If you want to execute a project efficient, you have to have a good team. But what is a “good” team? A group of individualistic working specialist or a union of people of separated departments or …? It isn’t easy to describe a perfect team and you maybe will never find one in your daily business. But, nevertheless, in each project you will get a couple of people which want or should work together to create customer benefits. That’s your given group of individuals. Within your project they maybe will stay insular individuals or they hopefully will become a team.
As project leader, it is implicitly you job to help the people to become a team. But that isn’t easy at all. You cannot put the people together in one project and think they will now intuitively become a team. Before we start to think about a team building process, we want to take a look at the possible levels of closeness of your project members.
Individual workers: Of course, this is the lowest form of connectivity within your project team. Single persons, or small groups of persons, will work on their individual tasks. There is no team feeling and there are no common goals. Maybe the people event don’t know that they’re working for a project because you will just spread some tasks with none or low information why they have to do the work.
Appointed team: Most often your project will start with an appointed team. According to your resource and time planning, you will get some co-workers out of the different business units. In each project these may be different people. So you start with a group of individuals which were appointed as a team by a third person. But only by calling them a “team” and introduce them to each other will not let them work close together.
Functionally connected team: In this kind of team you will have different functional units, maybe smaller teams from different departments. They are functionally connected because the work result of each single group is irrelevant and only the combination of the single result will create a final product. So the different groups have to work together to fulfill the project goals.
United team: Within this group all members will work and think as one team. In this case you will also have groups of peoples from different departments. But in contrast to a functional connected team which unavoidably has to work they now want to work together.
Of course, as project leader, you want to have a united team. But you maybe will never start your project with such a team. In most cases you have to start with the given people. Now it’s your job to help them become a team. But how can you achieve this goal? Next, I want to give you some ideas for your daily business. Of course the team building process is very complex and cannot be analyzed in detail within this short article. So consider the following tips as introduction only and try to find additional ways to strengthen your project team.
It cannot be said often enough: treat all team members equally. You should not favor or discriminate single persons or groups. This sounds logical and clear and should match with your leadership basic principles, but in reality it isn’t that easy at all. You will have topics where you have a good knowledge or topics which arouse your interest. As a result you feel more comfortable in the groups which will work on such topics and you will have better connections to these groups. And of course the same is true for single persons, which you may prefer because they share your interests or because they are sympathetic to you. Therefore, you always have to fight against this high risk of imbalanced attention emanating from you.
Know each other
In some teams the people don’t even know who else works in the project team. You can see this phenomenon especially in bigger companies and in projects with many distributed groups. For example department x will only know that department y will develop a component for them. This is a dangerous situation because in such situations the people will no longer work together in one project. They act and think as they are working in different projects and only deliver their own project result to the others. But they will lose the view for the real project goals and the final customer. As project leader you have to prevent and recognize such situations. So you should for example do a kickoff meeting together with all team members, collective concept meetings, recurring status meetings and the milestone results should be presented by the whole team. Or you can also think about common activities after work.
As previously mentioned, it is important to have team meetings. But on the other hand this proceeding is cost intensive. Could it be an alternative to do separate meeting in the according groups? In this case you have the advantage that only a smaller group of people is involved. And furthermore they are the experts in the according topic. But there are also huge disadvantages. With such an individualistic approach it will happen that each team develops individual solutions which are nice as single solutions but at the end they may not fit together and the actual project goals cannot be reached.
A possible way out are project meetings with representatives of each group. This will improve the cooperation and it directs the focus to the project goals instead of the individual goals of each group. After the meeting each representative will give a summary to his group. This procedure will safe time compared to meetings with a huge number of participants. If you want to increase the team building process you can try to establish the procedure of changing representatives in the meetings. In each group the people should participate alternating on the team meetings.
The project goals should form the basis of the daily work of each team member. It is important to define milestones, iterations and single tasks depending on the customer benefit. The job of the project team is to achieve these project goals together. So you always have to find common solutions. Therefore it is mandatory to find and define the concepts together in the whole project team. Unfortunately, I see often, departments are trying to push away unloved task to other departments. In such cases the reasoning why the other group should do the task is often very interesting and imaginative. Within you project you should build up a proceeding where the decisions are made based on the project benefit. During the concept meetings the decisions should be made based on the question: Which procedure will solve our problem in the most efficient way?
Constant synchronization about the goals
As you have defined the goals during the concept meetings and the single tasks during iteration meetings, you should have a constant synchronization about the actual progress. Normally each team will do such meetings. But often they do it in the wrong way! In such meetings I could often see that each group will be asked about the status of its part. So the focus is on single tasks. And so the actual goals of the project or of the iteration get lost. In my view, in synchronization meetings, we have to focus on the iteration goals. Each group may then show the status of its tasks and how the actual results of the group will help to reach the iteration goals. Also the actual status, e.g. how much work is done or how much work is left should be shown based on the iteration goals and not based on the group tasks. As shown in the “meetings” section, such synchronization meetings can be done by group representatives, e.g. in a scum of scrums meeting.
The phrase “continuous integration” is very popular in software development projects, but in this case I mean a general process of integrate all parts in the final solution. To reach a project goal, several groups, departments and people will do single tasks. But the work isn’t done once all tasks are finished. Often the real work begins in this moment. All single solutions have to be integrated in the final solution. This is often a time consuming process and furthermore it will show up all the things you have not thought of in advance. So sometimes it could happen that the integration fails because during the concept phase some points where not seen or intentionally disregarded.
To minimize the effects of such conceptual faults, the integration process should be done as early as possible. Therefore you should establish a continuous integration process during the whole iteration. This continuous integration is a central element of the project and must be planned accordingly.
And of course the integration work itself should be done by the participating teams or representatives of each team. For example if three components are developed in different development groups, at the end, the three groups must together combine the three components to one final solution.
Within this article you have seen some examples how to increase the team closeness. This article should give you a lead-in into this very important topic. It should open your mind for this topic and I hope you will think about your own project teams and ask yourself: Do I have created a project team which works together to fulfill customer wishes or do I only have a couple of people working independently of each other on some single tasks?