Project Management

How to Avoid Dysfunctional Project Team Setups

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Categories: Leadership, Teams


By Marian Haus

Looking for the appropriate template to help set up your project team?

Well, the bad news is that regardless of the project’s size or complexity, industry or business area, project organization, geographical location, applied project management methodology, etc., there is no single team-setup template that will match all your project needs.

On the contrary, there are many traps or patterns that lead to dysfunctional team setups. These include teams with no structure or governance, teams with unclear project roles, teams with no leaders or multiple leaders, teams with fragmented member assignment across too many projects and topics, etc.

The good news, though, is that there are a few sound principles that can help project leaders and organizations set up their project teams:

Size. Go with smaller teams—the bare minimum necessary to get the work done. The typical project team size is five to nine members. If you assign more people than needed, just to be safe, you might experience Parkinson’s law: Work expands to fill the time available for its completion. Instead, try to enhance the team later if needed.

Purpose. Foster ownership and team cohesion by grouping the team around a common goal, such as a successful product launch. Project teams without clear goals or with multiple small goals won’t work as well together on attaining the ultimate project goal.

Skills. Aim for self-sufficient teams, meaning you have all the skills needed within the team for getting the job done. Being dependent on skills external to your project team could delay the project.

Roles and responsibilities. Clarify and assign project roles upfront, and define clear responsibilities for each project role. If you have team members sharing project roles, make sure you define who does what.

Stand-ins. While setting up the project team, establish stand-in pairs among members with similar skills, roles or responsibilities. This will help you manage problems and avoid unexpected reassignments when team members are sick or on holidays.

Accountability. Although each project team needs someone who is responsible for the overall work getting done (often the project manager), I encourage delegating accountability to team members for each of their assigned responsibilities. This inevitably will lead to increased commitment and empowerment across the project team.

Leadership. Assign the project team with a project leader instead of a project administrator. The difference between the two is that the project leader will also lead, coach, advise and inspire team members, on top of carrying out project planning and execution and administering project parameters (scope, time, budget, resources, risk, etc.).

How exactly do you set up your project teams? What’s your experience with project team structures?

Posted by Marian Haus on: May 29, 2016 09:43 AM | Permalink

Comments (5)

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Great advice, I like ALL the principles you are listing!

Smaller teams are always better

Common problem with all projects and operations....deciding on the right size, right timing, and filling unexpected gaps. Other aspects like defining roles & responsibilities, KRAs/accountabilities, or leading the team is well understood and accepted. But estimating the size and productivity to yield results is the main brain work.

Great advice, clarity of purpose, a common goal, agreed working practices and processes, and of course open communication builds a solid foundation for teams - irrespective of where they are located.

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