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Team Performance Domain: How to Establish a Base for a Successful Project

Team Performance Domain: How to Establish a Base for a Successful Project

How do we get things done in a project? Unless it is trivially small, we need people to help us: a team. And this is the justification for the Team Performance Domain, within the 7th Edition of the PMI’s Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, the PMBOK Guide.

This is the second of our series of eight articles, covering the eight Project Performance Domains of PMBOK 7. For a general introduction to these domains, check out our article, Project Performance Domains: Do You Know What they Are and Why they Matter?

Team Performance Domain: How to Establish a Base for a Successful Project

Structure of this article

In this article, we will examine:

What is the Team Domain?

The PMI covers three main things within this performance domain:

  1. Project Teams and how they work
  2. Team Management
  3. Leadership skills

However, I’d add two things to this. First, there is very little about team management. What there is focuses mainly on the distinction between management and leadership. 

Secondly, whilst the topics of teams and leadership get approximately equal weight, PMBOK 7 loads a lot of ideas about personal professional effectiveness into the leadership section. Some sit more comfortably there than others. Clearly, the authors felt that the latter needed a home in PMBOK 7, and this was the most convenient place.

The PMBOK Definition of the Team Performance Domain

Considering the equal balance of team and leadership within the content of this domain, the description PMBOK 7 offers is fairly one-sided.

‘The Team Performance Domain addresses activities and functions associated with the people who are responsible for producing project deliverables that realize business outcomes.’

A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, 7th Edition
Project Management Institute, 2021

Our Expanded Definition of the Team Performance Domain

I think I’d prefer a slightly more explicit statement, which might read something like this:

‘The Team Performance Domain addresses the support, organization, management, leadership, and culture of the people who are responsible for producing project deliverables that realize business outcomes.’

This would more effectively signpost most of what is in this domain. However, it does not properly touch upon some of the personal effectiveness skills that the domain covers, but that perhaps don’t sit as well here.

What I like best, however, is the short opening paragraph of this section:

‘This performance domain entails establishing the culture and environment that enables a collection of diverse individuals to evolve into a high-performing project team. This includes recognizing the activities needed to foster project team development and encouraging leadership behaviors from all project team members.’

A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, 7th Edition
Project Management Institute, 2021

The Expected Outcomes for the Team Performance Domain

PMBOK 7 goes on to define the domain in terms of three desired outcomes, which demonstrate that the project team has executed it effectively:

  1. Shared ownership
  2. A high-performing team
  3. Applicable leadership and other interpersonal skills demonstrated by all team members

You’ll notice how the last one stands out. The other two seem self-evidently right for the domain. The other opens up the personal effectiveness components. However, I do very much like the explicit end of this: ‘demonstrated by all team members’.

Let’s take a look at these in turn.

Shared Ownership

For the team to succeed, they need a common commitment to your project. Clearly, this is most easy to create if they all understand the purpose and reasons behind it. When the PMBOK discusses motivation, later in the Team Domain section, it includes (correctly) a belief in the work. People have a deep need for meaning.

Here is a video that discusses this aspect that discusses how you can set a clear vision and mission for your team.

Do also take a look at our article: Ten Ways to Win Team Commitment on Your Project

A High-performing Team

I think this is at the core of the domain, and both shared ownership and leadership serve this. We have a huge wealth of content about this topic on our website, because it is so fundamental. Here is a curated set of the best items.

Primary Articles about Teams
Secondary Articles about Teams
Videos about Teams
Interviews about Teams

Leadership and Interpersonal Skills

This section covers a broad range of leadership and personal professional effectiveness content. As a result, this domain will be one you will continue to return to throughout your career. And, as you’d expect, we have a great amount of content on this topic too. Here is a curated set of the best items.

Primary Articles about Leadership
Secondary Articles about Leadership
Videos about Leadership

Verifying the Outcomes from the Team Performance Domain

For each domain, PMBOK 7 also sets out ‘checks’ by which we can assess project performance against each of the outcomes for the performance domain.

So, I will interpret these checks in my own words.

Shared Ownership

You need to ensure that everyone on your team has a shared understanding of, and commitment to, your project’s:

  • Mission or Purpose (the value proposition)
  • Vision (how things will change as a result of your work)
  • Goal (what you aim to achieve)
  • Objectives (the time, cost, and quality criteria you are working to
  • Scope (the range of products you will create)

A High-performing Team

Trust and collaboration are at the core of this. But the outcomes need to be:

  • Effective and efficient co-working
  • A sense of empowerment and belonging
  • Adaptability and resilience in the face of setbacks

Leadership and Interpersonal Skills

Leadership needs to be distributed among the whole team membership. If you lead and everyone merely follows, you aren’t doing a good enough job. Therefore, you need to both:

  • fostering leadership and interpersonal skills, and 
  • giving people the opportunities to grow, test, and exercise those skills

Important Definitions within the Team Performance Domain

In the introduction to the Team Performance Domain, PMBOK 7 highlights (in a box), three key definitions of jargon terms.

Project Manager 

Project Manager: The person assigned by the performing organization to lead the project team that is responsible for achieving the project objectives.’

A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, 7th Edition
Project Management Institute, 2021

This definition is clearly crafted to reflect the balance in this performance domain between teams and leadership. There is nothing wrong with it, although I personally prefer the definition in the PRINCE2 Guide, ‘Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2’. 

Project Manager: The person given the authority and responsibility to manage the project on a day-to-day basis to deliver the required product within the constraints agreed with the [project owner/sponsor/board].’

Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2, 6th Edition
Axelos, 2017

That said, my favorite is the one from our own Be on the Inside: Decode the Jargon of Project Management.

‘A project manager is that circus performer who can keep juggling relationships with the many people involved in the project, whilst keeping many tasks spinning like plates.  A good project manager must be able to get things done, organize people and processes and succeed at influencing, motivating and inspiring their teams.’

Be on the Inside: Decode the Jargon of Project Management, 2nd Edition
Mike Clayton, OnlinePMCourses

Next, the PMBOK Guide distinguishes between the Project Team and the Project Management Team.

Project Team

Project Team: A set of individuals performing the work of the project to achieve its objectives.’

A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, 7th Edition
Project Management Institute, 2021

I have nothing to add to this effective definition.

Project Management Team

Project Management Team: The members of the project team who are directly involved in project management activities.’

A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, 7th Edition
Project Management Institute, 2021

This is also an effective definition. However, do be aware that PRINCE2 takes a slightly different approach:

Project Management Team: The entire management structure of the project board, and the project manager, plus any team manager, project assurance and project support roles.’

Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2, 6th Edition
Axelos, 2017

Basic Structure of the Team Domain

The Team Performance Domain contains five substantive components, plus:

  • Interactions with other performance domains
    …which is a cursory paragraph that pretty much states the obvious. See below.
  • Checking results
    …which I have detailed above.

These five substantive sections are:

  1. Project Team Management and Leadership
  2. Project Team Culture
  3. High-Performing Project Teams
  4. Leadership Skills
  5. Tailoring Leadership Skills

In the next section, we’ll look at each of these.

PMI’s Description of the Five Substantive Components of the Team Performance Domain

As you’d expect, there is some variability here.

Project Team Management and Leadership

This section is quite theoretical and philosophical, starting with a nice distinction between the terms ‘management’ and ‘leadership’.

To paraphrase:

  • Management has a focus on how we get things done
  • Leadership has a focus on people and getting the best from them

This section also talks about:

  • Centralized and distributed management and leadership
  • The ideas of Servant Leadership
  • Some fundamentals of team development

For me, the Servant Leadership component is the most welcome. Indeed, I am a big fan of the approach and cover it in our article How Servant Leadership can Deliver Better Results from Your Project Team.

Here, however, is a 60-second introductory video… 

Project Team Culture

This sets the responsibility for establishing a healthy project team culture at the feet of the Project Manager. And it defines what that means. For me, there is a strong link here to establishing decent ground rules for your team, so take a look at either:

High-Performing Project Teams

This is a short section. It lists (and briefly describes) 9 essential characteristics of a high-performing team. There is nothing wrong with these nine items (although, where are care, culture, and challenge, for example). 

However, what this section lacks is any indication here of how to elevate your team to a high-performing mode. For that, you need to flick forward to the Chapter on Models, Methods, and Artifacts. There, you’ll see listed the Tuckman and Drexler-Sibbet Models.

Leadership Skills

Leadership is a huge topic and this section does not do it justice. There is no overview of how to lead, the different types of leadership, nor even the range of types of models available. And the Models, Methods, and Artifacts section is weak on this too. For me, this is one of the key disappointments of PMBOK 7.

What the section does offer us is subsections on:

  1. Establishing and Maintaining Vision
    This is a decent stab
  2. Critical Thinking
    A valuable topic that does not sit well in a section on leadership
  3. Motivation
    A decent introduction that is supported by a decent selection of material in the Models, Methods, and Artifacts chapter
  4. Interpersonal Skills
    This has a quirky selection of three topics:
    1. Emotional Intelligence
      A good introduction to a topic that fits well
      Our article: Emotional Intelligence: The Secret to Being an Excellent Project Manager
    1. Decision making
      A weak introduction to a topic that seems out of place
      Our article: The Essential Guide to Robust Project Decision Making
    1. Conflict management
      A few random notes on a topic that fits reasonably well
      Our article: Managing Conflict: Everything a Project Manager Needs to Know

Tailoring Leadership Skills

Here is a short and simple section that is pretty effective. It lists four factors that should influence how you can tailor your leadership style to:

  1. Your experience with the type of project at hand
  2. The maturity of your team members
  3. Organizational governance
  4. The distributed vs co-located nature of your team

Sadly, there is no mention of other factors like:

  • Organizational culture
  • Cultural expectations of team members
  • Personal styles of team members and project manager 
  • The nature of the project:
    • Type of project
    • Its complexity, novelty, scale…
    • Level of risk
    • Political focus
    • Regulatory oversight

Critical Evaluation of the Team Domain

I’m going to evaluate each of the eight Project Performance Domains in the 7th edition of the PMBOK Guide on a 5-point scale, of:

  1. Lacking
    Little more than a passing mention of what’s important
  2. Poor
    A lot of work needed
  3. Okay
    Needs Significant work
  4. Good
    Would be great but minor tweaks needed
  5. Excellent
    Everything I could wish it to be

Rating for the Team Performance Domain

I would rate the Team Performance Domain as a 3, Okay. I’d like to see a fair amount of work on this section in the next edition of the PMBOK Guide – assuming that it retains the Project Performance Domains structure.

What is there, is Good. It is what is missing that is largely responsible for the Okay rating.

Strengths of The PMBOK 7 Team Domain

For me, the strongest elements of this performance domain are;

  • Its definitions
  • Presence of Servant Leadership – although I’d like to see a little more – possibly in the Models, Methods, and Artifacts chapter
  • The elements of team culture
  • A decent introduction to emotional intelligence
  • The attempt to set up how to tailor your leadership style – although I think the content is seriously lacking

Weaknesses of The PMBOK 7 Team Domain

The weaknesses in this performance domain largely flow from what is missing. This includes:

  • No link to the description of team development models and how to create a high-performing team
  • Absence of any useful discussion of leadership in general
  • Quirky inclusion of critical thinking and decision-making under the heading of leadership 

What Else We Should Include in the Team Performance Domain?

I think there are a lot of important topics missing from this articulation of a Team Performance domain. In no particular order, I’d like to see the addition of:

  • Diversity and Inclusion
  • Virtual (or remote) Teams
  • Handling team member stress and building emotional resilience
  • Managing key team events like team members leaving
  • Competency frameworks for project team members and, particularly Project Management team members
  • Relationship to wider organizational culture
  • General management skills like delegation and feedback, for example

How the Team Performance Domain Relates to the other Project Management Domains

Your team gets things done. They:

  • Engage with your stakeholders
  • Build and execute your plan
  • Deliver the products
  • Contribute to monitoring and controlling your project
  • Identify and manage risks

I don’t have a serious concern that the section on this topic in PMBOK 7 is thin. Because this is all pretty self-evident.

What are your Thoughts about the Team Performance Domain?

Please share what you think of the way PMI has handles the Team Performance Domain and any comments you have about it. I’ll be sure to respond to any comments you post below.

Project Management Domains eBook Series

This is a Chapter from the Team volume of our Kindle Exclusive Project management Domains ebook series.

Project Management Domains eBook Series

About the Author Mike Clayton

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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