5 Simple Strategies for Unifying Your Project Teams

Dec 30, 2010

by Lonnie Pacelli Courtesy ASME’s Affinity Partner, American Management Association (AMA)

Are your project team members confused about who is responsible for various aspects of the job? Do their conversations and meetings often end in heated personal attacks? Do individual team members exhibit an "every person for himself" attitude and refuse to help their teammates? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, you're not alone. Sometimes, a team simply doesn't "gel."

Every project manager has certainly experienced challenges in getting their teams to behave like, well, teams. But, with organization and guidance, you can eliminate many of the setbacks and challenges that affect team productivity. Consider the following five strategies for unifying and organizing your teams.

1. Establish a Project Organization with Clearly Defined Roles

Each team member needs to know what function he or she plays on the team, how that role fits with the other team members' functions and what happens if he or she doesn't do the job.

Depending on your industry or functional discipline, you may employ standard or customary roles on your project. Start with the standard roles that are typical for your type of projects, but don't hesitate if you need to deviate from the standard. If a particular project warrants a role that is unique, then create it. Likewise, if a project doesn't require a particular standard role, eliminate it. Always remember that results are what matter the most, not how well a team adhered to the standard project role structure.

If a project is unique or the environment doesn't lend itself to standard or customary project roles, take a more pragmatic approach. Identify three to six aspects of the project that are most important or that pose the most risk. Create roles that encompass the concerns or risk areas. Then ensure that all major roles are defined correctly by cross-checking the roles with the work that needs to be done.

This type of project organization addresses concerns or areas of risk head-on by defining a role with a singular point of accountability to manage the areas of your project that are most likely to fail.

2. Eliminate Finger Pointing and Public Fights

Every team project will likely involve lively discussions. Ideally, these discussions lead you one step closer to project completion. But when they get out of control, they lead to finger pointing and fighting.

Allow these discussions to take place, but put a few rules in place to maintain a level of civility. For example:

  • Once a decision has been made, everyone must stand behind it as a team.
  • What happens in the room stays in the room; outside of the room the team remains unified. This means no gossiping or badmouthing a team member to outsiders.
  • Wrong decisions must be accepted as a team. In other words, no finger pointing allowed.
  • Don't allow problems to become personal. Focus on problems, not on people.

Inevitably some rules will be broken, but making the ground rules clear will go a long way toward reducing strife.

3. Develop a "Rallying Cry" to Focus the Team

A successful advertising campaign clearly communicates its message. Consider these classic examples: "Where's the beef?" "Got milk?" and "Plop, plop, fizz, fizz." All these unifying messages can be associated with a product. Similarly, when driving a project, it helps the team to embody some kind of rallying cry or mantra.

Your team's message should also incorporate aspects of the project. For example, say your team needs to be cautious not to over-design a solution to keep costs down. In this case, you might start using a "good enough" rallying cry during the design phase to serve as a continual reminder not to overdo the solution. Aside from helping to keep the project within bounds, the rallying cry will also help unify the team.

4. Hold Team Members Accountable for Delivery

Everyone needs to realize that the team isn't only accountable to the project manager but also to each other. After all, if one person fails, the whole team fails. So it's crucial that each individual team member must know what everyone else is doing.

Each person should be aware of what the other members are doing, to ensure that the individual knows how he or she fits into those aspects of the project. All team members should realize that if they fail to meet a deadline or don't perform their jobs adequately, they are letting down the entire team-not just the project manager. Meeting or missing deadlines and deliverables is a team issue and should be exposed to the entire team. Each member needs to feel accountable for his or her work and needs to experience the discomfort of failure as well as the joy of success.

5. Celebrate Victories as a Team

Driving through a project from inception to completion is tough work, and people can easily become discouraged when the team faces roadblocks or setbacks. Be sure to celebrate key milestones along the way to keep morale up and momentum going. These celebrations don't have to be extravagant—they can be as simple as ordering a pizza or bringing in a cake—anything that allows team members to let their hair down and take a bit of a breather. However, keep in mind that too much celebration can lessen the impact of the final success. So celebrate, but do it in moderation.

Teamwork in the Future

A well-structured project team is one where each team member understands his or her role in making the project successful. All members know what they need to contribute to the project, when they have to perform, what other project team members are doing on the project and what it takes to be successful. Just as important, team members must help each other, working together to ensure overall project success. Start using these five team unification strategies today to ensure that all your future projects succeed.

Lonnie Pacelli is the author of The Project Management Advisor: 18 Major Project Screw-Ups and How To Cut Them Off at the Pass.

This article isadapted from the website of the American Management Association at www.amanet.org. ASME members can access the "members only" area of the AMA free and get discounts on books and courses by signing up at http://www.amanet.org/alliances/asme.

A well-structured project team is one where each team member understands his or her role in making the project successful.