Project Management

Sink or Swim With Team Development

Joe Wynne is a versatile Project Manager experienced in delivering medium-scope projects in large organizations that improve workforce performance and business processes. He has a proven track record of delivering effective, technology-savvy solutions in a variety of industries and a unique combination of strengths in both process management and workforce management.

Have you ever been white-water rafting? If so, you learned a lot about how teams work, even if you did go for an unintended swim. We're going on a trip right now, so strap on your PFD (personal flotation device). Watch the others to see how this rafting team reacts to the trip. It's important, because what you learn will keep you from drowning during your project.

Let's make our way down to the river and the raft. Notice how everyone is getting to know one another. There is a feeling of excitement, exhilaration. When we get into the raft, some are a bit scared. It appears so easy to fall out!

Now we are pushing off. While we drift, some rafters paddle. Others do not. One or two begin arguing. Listen to what they say: "Hey you have to paddle to get straight." "I am paddling." "Watch my head, are you crazy?" Even people who arrived together are arguing with each other. Others are silent.

Now the guide in the back helps everyone get in sync. He calls out "stroke…stroke…" We practice turning left. Then turning right. We begin to control the raft as a unit. The rafters all understands their roles and their relationship to each other.

We are now moving into some rough water, so hold on. Notice how this experienced rafting group responds quickly and accurately to the calls of the guide. No matter what configuration of rocks appears, the group keeps the raft in the correct line. When one rafter nearly falls out, others quickly pull him back in.

Well, we made it. Now we all tell each other how fun it was, take pictures and say our good-byes. We apologize for smacking other rafters with our paddle during the start-up.

There is very little difference between the rafting trip we just took and that of team development. This includes programming teams, product development teams, testing teams.

First there is the Forming stage, where excitement and anticipation are tempered by fear of the unknown. Then there is the Storming stage, where competition and positioning distract from performance. The next phase is Norming, where the team works to form its own work rules, procedures and practices. Some teams even reach the Performing stage, where they are self-directed and successfully negotiate change and problems with minimal outside assistance. Finally, a team Adjourns--its work comes to an end.


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Those are the stages, and now that you know them, you can identify the stage of any team associated with your project. Then you can anticipate potential issues. Finally, you can act appropriately to get results from that team or any member of the team. You can even assist in moving a team to more advanced stages of development. If you are not mindful of the impact of the level of team development while managing a project, then you are going to be up a creek.

In the Forming stage, capitalize on the good feelings to establish a good, supportive relationship with the team. That will enable you to get results later. Keep in mind that, in the beginning, there is going to be a little fear, because the waters are untested. Members are not sure whether their team will last. Do what you can to build a feeling of permanence when working together. Talk about a successful future.

In the Storming stage, help the team work through issues and build self esteem as much as possible. It is to your benefit to get the team to the Norming stage as fast as possible. Unfortunately, how fast teams progress through the stages is mostly out of your control, but don't do anything to exacerbate competition and struggles. Expect missed deadlines from teams in this stage. Check often on progress and offer your help.

During the Norming stage, let them know you appreciate their work in completing policies and procedures. Assist them to incorporate any corporate standards or new rules. Thank them publicly for following consistent rules. This will build a team focus rather than an individual competitive focus.

If you are lucky enough to be involved with a Performing team, then don't screw it up! Avoid micro-management. Set deadlines and check back at those times. These kind of teams are confident and hate being micro-managed.

You might feel like the Adjourning phase does not hold that much interest in the way of people skills. But nothing could be further from the truth! There are great opportunities for success here. Engineer a clear ending event, where everyone can say good-bye and get a feeling of closure. If you are wondering why you are bothering, consider this: A good ending can contribute to increased retention. Even better, more people will want to be in your projects in the future. Many project managers schedule a project finale lunch. But don't just have a lunch. Include a special toast and plenty of specific thanks to individuals involved. Link the project to the success of the enterprise.

Always identify the developmental stages of the teams you work with and anticipate likely problems. Recognize the power of your influence. Act appropriately to be effective and get results from teams so that your project will be a success.

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