on the cake.
Effective teamwork needs light-touch leadership. So the major part of your role is facilitation – literally, making it easy for your team to do their work.
Aspects of this role include:
I have a short video guide to How to Facilitate a Meeting and also a longer interview: How to Facilitate Productive Project Meetings – with Rich Maltzman.
So, task 13: Adopt a facilitator mindset. Ask yourself: ‘what else can I do to make life easy for my team?’
One role that you should actively take the lead on, is motivating your team. Create a routine that will let you evaluate levels of morale, and build motivation and confidence-building into team meetings, team events, and your everyday interactions with colleagues.
Be with people and share their load. When the most junior person is overworked with an urgent deadline, drop your ‘big-boss’ workload and help them out. And remember what I wrote above about recognition, praise, and celebration. These too, are vital aspects of motivation-building and maintenance.
Our guide to motivation is titled: Project Team Motivation [Everything You Need to Know]. But, if you want to go into this in detail, I have a free course on Motivation on my Management Courses YouTube Channel and on the corresponding website.
So, task 14: Your formal role title may be Project Manager. But make yourself the Head of Motivation. And I don’t mean a cheesy Ms/Mr jokes and jolly: I mean being there to provide encouragement and support.
The nearest I’ll get to the ‘traditional’ project manager role in this article is to note that one aspect of your leadership role is to determine (at the top level), who does what on your project. You need to allocate responsibilities.
This also means you need to track the way your team members discharge those responsibilities. Because remember, they all track back to you.
Allocation is a little different from delegation. See how in this 5-minute video: ‘What is Delegation?‘ But it is similar enough that the process for delegation will help you. You can see that in this companion 5-minute video: ‘How to Delegate’. If you want more, do take a look at our course: ‘How to Delegate without Stress’.
So, task 15: Hand out appropriate work to the right people.
We have so much material on Leadership that this is, necessarily, a selective list:
And, of course, there is my fantastic (if I do say so myself) course: Day-to-Day Leadership that Gets Results which will teach you how to select and apply the right leadership style for every situation
Here is a series of great resources that will help you tackle some of the challenges that can get in the way of effective teamwork:
We’d love to hear about your own experiences, ideas, and questions. Please comment below, and we’ll respond to every contribution.
But, for Project Management-specific content, may I also recommend:
Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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