5 Ways to Build Strong Project Teams

From the Voices on Project Management Blog
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Voices on Project Management guest blogger Dave Wakeman, PMP, is an entrepreneur, consultant, writer and speaker. He works with businesses and organizations to focus on value, efficiency and effectiveness. Past projects include working with the U.S. Census Bureau to improve data reporting for the 2010 Census, and creating the IT infrastructure for an e-commerce site that grew from US$0 to US$4 million in less than 18 months. Find him on the web or on Twitter.

Read his thoughts on how to build project teams below:

One of the core missions of a good project manager is to build teams. You often find, however, that managing and building teams is much easier when described in courses and theory than it is in the practice of managing actual projects. 

But there doesn't need to be a gap. Here are five actionable steps that you can begin implementing today to help your teams become stronger, make you a much better project manager and create an atmosphere that breeds success.

  1. Be an active communicator. A good project manager isn't just the conductor of the project. He or she is also a facilitator for team members' performance and growth. That starts by being an "active communicator," which means you do two things: communicate with your team in a clear and effective manner, and actively listen and turn to your team members for their thoughts and experiences as related to the project. 
  2. Trust your team. You may find yourself in a position where you lack specific technical expertise. In these cases, it is only human to feel stressed, because you may have questions about how you can clearly define the project's success metrics or the performance of your team. But a good project manager turns these situations into an opportunity to build a strong team by not micromanaging and allowing your team members to use their specific job-related expertise.  
  3. Understand your team members' individual motivations. In theory, each member wants to complete the project on time and on budget, and wants to meet the project's goals. In practice, it's much more complex. As a good leader, you must take time to understand your team members' individual motivations. Comprehending their ambitions will help them trust you and will help you better understand how to utilize their unique talents. 
  4. Don't embarrass your team. In sports you hear a lot about "player's coaches." One of the characteristics these coaches share is they never embarrass their players in front of the media. They may take them aside in private and lay into them, but in public, this never happens. You can learn a lot from this. There are stakeholder demands, overruns, limited resources, etc. But no matter what, don't use these things as an excuse to make a scapegoat out of one of your team members. It's a really quick way of destroying a strong project team's morale and cohesiveness.
  5. Be flexible. This is perhaps the most important way to build strong teams. Too often the project plan becomes a rigid document that creates stress, uncommunicative environments and lack of cohesion in a team as a means to protect the project from pitfalls. But inevitably there will be bumps along the project road, so to protect the team from them, you must be adaptable. By focusing on flexibility, you will create strength, which can take many forms -- such as increased trust between team members, momentum to continue despite project troubles, and greater problem-solving abilities and initiative among team members.
What steps have you taken to build successful teams?
Posted by Voices Team on: December 11, 2013 11:09 AM | Permalink


Daniela Mircheva
Additional to point 4: protect your team if they are misunderstood or misjudged. Motivate the team by vaunting when the job is done well. People usually are motivated by appreciation.

Lise Bohn Bjoralt
Thank you for good advices. Building a good team, to know the strength and the weaknesses within the group, including yourself!, and to let everyone blossom, really creates the "high five"-feeling! Refections: To save costs, many companies have adopted "free seating" as a new way to exploit the workspace and resources most efficiently. This challenges communication on a day-to day basis, especially in relations to the demands and expactations to agility in the progress of the projects. At the same time, also related to save costs, projects often are organizied as matrix projects. Then the team memebers are drawn between line activities and project tasks. This also challenges the project manager. It is hard to keep continuity in competance within the group, as resources often are pulled out of the project on short notice. Then it is time for being creative and to think "out of the box"! To get the most out of the meetings and time you have with your team, I recommend you to be playful! Remove all chairs in the room! Change enviroment! Go for a walk and challenge the group on a troubled theme! With a lot of oxygen inside, do a brainstorm! Make everyone in the group feel they are listened to and seen! It may challange you comfort zone, but everyone will remember the session - for sure!

Dave Wakeman
Lise- Good points and suggestions. On the topic of meetings, I think that too often project teams and managers are having too many meetings and too many meetings that don't have clear agendas. I found a great book by a guy called Al Pittamapelli called "Read this before our next meeting..." and it has helped me a lot with meetings and managing those. You can find it on Amazon and I think it will be really helpful to any project manager.

Dave Wakeman
Daniela- You make a great point. If you want to go with the sports analogy a little more, a great head coach is going to put his neck out there and take a position that the "buck stops here." I think project managers should do that same thing because the number 1 skill a PM brings is the ability to communicate. So if you aren't getting the results you desire, you need to begin by looking at whether or not your communications are being handled effectively. In other words, your first reaction should be to look at how you, as the PM, handled the situation and not to pass the blame to someone else.

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