Project Management Institute

Keeping the rainbow bright--avoiding storms in multicultural and multinational team processes


The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has, in over 50 years of operations, developed management approaches that work well in litigious and sometimes adversarial environments. These procedures are geared toward political and military operations. This paper examines three approaches as applied by the author who was the director of a Regional Command (RC) Air South virtual Program Management Office (PMO) during the recent NATO reorganization of air units within RC South. NATO management procedures are shown to be equally applicable in the program management environment. The use of “NATO silence procedures” and consultation and collaboration efforts such as Team Manage Plans and Charters have worked well in managing program, stakeholder concerns and achieving agreements against a diverse cultural, ethnic and national backdrop. Program managers who work on projects abroad that span cultural, organizational and national borders can benefit from NATO's political, military and program management experiences.

Exhibit 1. Simplified NATO Structure

Simplified NATO Structure

War Planning and Project Management

NATO was formed by the alliance of 12 nations in April of 1949. Currently NATO has 19 member nations and a partnership program to bring in additional members. The alliance was formed as a reaction to cold war politics that began after the end of World War II and continued until the dismantling of the Berlin Wall and the fall of the Soviet Union. Key to the establishment of NATO is the idea that no individual nation gives up its sovereign rights and that all actions of must conform to the lowest common dominator of group interests. Each nation thus becomes an independent stakeholder in the organization's continued existence but only to the point that the continuation of NATO supports that nation's national interest. For more information on NATO and its history see NATO (2001). The NATO alliance is still strong and member nations see its value as independent nations try to act collectively to meet many security and humanitarian challenges in Europe and the rest of the world.

Exhibit 2. NATO Working Group and Command Structure

NATO Working Group and Command Structure

NATO, being both a political and military structure, has a highly layered organizational layout as depicted in Exhibit 1. The “national authorities” of member nations form the top or ambassadorial level of the NATO structure where policy is made.

The daily operations of the political level of NATO operate from its headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. Also at the Headquarters is the Military Committee (MC), which is the senior military policy group at NATO. The International Military Staff (IMC) implements military policy formed by the MC and is the senior military staff in NATO. The IMS “bridges the gap” between the political and military sides of the organization. The senior operational military staffs are located in each of two NATO strategic commands. The one located in Europe is named, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) and the one located in the United States is called the Allied Command Atlantic. Below each strategic command are regional commands.

The traditional military structure is highly ordered with each function containing a specific place in the organization. However, NATO has many committees, working groups, conferences and other groups that are cross-functional by design. My purpose here is not to detail NATO or military organization structures. I have generalized much and more information on military organization for operations is available in US and NATO publications (CJCS JP-1). The important point to gain here is that the traditional stereotype of rigid military structures and one-man control is not the case for NATO. Most operations, in peace and war, involve a cross-functional team effort to achieve a commander's vision for victory. The cross functional teaming environment used throughout modern project management is used by military planners and as can be see, in both Exhibits 1 and 2, embedded in NATO structures and procedures.

Exhibit 2 shows some detail of the various groups that were formed within Allied Command Europe (ACE). Groups are functionally described in this picture. Within NATO, Steering Groups (SG) tend to be high-level policy bodies whereas Working Groups (WG) tend to be implementation bodies. SGs usually have national representatives assigned as members (Stakeholders) and work political issues. The structure of SGs and WGs within ACE cut across the hierarchical command chain and were, in most cases, cross-functional by design. For example, the Program Director (PD) for Air South's reorganization chaired the AIRSOUTH HQ reorganization WG. This WG was composed of functional experts drawn from the military staff. Many of these same individuals also worked on the AFSOUTH Command Structure Rationalization WG and the Air South PD also sat on the SHAPE SG. Focus groups at SHAPE were manned by individuals from all levels within ACE. This arrangement allowed work to be completed without being slowed by the traditional hierarchical military command structure. Issues were worked as required at any level of command and although not shown, close coordination between northern air forces were also accomplished.

Let's now look at the NATO military environment as contrasted with the well-known team program management paradigm. The conclusion we will come to is that there is much commonality between these two environments. First, the military planner within NATO is usually a senior or in U.S. terms a field grade officer. Within most civilian companies this level corresponds to a senior program manager position or a senior member of a specialized integrated product or process team (IPT). Both the project manager and war planner should have about 10 years of experience and training prior to taking on their respective responsibilities. Both the project manager and military planner use a systematic process to plan and manage their efforts. As is seen in Exhibit 3, the environment of program management and military operations have many common characteristics. The fundamental difference between the two being that military operations tend to be performance driven (i.e., monetary cost should not be a driving factor) while the traditional factors of cost, schedule and performance together drive actions within the program management arena. Risk, as associated with loss of life, is also a driving function in modern U.S. military planning and other factors such as the senior corporate level (i.e., the General Officer/Director/COO or CEO) exercising more authority over individuals than their corresponding civilian counterpart affect program or operations execution. However, the common characteristics are such that they drive planning and management processes at the senior or field grade level.

Exhibit 3. Comparison of Program Management and Military Operations

Comparison of Program Management and Military Operations

The organizational structure, planning and management environments within NATO thus create a common environment between what we know as modern program management and what is know within NATO as the Consultation Command and Control (C3) Process (NATO, 2001, p. 183). Note that this is unique to NATO in that most national militaries define C3 and Command, Control and Communications. Looking now look at three of procedures adopted within the NATO C3 context we will examine the use of Silence Procedures, the Team Management Plan, and the Team Charter.

Silence Procedures

“Silence Procedures” are used to allow individual nations the opportunity to agree not to stop an action or decision while at the same time not being forced to explicitly agree with the action or decision proposed. Individuals operate within groups in a similar manner. Individuals, however, can substitute personal views for professional or organizational beliefs. For our discussion, it is not important which position (personal, professional, or organization) a team member or individual is expressing. The source of the position is important only in trying to mediate agreement. We will be attempting to avoid the disagreement through the use of the “Silence Procedure” as a tool for conflict avoidance and decision-making.

One word of caution must be inserted here. The technique is not recommended when members of a team, for legal reasons or otherwise, must commit to a specific course of action or go on record as to their explicit position. Such is the case when dealing with ac-tions before a Board of Directors or governmental entity such as a Planning Board. If approached correctly, the silence procedure is very useful and it is the cornerstone for the decision-making process within NATO.

Let's now turn to exactly what the “Silence Procedures” are. Very simply, the Silence Procedure allows a group of individuals to agree to a decision without explicitly casting a vote for adoption. This is done by putting the proposition forward as already agreed with the understanding that if no individual explicitly disagrees within a predefined time, then the action is adopted. To better understand the fine differences between the standard, propose and vote method of group decision and the Silence Procedure specific attributes of each process will be outlined below. This is necessary because the standard propose-and-vote process is established within widely used democratic procedures. In fact, in most cases, propose and vote is so common it is not even though of as a decision tool.

The propose-and-vote method mentioned above has its roots in established democratic processes and assumes an accountability requirement where each person stands and is counted based on their position. Inherent in this democratic process is the assumption that the minority will agree to the rule of the majority and that future actions will not be effected by past votes. When an action is proposed, the assumption is that approval has not yet been reach and that upon voting, the whole group will adopt the action. The process is designed to encourage discussion and amendments as the group reaches consensus.

Embedded in this process are significant difficulties for groups in a highly contentious environment. For example, consensus may not be a goal of some members of your group. Further, the mediation process inherent in proposing, discussing and voting may lead to an endless cycle of changes and further discussions with no decision. Finally, when faced with losing the voting process, the minority may simply block further progress within the group processes.

On the other hand, the Silence Procedure approaches the decision process from an opposite perspective. First, the decision is assumed approved from the start! This is the key distinguishing characteristic of the Silence Procedure. As a result, there is an avoidance of the interactive process of mediation where by the traditional propose and vote process reaches a decision. Thus, when the Silence Process is used the team leader must be able to propose a course of actions in its final form or have already formulated the complete solution within a separate more cooperative forum. Since there will be not a formal vote, group members are not forced to take a stand on disagreeable issues. Within a contentious environment it may be easier for individuals to silently look the other way when proposals are put forward. However, if challenged to state a position, these same individuals may be compelled to state an objection.

To see how this might work let's look at the adoption of a proposal to set the suspense for a major final report. The program manager or group leader would simply state that the report will be due, say on August 15, 2002 by close of business and will contain the final text for the already agreed outline. This statement, usually in writing, would be circulated with a defined silence period. In this case a statement would be added as follows: This deadline is announced under silence procedures and concerned individuals have until close of business June 15 to voice disagreement with the deadline. It is extremely important that a formal way is provided to respond so that concerned individuals can show proof of their opting out of the proposed action. Usually receipted email is sufficient, however, procedures can be as informal as voicemail or as formal as registered mail. Within NATO any single opt-out is sufficient to “kill” a proposal. However, the exact number of opt-outs can be any number based on an agreed group procedure.

There is an added advantage to the use of Silence Procedures not already stated. Sometimes, particularly when working with volunteer groups, it is hard to get individuals to actually cast a vote. As long as the Silence Procedure is well documented and all stakeholders are knowledgeable of the issue considered, that fact that a no reply is the only response still empowers the team leader or project manager to proceed with authority of the group.

Team Management Plan

Unlike the NATO Silence Procedures, which are unique to NATO, the use of a Team Management Plan is recommended within the PMBOK® Guide, section 9.1 (PMI, 2000). The team management plan is related to the project being worked but its focus is on the team, not the project. This is a very important distinction. In fact, if properly constructed, the team management plan could be applicable to multiple similar projects. The team management plan does not have to be long or complex. One to three page point papers were used at AIRSOUTH as individual team management plans. These short and simple point papers provided the charter and tasks for multiple teams working on my program. Simplicity was critical because most team members (including Americans according to my British associates) were not native English speakers.

The specific portions of the team management plan include:

•  The team's charter and mission summarized in one or two paragraphs

•  General team operating procedures and vision, who chairs the team, the responsibilities and authority of members and how the team interrelates with other teams and managers

•  A definition of what constitutes completion of the team's tasks or mission

•  A series of delivery dates for products

•  An explanation of how progress will be monitored.

Most important of these is a clear understanding by all team members as to what constitutes completion of the team's tasks and mission. To keep teams focused, I reviewed each team plan on a quarterly basis and kept tasking and deliverables confined to a three-month rolling window. Key long-term deliverables were mentioned in team mission statements and within the overall program plan, but product delivery dates within each team management plan was focused on a three-month, rolling window.

The distinguishing characteristic of the team management plan is that it includes more than traditional program management data such as schedule, tasks, and deliverables. The team management plan also includes organizational data, personnel responsibilities, authorities delegated, and the team's vision, mission, and operating procedures. The latter components may be applicable across projects as the team works many tasks within multiple or large programs.

The team management plan must also be a living document. However, as I managed my teams within NATO I only had to update the list of short-term delivery dates for products due on a monthly basis. As tasking was completed, new tasks within a team's overall assigned mission were rolled into the team's tasking list. As a major product was completed, the senior program management team reviewed team missions and reformed teams as required. This occurred on close to an annual basis as major portions of the program were completed. For example, once NATO approved our headquarters reorganization, the HQ Reorganization Study Team was disbanded. Staffing the new structure used existing and well-known manning procedures. The task of staffing was then transferred to the personnel branch and a coordination officer became part of my matrixed senior management team.

The team management plan provides team members with a clear understanding of who has authority within each team and what is expected of each team member. The use of team management plans provide each team member with a clear understanding of where they fit in organizationally and from a project perspective. Team leaders and project managers also gain a clear understanding of the structure supporting their projects and the current level of ongoing work within that structure. Team leaders and project managers are then able to use this information to better respond to changing and increased tasking.

Thus, the team management plan serves as a tool to assist team leaders and project managers in making both programmatic and personnel tasking decisions. It also provides for a more stable environment for team members to work in. Team members are then able to work more effectively because of reduced risk and a clearer understanding of what is required and when.

Team Charter

Charters within NATO are extremely important. Because of the collective nature of the alliance, every action of subordinate organizations must be tied to some authorizing document. Within the civilian world the old adage is, “if it isn't against the law, do it.” However, within NATO and most governmental organization, a specific authorization is required by law or agreement for action. Government bodies, at least within the U.S. and NATO are governed by the idea of limited authorities. Whereas private organizations or individuals have unlimited authority unless explicitly restricted. The need for an authorizing charter is fundamental to NATO. It is also fundamental to good team management practices.

A team charter is a written document from a person in authority that defines and authorizes a group to perform some action. Implicit in this definition is the assumption that the individual who issues the charter has authority over the actions of the individuals within the group and that each individual within the group is ultimately responsible to the person giving the charter for their actions. Tasks should be delegated and yes, credit must be shared. But each individual must be held responsible for actions or failure to act within the organization.

The team charter should be detailed enough to establish the team, its makeup, and mission but general so that it will not need changes during the team's lifetime. If the team charter needs changing, most likely the team's reason for existence has changed sufficiently to warrant a restructuring of the team from scratch. Detail management information such as team operating procedures, specific tasks and implementation plans are part of the Team Management Plan and should not be in the team charter. The team's mission should be separate from the charter because the mission statement is more detailed and may change. If the mission is included in the team charter, flexibility is lost. In general, the underlying team structure supporting a given long-term project should change little. Some teams, such as a budget-working group may operate throughout the entire life cycle of the project. On the other hand, a process improvement team may disband after a six- or ten-month study and transfer the implementation of recommendations to a separate implementation team.

With the foregoing understood let's see what a typical team charter may contain. The charter first should state the team's name, purpose, and issuing authority. Then a general statement as to the team's composition and structure should be given. Rather than appointing a specific individual as team chair, an office of primary responsibility should be identified. Finally the team charter should contain an activation date and some type of “sunset” clause that forces periodic review of the continued need for the team's operations. Avoid all desires to include more detail than needed and especially specific items that are in the team management plan. Using the above outline a team charter for a PMI Chapter Meeting Program Team may be as follows:

“The PMI Chapter Meeting Program Team is established by the President under authorities described in the PMI Chapter By-laws. The team will develop a professional lecture program for each dinner membership meeting scheduled during the year. The team will be composed of at least two individuals, one of which shall be a member of the chapter board of directors. Individual team members are responsible to the VP Programs for their actions and are authorized to act in fulfillment of their responsibilities as long as such actions are within approved board guidelines. The need for this team will be review on an annual basis.”

The above is a trivial example but illustrative of the following points. First, the purpose of the team is established in general terms and when taken as part of a larger organization, the collective team charters form a comprehensive catalog of the supporting structure within a program office. Second, team composition is established and there is flexibility for the team to grow as needed. Within a larger or more complex organization, the team composition may consist of a cross-functional array of individuals matrixed from many separate offices within an organization. The charter provides the justification and authority for the team leader to request and receive help from these supporting offices. Third, clear lines of responsibility are established and the bounds in which individuals work as team members are established. The establishment of acceptable working boundaries is very important when dealing with professional disagreement amongst separate teams and individual team members. See my first article on conflict within teams, September 2001 PMI Baltimore Chapter Newsletter. Finally, a process is established to review the team's usefulness on a periodic basis.

Let's now look at how the mission statement is distinguished from the team purpose as contained in the team charter. From the example above the team mission may be as follows:

“Establish a meeting program at least three months in advance of meetings and contract for a single speaker at each meeting in support of the established program who will provide a noncommercial, educational presentation of at least 60 minutes, including at least 10 minutes for questions and answers, that meets PMI educational guidelines for PDU credits at each of 10 monthly meetings throughout the calendar year.”

Obviously, the mission statement has more detail and since it is not part of the charter, it may be modified to meet special requirements throughout the year. For example, an additional 11th meeting may be added or presentation times may be changed. In addition, the mission statement is worded such that its success can be measured and quantified.

Multiple team charters, when taken as a group, provide the foundation upon which the supporting team or committee structure is built within a program office to support projects. It adds structure to the many cross-functional teams that are created within a highly matrixed staff and establishes comfortable bounds within which team members work. The team management plan extends the general guidance contained within the team charter and provides the detailed processes and procedures that allow team members to successfully accomplish specific missions or tasks within their assigned duties. The use of team charters and management plans provides a more stable organization structure that encourages risk taking within teams and an overall better product due to increased efficiency and better team solutions.


The C3 process used within NATO to accommodate the working of independent nations within both a hierarchical and cross-functional team structure works well within this highly political environment. These processes can be applied within the program management arena to manage projects where there is a high degree of cross-cultural and political concerns that could cause management discord.

Silence Procedures, a decision tool to avoid conflict, is recommended as a way to move forward on issues without explicitly taking sides on contentious issues. The team management plan is used to define member roles and responsibilities while the team charter is used to define the team organizational responsibilities. When taken together, these tools allow team members to understand where they fit within the team and they provide a clear picture to the team leader as to where the team fits into the organization. These three tools are used successfully within NATO to minimize misunderstandings and when necessary, avoid conflict.


CJCS JP-1. Joint Warfare of the Armed Forces of the United States, Joint Publication 1, 14 November 2000, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Pentagon, Washington, DC. Available from Internet:

NATO 2001. NATO Handbook. NATO Office of Information and Press, 1110 Brussels, Belgium. Available from Internet:

Project Management Institute (PMI) Standards Committee. 2000. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) -2000 Edition. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

Proceedings of the Project Management Institute Annual Seminars & Symposium
October 3–10, 2002 • San Antonio, Texas, USA



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