Developing an Effective Project Team

The focus of Project Management discipline is the effective management of project scope, time, resources, and cost while leading a project through its “life cycle”: initiation, planning and design, execution, control and monitoring, and closure. Project management is distinct from program or operations management as it is a temporary endeavor, is undertaken to meet unique goals and results, and is often comprised of people who do not usually work together.

Often we focus on project components that we can readily see and measure – the objectives, deliverables, time, and cost – downplaying the human side in project management. In fact, team collaboration, communication, and dynamics are critical in project success. The team can “make or break” a project, and plays a direct (though sometimes not readily measurable) role in all phases of project as well as quality and risk management.

Since a project team is often comprised of people who do not usually work together, team members benefit from knowing each other better during or before the project initiation phase. A project leader can facilitate team building activities or organize a team retreat to help team members get to know and connect with each other. Brian Cole Miller (2004) in his book “Quick Team-Building Activities for Busy Managers” provides brief and effective activities to build trust and increase communication among members.

During project initiation phase, setting the structure and expectations for clear and consistent communication among team members is a critical step. Similarly, it is important that a project leader sets the tone and models consistent communication to the team by updating them on the “big picture” of project progress, risks, problems, and corrective action plans. The project leader also defines roles, responsibilities, and expectations for each team member. Using the strength- based perspective and defining roles based on members’ individual strengths contributes to project effectiveness.

Conflict resolution skills are essential for the project leader and the entire team. It is not a question of “if,” it is a question of “when” a conflict in a team will occur. When acknowledged and resolved effectively, a conflict is not only a natural, it is a desirable event in team development that allows team members to settle in their roles and create positive dynamic.

Team performance is driven in a positive direction when each team member receives individual feedback for their performance. Feedback is more effective when it is provided right after performance observation – either negative or positive – and provided consistently, not only on the scheduled appraisal date. Feedback also needs to be measurable and unbiased.

While often a project leader is the most competent member to answer technical and process questions, for the sake of team and individual team members development it is healthy to defer some questions back to the team. This enables team members to struggle themselves in finding answers and solutions. That self-gained knowledge and experience will benefit team members much more than a concrete direction and quick answers. A project leader can also coach team members to rely on each other’s expertise in solving problems rather than always relying on leadership.

A project leader can help team with maintaining energy and motivation by acknowledging, recognizing, and celebrating milestones of the project. Simply thanking team members for a work well done will go a long way in making team members feel appreciated.

The effective management of all project elements brings out a successful project outcome; however the “people’s element” is critical in ultimate project success. The team collaboration, communication, trust and conflict resolution are the driving forces behind such success.