The ability of a project team to work efficiently and effectively together has an impact on the final outcome of a project. Facilitating this type of group collaboration is one of the responsibilities of a project manager. As more organizations move toward project management models of operation, this becomes increasingly important.
Sometimes the nature of project work makes this a unique challenge for project managers. Very often, project teams are temporary. Short project life-cycles can also complicate things, with cross functional teams coming together for relatively short-term projects lasting only a few weeks. How much time can realistically be spent on team building?
One of the best known models for team development comes from Bruce Tuckman’s research into group dynamics. “Tuckman’s Stages of Group Dynamics” (1965, 1977) provide five stages of group development. Those stages are briefly summarized below:
Forming – This is when a team first comes together.
Storming – The group sorts itself out and starts to gain trust in one another. Opinions are voiced and status is established
Norming – People stop being polite and start to get real. Disagreements are surfaced and resolved. Personality clashes are sorted out and tolerance of differences takes place that would otherwise hinder productivity.
Performing – The team is able to get down to the task at hand. Roles are established and norms are set, so teams can start to focus their energy onto the productive tasks at hand.
Adjourning – This stage occurs when the task is complete and the team breaks up.
The model holds true for most project teams. The challenge is to get teams to move forward from the “forming” stage to the “performing” stage as quickly as possible. The performing stage is where the work gets done and the team is functioning in its most productive way. As a project manager, it is where you want your team to be.
Teambuilding, as a discipline of its own, provides no shortage of tools and techniques for bringing together work groups of all types and sizes - everything from short group exercises to week long outdoor survival courses. Unfortunately, most projects don’t include the time and expense budgets to indulge the more extravagant options. Lower costs opportunities can also be effective and the challenge lies in finding the right ones to use.
Formal suggestions include activities such as developing team contracts or charters. While those can be useful, that level of structure and convention isn’t always necessary. The following options present three, project team centered, activities that can be done on site and are useful for just about all types of project teams:
- Developing a Project Mission Statement
- Creating a Team Name
- Designing a Team Logo
Developing a Project Mission Statement
In this exercise, the team is tasked with developing a mission statement for the team or for the project. The mission statement can be serious, modeled after other more formal documents such as the scope statement, or more relaxed, drawing on elements of personality or humor. Unlike most project tasks, the instructions for developing a mission statement should be as undetailed as possible, providing the minimum amount of instruction as is necessary. This way, the working function of the team members will remain as creative and unconstrained as possible. In most cases instructions can be limited to something like, “Take the next 90 minutes and develop a team mission statement for the project. The mission statement should reference what you are trying to achieve and the personality of your team.”
Creating a Team Name
Like the Mission Statement, a project team name can be serious or humorous. Whatever the result, more emphasis should be placed on the process than the output itself. Once again, instructions should be as limited as possible. The process of selecting a team name can involve several interactive activities; proposing names, writing down the suggestions, evaluating the suggestions, discussing adjustments, and selecting a final name are just some of them. These activities should be conducted in order to get project team members to work with and amongst one another. This exercise is best done under the direction of the project manager, so he or she can facilitate and moderate the discussion and interaction in order to get the most out of the session activity.
Designing a Team Logo
Creating a team logo is the graphical equivalent of coming up with a team name. Like any good logo, a team project logo will include specific elements representative of the team, its members, its values, and its objectives. In addition to producing the logo itself, the group should – together as a team – be able to present the logo and explain its symbolism and meaning. The end result doesn’t need to be of the highest graphic design quality in order to achieve the goals of getting the team to start working together.
All three exercises can be done individually or in combination. The main goal of them is to provide a quick, collaborative, output-generating task that’s non-central to the project itself. When done correctly, each activity should allow for interaction and teamwork, which are the key factors in moving teams upward through the stages of team development.
It is true that these tasks are not direct productive time put toward doing work on the project. Rather than being thought of as time lost, these activities should be considered an investment in efficiency in the life of the project.