Project Management

Project Teams—The Whole is Greater than the Parts

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by Betsy Kauffman, PMBOK® Guide-Seventh Edition Development Team member

Teams are the lifeblood of any project. The dynamics of the team can either make or break the effort and, as such, it is essential we work to ensure the team is well cared for and the needs of the team are met. Therefore, it is essential we put great emphasis on teams when delivering projects—they are a critical component in all projects. I have worked with multiple organizations and teams and seen what a high performing team can accomplish when given the environment, leadership, and resources to be successful.

When assembling a team, it is important to not only identify the skillsets necessary to do the work but also consider the personalities and dynamics to ensure they are complementary to each other. The goal with any team is to get them to become high performing in order to consistently and predictably deliver the work. Characteristics of a high performing team include, collaboration, trust, transparency, autonomy (to make decisions which impact the performance of a team), and working toward the same common goals.

I am a big fan of creating teams where each individual is dedicated to the team. Work is brought to the team rather than breaking up the team and re-assembling new teams for each new effort. While this model may be tough due to current corporate structures where capacity and utilization are the main focus or how projects in the organization are currently funded, studies have shown we actually get greater output (and better outcomes!) from individuals when they are able to stay focused and not split across four or five different efforts. Also, from a human perspective, when we are part of a team we believe in and enjoy working together, and it causes us to “up our game,” both individually and collectively. We win or lose as a team.

Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results. — Andrew Carnegie


There are times when a team is not really a team but instead just a group of people working together, and its critical to know the difference. A team is able to have a healthy debate and resolve differences, they respect each other, they become accountable for delivering the work as a team, they learn and improve from each other, they are not afraid to speak up, they cover for each other when a conflict arises, they laugh together, and have spoken and unspoken team norms. However, when a group of people is just a collection of individuals working together, their individual interests and work are greater than the goals and output of the team. As a result, individuals are not accountable for delivering the work together, and often are focused on completing their individual work and handing (or throwing) it over to the next person to complete the next “step.”

I see this phenomenon a lot when individuals are “silo’d” in their roles and are measured accordingly or split across multiple teams due to their skillset. For example, in a software project, we may have a “team” consisting of front-end developers, back-end developers, testers, business analysts, etc. The mindset of everyone is to complete their piece of work and hand it over to the next person while continuing on to the next task. Each individual is measured based on their individual output rather than the overall outcome of the project or story (if working in an agile manner), and it becomes a blame game when the work doesn't get completed within the time box.

I have had the pleasure of working on high performing teams as well as coaching teams to high performance. All these teams were high performing because they were somewhat cross-functional in nature meaning they were encouraged and coached to come out of their lanes and learn new skills so they could complete the work as a team. They also were involved in the decision making for the team, they understood the big picture and outcomes of the project and had a voice in the best way to complete the work/project. Lastly, they collectively “owned” all phases of the work from design to development to release to post-production support, so they were accountable to producing and maintaining a high-quality product/project.

As a leader, your role is to create, develop, and support teams to work collaboratively in order to achieve a project’s desired outcomes. A good leader values the capabilities and efforts of each individual and understands the difference between a successful and a failed project lies within the power of the whole team.

When the development team was identifying and debating concepts for the performance domains for the PMBOK® Guide–Seventh Edition, there was no question or debate about the critical role teams play in project and product delivery. The only debate was do we focus on people and individuals or teams. Unanimously, we agreed the power was in the team and I believe it was the first domain we all agreed needed to be included in the new edition. For us to be able to deliver successful and valuable outcomes, we need to make sure we take the time and put great emphasis on building high performing teams. A team will deliver an outcome which meets (and probably exceeds) their customer’s needs when the team is:

  • aligned to the mission and the goals of the project,

  • provisioned with an environment and resources where the team is set up for success,

  • supported by leaders, and

  • provided the information and autonomy to make decisions.

Given the impact that teams have on project success and delivering desired outcomes, I believe it is a project performance domain for any project that deserves intentional nurturing and development.

Posted by Laura Schofield on: February 18, 2020 11:49 AM | Permalink

Comments (5)

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Dear Laura
Interesting is your perspective on the topic: "Project Teams — The Whole is Greater than the Parts"

Thanks for sharing

An important point, in addition to those mentioned, is the people who integrate the teams to train together.
For example, football teams train together to play games
Formula 1 teams train together so that the result is always better

Thanks Betsy!

Real teams show us the difference between collaboration and mere cooperation. With the former, the whole becomes truly greater than the sum of its parts.


Great post Betsy, thank you.

I've always loved this definition for TEAM: Together Everyone Achieves More

Team dynamics is vital, but also vital to ensure the team is provided enough autonomy to make and act on decisions within the team.
Thank you, Betsy.


I would love to see that happen in all industries, in some industry teams are put together for the project and often leave before the end!

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