The Hunting Territory®, optimizing project outcomes and enabling project-based organizations
Increasingly, organizations are focussing on the performance of teams to create competitive advantage. The success of projects and organizations is dependant upon the constructive and collaborative interactions of individuals within teams. Many approaches to improving team performance focus upon individuals within teams, yet the most significant barriers to performance relate to structural issues of the team.
This paper will enable organisational leaders to understand how they can improve organisational, project and individual performance by acting upon the structures of teams. It will outline the true lifecycle of teams and the barriers to performance. It will provide a model and tools to allow leaders and teams to clearly and constructively address these barriers, thereby accelerating the process of team development and the attainment of high levels of performance.
It is past midnight. The crisis team has been working around the clock for the past two weeks. An artic chill sweeps through the room as another issue surfaces. More conflict erupts as the finger of blame is pointed yet again. As the issues increase and become more significant, the relationships within the team disintegrate further and further.
Already the company has lost tens of millions of dollars and suffered significant reputational damage. Everyone knows that it will be many months before the project is stabilised.
More importantly, the human costs will continue to mount. Several members of the team will suffer stress-related illnesses. Many families will be impacted through the absence of a parent. A marriage will fail. Careers will end and some will never recover.
Relationships in the company will be so badly damaged that the impact to organisational performance through the erosion of trust, resentment and resulting politics will last for many years.
Yet none of this had to happen; most of the problems could have been avoided and most of them were predictable.
The above scene is based on the experience of one of the authors who during the past 15 years has been involved in the recovery of troubled projects across a number of industries in Australia, Europe and the United States.
Often when projects become troubled, members of the team will view the reasons for poor performance as being external to the team. Team members may see the causes as the inappropriate use of technology, unfavourable contract terms, an unreasonable customer or an under-performing supplier and so on. Typically, one or more of these factors will be present in any troubled project.
There is, however, one constant of troubled projects that is rarely mentioned by the project team. That is the performance of the team itself, specifically the dynamics of the team. It is the authors' experience that teams displaying a healthy internal dynamic are often able to overcome the challenges of inappropriate technologies, unfavourable contracts, demanding customers and difficult suppliers. In this perspective, effectively managing the dynamic of the project team will have a positive effect on project performance and outcomes.
The authors, through the Hunting Territory® model of team performance and appropriate use of proven project management methods, provide a practical approach for understanding and positively acting upon the dynamics of any project team.
The Nature of Conflict in Teams and Its Impact on Performance
Each member of a team has a sense of identity, or sense of self. Our sense of identity is our personal image of who and what we are. All of us have a great deal of personal and professional investment in our identity, and we are highly motivated to maintain and further develop a positive sense of self. In this sense, the degree to which involvement in the team and project maintains and enhances an individual's sense of self will dictate his willingness to cooperate with team members.
Cooperation amongst members is a prerequisite of performing teams. It is only through the constructive interaction of team members that any team can perform at an acceptable level. Cooperation can be defined as working with others to complete established tasks and activities to the required standard. Collaboration is a prerequisite for high-performing teams. Collaboration can be defined as the creative interaction between individuals beyond the scope of defined roles, tasks and responsibilities to achieve mutually desired outcomes.
For teams to perform to their potential, involvement in team activities must fulfil two criteria for each team member:
- A positive sense of self is maintained through the successful performance of assigned roles.
- A positive sense of self is enhanced through association with the identity of the team. The identity of the team is defined as the objectives, result and outcomes associated with team performance.
In the absence of the first criteria, the primary purpose of team members will be to protect their sense of identity. Protection of self-identity, often manifested as self-justification, results in the loss of cooperation. The absence of the will to cooperate creates conflict as one or more members strive to maintain their sense of identity through successful performance.
The “Hunting Territory”
In a corporate team environment, the authors define the “Hunting Territory” as the “space” that each team member works within to perform her role. An individual's job description more or less describes her Hunting Territory. In projects, individual Hunting Territories are described in the roles and responsibilities section of the Organization Breakdown Structure, and task and responsibilities are defined and assigned in the Work Breakdown Structure.
There are three aspects of the Hunting Territory that directly impact team performance:
- The respect of individual space by other team members
- The willingness of team members to share their space with others to complete defined work— cooperation
- The willingness of team members to create additional space to achieve team objectives—collaboration.
The System of Team Life
All teams exist within the system of Team Life. The system consists of three components:
- The natural and inevitable life cycle of the team
- The structures that impact upon the performance of the team and its members
- Communication within the team.
Just as a caterpillar goes through a lifecycle to become a butterfly, all teams go through a natural and inexorable lifecycle to become high performing. Many teams do not reach high or good levels of performance. Structural issues of the team inhibit the development process of the team and the team cannot progress beyond the early stages of the lifecycle.
Structure is to the team as the anatomy is to a living body. Structure provides the basic mechanisms that the team needs to exist and function. The extent to which structures are developed and functioning directly impacts the performance of the team.
Communication is to the team as the neuroendocrine system is to the living body. Communication facilitates the development of team structures and team structures facilitate communication.
Team Life Lifecycle
The formation phase involves the assignment of the project manager and team members to the project. During this phase individuals are focussed on understanding the project's objectives and their roles, potential contribution and ability to deliver the required outcomes.
In order to increase the chances of individual success, team members will present themselves in the most positive light. In doing so they are seeking the favourable allocation of roles, responsibilities and resources. This involves showing how they can contribute to project success and suppressing weaknesses or underlying agendas not aligned to successful outcomes. This often presents as a heightened willingness to cooperate with and understand the needs of others.
During this phase individuals assigned to the team are generally most interested in their own needs rather than the overall needs of the team and its success. Performance of the team can exceed expectations as members are acting cooperatively in order to gain favour with the project manager.
The Inside Fights stage commences when conflict for Hunting Territories occurs. Conflicts are manifested by the following:
- Disputes between team members for ownership of specific roles and resources
- Reluctance to own specific roles, responsibilities and resources; this creates a gap and becomes an uncovered territory.
During this phase individuals continue to focus on their own needs and territories. Critical areas are the Hunting Territory overlaps where people need to cooperate in order to perform. During the Inside Fights each of the participants on the overlap wants things to happen his way. This inevitably causes tension between participants. There are typical manifestations of the conflict:
- The “War Version” - The overlap becomes a “theatre of war.” The parties openly and vehemently express their anger against the interference (and non performance?) of their “should-be-partners.” The heated arguments undermine their relationship, and cooperation between them becomes virtually impossible.
- The “Silent Version” – This is most common in Western cultures, typically in Anglo-Saxon cultures where people avoid open confrontations and move into survival mode. The initial willingness to cooperate and understand the needs of others disappears, and communication breaks down.
During the Inside Fights stage, communication within the team changes as individuals seek to secure their Hunting Territory in the following ways:
- Forming subgroups and cliques with those individuals who they believe will support their claim for the desired Hunting Territory
- Ignoring or refusing to interact with those who compete for a disputed territory
- Avoiding discussions over problematic uncovered territories, hoping that someone else will be blamed when problems eventuate
- Creating political pressure with friendly subgroups to get others assigned to unattractive Uncovered Territories.
During this phase individuals continue to be most interested in their own needs rather than the overall needs of the team and its success. They are not just ignoring their overlapping tasks and responsibilities, but they are ignoring the gaps as well. The expected levels of performance are not achieved, and the project manager is under scrutiny by the sponsor and team members. Pressure to perform increases and informal leaders emerge.
The team enters the Settled phase when each substructure is stabilised, enabling the establishment of consensus regarding Hunting Territories. The team focuses upon the creation of products and deliverables. Communications channels are clearer and more consistent.
Competition for territories continues but is maintained within limits. The team generally performs to expected standards. Team members begin to assume ownership of overall team performance. As a result, cooperation is established on the overlaps to create products and deliverables. However, when there are critical problems on the overlap, individuals only perform as expected rather than assisting their teammate in resolving problems. Blame may be assigned for mistakes. In pressure situations the primary focus of most individuals returns to their personal performance, and they revert to the behavioural styles exhibited during the inside-fights phase.
Project Governance is strong and focussing on management and control to provide a stable system.
Under pressure, or in unexpected circumstances, performance may drop.
The informal leaders will be recognised by the project manager and team members.
The team can enter Dynamic Balance when there is a high correlation between rank in the Hierarchy and performance. Autonomy is appropriately distributed amongst the subgroups. There are high levels of cooperation on the overlaps with agreed and effective processes for resolving conflicts between the Hunting Territories. All members are committed to the objectives of the project and work in a disciplined way to achieve these. As a result, a trusting environment is established where all team members recognise the contribution and commitment of each member. Mistakes are not punished, rather the team collaborates to resolve them.
High levels of performance are established and maintained even in times of intense and prolonged pressure.
Project Governance is strong and flexible, ensuring appropriate controls and enabling creativity and innovation. As a result, the team uses innovative and creative approaches for delivery of the project.
When the structure of a team becomes rigid and resists adaptation to changing circumstances, the team enters the disintegration phase. Performance drops rapidly and does not recover.
The performance of key team members drops without an appropriate adjustment to their rank in the Hierarchy. These members may intimidate or impede the progress of others to maintain their position. No one accepts responsibility for poor performance. A culture of blame begins to resurface. Decision-making processes deteriorate, resulting in long delays and then rushed decisions. High levels of apathy and absenteeism occur.
Every team has a structure. The structure is the network over which information flows and products and deliverables are created. There are six elements within the structure of the team. Each element interacts with the other five. Good structure enables good communication. Fractured or inappropriate structure weakens or stops communication. Good communication enables good performance. Lack of communication or inappropriate communication (e.g., manipulation) disables the structure and results in poor performance.
The organization structure comprises three elements:
The roles of teams or individuals within a project
The work that teams or individuals need to perform
The actual performance of the team or individual.
In projects these elements are respectively represented by the Project Organisational Breakdown Structure, Work Breakdown Structure, and Project Performance.
The Hunting Territory is the “space” (environment) in which teams or individuals perform their assigned roles. In the most basic form, this is the tasks and responsibilities required to produce the products and/or deliverables. It is critical that this space is recognised and respected by all team members.
This is the decision-making authority of teams and individuals. (It is also the right to commit mistakes.) The allocation of freedom in decision-making is a very important part of the system of team life. At one end of the scale is the overwhelming/dominating project manager who “micro-manages” her people; at the other end is the “laisser-faire” project manager who gives full freedom to her team-members; in the middle is the good balance with carefully shared freedom that leads to shared ownership and high performance.
The hierarchy is the system of the team and individuals in rank order. A member's rank is affected by many factors other than actual performance. These may include the following:
- Previous performance over a period of time
- Relationships with powerful stakeholders
- Perceived skills, knowledge and experience
- Actual performance
- Social and communication skills—the ability to present oneself in the most favourable light; or the ability to motivate, influence, mobilise others
- Position or role in previous projects
- Job level or grade and assigned role
- Compensation or charge out rate (individual and subcontractor)
- Adaptability to changing circumstances.
Rank within the Hierarchy correlates to individual recognition and reward.
The Informal Structure is the communicational network of teams. Whereas the organisational structure informs us who has to do what, the informal structure provides insight to how it is done. Within any given project there are numerous relationships, represented by subgroups, between individual players. Some subgroups will have a number of strong relationships with others and some may have few, if any.
The system of the subgroups and their interrelationships comprises the informal structure. It tells us how communication occurs and how work is actually done within the project. The strength of the Informal Structure determines the responsiveness of the team under pressure.
Playing time is the allocation of roles, task, responsibilities and resources to a team or individual. It is heavily influenced by the project manager's perceptions of the ability of the individual or team to perform needed roles to deliver required outcomes. The distribution of the earlier-mentioned elements is crucial to the flow of information, and to the load on individuals within the team.
Communication is the other major component of the System of Team Life. Attention to structures of the System of Team Life will enable strong communication. In conjunction with an understanding of the Lifecycle of the System of Team Life, the project manager is able to effectively use a range of communication tools. This paper assumes that the project manager has strong skills in the area of communications.
Project Manager Leadership Through the Team Lifecycle
The project manager is able to control and accelerate the team lifecycle by exercising appropriate leadership during each phase. Following are recommended actions and project management tools that can be applied.
During the Formation phase it is essential that the project manager provide a clear and consistent picture of the following:
- The objective and scope of the project
- Organisational structure
- Roles and responsibilities
- Project approach and expected contributions
- Performance criteria
- Team rules
At the early stage of a project, some or all of the above may be unclear to the sponsor and project manager, yet alone team members. Recognising this reality, it is important to take strong action to clarify the situation. The project manager can use tools such as the Project Charter, Project Organisational Breakdown Structure, and initial Project Management Plan to provide clarity. Producing drafts of these or similar documents and engaging team members in the process of base-lining them focuses the team on the objectives of the project and their role and expected contribution.
Whilst conflicts will not be removed, a framework will be built for managing them when they occur during the Inside Fights phase. Providing tight version control for these documents and making them readily available to all team members is a foundation for effective communication within the team.
This phase is the opportunity for the project manager to gain a clear understanding of the skills, competencies, personalities, experience and interests of team members. Recognising that team members will attempt to present themselves in the most favourable light, it is essential to focus on what each team member has done, rather than what she claims to have done or could do. Seeking recent evidence through observable data and input from objective customers, suppliers and colleagues is essential. This allows the project manager to appropriately place team members in the Hierarchy and allocate Autonomy and Playing Time. Additionally, the project manager is able to establish an initial picture of the subgroups and their relationships.
These actions set the tone for the team processes. Whilst some team members may not like the outcomes of the process, most team members will see that effective decision-making processes will be used through the project. They see that they are being treated reasonably and fairly. The team values will begin to settle around performance. Recognising that performance is highly valued, most potentially negative team members will adjust their behaviour and positively contribute to the team processes and performance.
Inside Fights Phase
During Inside Fights, team members are competing for Hunting Territories, Autonomy and Playing Time. This situation requires the project manager to adopt a directive leadership style. To do otherwise will increase the scope and length of this phase, negatively impacting on project performance. In addition to establishing baselines on the project management documents mentioned in the Formation phase, the following actions can be taken:
- Establish Issues and Risk Registers and insist that team members use them to document their issues and concerns.
- Insist that each risk and issue be fully completed so that the impact to the project can be understood. This will act to focus team members on the project and its objectives rather than their fight for Hunting Territory.
- This approach will constructively surface in a relatively nonconfrontational way the gaps and overlaps that exist within the project.
Baselining the Project Management Plan and focussing on the products and deliverable to be created along with the Work Breakdown Structure are essential to moving from this phase. Whilst it is inevitable that there will be areas open to clarification and dispute, making clear decisions and enforcing strong project management discipline will accelerate their resolution.
The project manager will need to make independent decisions using the best available data. Focussing the team on relatively simple and achievable tasks can have the effect of creating a sense of ownership and identity with the project.
Informal leaders will emerge during this phase. It is important to recognise that they will challenge the project manager until good levels of performance are established. Rather than resist the challenges from the informal leader, the project manager can listen carefully without being defensive and show appropriate empathy. If the informal leader is competent, and it is appropriate, he can be provided with additional autonomy on the overlaps, provided that he delivers as promised.
The project manager needs to remain available and open to the thoughts and concerns of other team members as they relate to the project's objectives. He needs to hold himself and the team accountable to the team rules established during Formation.
It is critical that Project Performance be closely monitored and managed, rewarding good performance and acting decisively to resolve bad performance. This will further reinforce the performance culture established during Formation.
Settled Team Phase
As the team focuses and delivers upon their assigned work, the team will begin to settle and performance will reach acceptable standards. To further improve performance, it is necessary to shift leadership style to a more consultative mode. The project manager can open discussions in well-clarified topics where she genuinely wants or needs the input of the team.
Where issues surface within or between subgroups, they can be engaged in the constructive resolution of the overlaps and gaps. It is important that only the affected subgroups are involved. This has the affect of further reinforcing the performance culture. Those who experience problems see that they are appropriately dealt with. Those who are not directly impacted also see that the problems are resolved before they affect their individual performance.
At this time, having experienced some success, more complex work can be introduced. It is imperative that the strong project control processes and team rules established in the earlier phases are reinforced.
As performance continues to improve, and the subgroups are empowered, the team can enter Dynamic Balance. This requires a further shift by the project manager to a delegative style, allowing the team to take full ownership of performance and become more creative and innovative. The project manager needs to maintain strong project control processes whilst pushing greater accountability and autonomy to team members, thereby allowing greater creativity and innovation.
To maintain this phase, the project manager has to carefully monitor key contributors and leaders to ensure that they do not burn out. This can be supported by ensuring that there are periods of stabilisation with the project, allowing the team time to recover. If this not possible, it is necessary to implement resourcing plans that provide key contributors with down time by replacing them with skilled people for set periods of time.
Acting Upon the Structures of the System of Team Life
The following describes project management methods and tools that can be used by the project manager to positively act upon on the Structures within the system of Team Life.
The organization structure can be clarified understood and managed, using the following tools:
- Project Organizational Breakdown Structure
- Work Breakdown Structure
- Performance of individual and subcontractors.
The Informal Structure
The informal structure and key subgroups can be understood and managed, using the following tools:
- Stakeholder maps
- Functional relationship maps
The Hierarchy can be effectively managed by the continuous evaluation of the performance of team members during the project. Accurate assessment will allow the appropriate adjustment of Autonomy, Hunting Territory and Playing Time:
Project Control and Performance Management processes
Individual Performance Management processes.
The Hunting Territory
Individual Hunting Territories and cooperation between team members can be managed, using the following tools:
- Product breakdown structure
- Work breakdown structure
The authority to act and make decisions can be managed, using the following tools:
- Project Charter
- Project Management Plan
- Roles and Responsibilities
- Delegations and authorities
- Governance structure.
The playing time of subgroups and individuals can be managed by using the following tools:
- Work Breakdown Structure.
Enabling the Project Based Organization
In the never-ending search for competitive advantage, organisations are increasingly implementing their change actions through projects and becoming more project based. The rate of change and the number of projects are increasing. Value chains and models are emerging as key components of the Project Based Organization (PBO).
To be effective, the PBO must have overlaps between departments through the tight integration of Strategy, Portfolio Management, Program Management, Project Management, Process Management and ongoing operations. Each of these disciplines is specialised and designed to deliver specific benefits. In several cases, there are clear tensions and conflicts. For example, programs embrace ambiguity and emergent change whilst projects seek to remove ambiguity and resist change. Therefore, the PBO introduces conflict through the high number of change actions (programs and projects) and then compounds this conflict by requiring teams with traditionally differing cultures and in some cases opposing objectives to cooperate and collaborate first and foremost for the benefit of the organization.
By recognising and understanding the reality of the System of Team Life, project managers are able to accomplish the following:
- Understand that conflict within any team and project is inevitable.
- Constructively manage their team so that development through the lifecycle is accelerated.
- Run more effective, efficient and harmonious projects, increasing project success, and deliver better outcomes for team members and stakeholders.
- Leverage the creative and innovative capabilities of their team.
Gorgenyi, I. (1998). The Hunting Territory or the system of team life. Sports Coach Magazine, Summer edition, 18-21, and Autumn edition, 14-17)
© 2008, Dr. Istvan Gorgenyi and Rod Gozzard
Originally published as a part of 2008 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Sydney, Australia