The dream team, effectively leading and motivating diverse project teams



Diversity is more than a corporate buzzword.

•  It's the challenges we face when creating synergies within a group of very different people.

•  It's the opportunities we seize when leveraging multifarious skills and interests.

•  It's our culture.

•  It's our job.

Financial Services, like many other industries, has embraced diversity in the workplace. The traditional cookie-cutter project team exists only in the archives of narrow-scoped, twentieth century project files. Today's project managers must expect to manage a team of individuals with diverse ages, values/beliefs, traditions, ethnic backgrounds, and personalities. Although these heterogeneous groups pose unique challenges when trying to forge a cohesive and integrated project team, they also offer the ability to solve complex problems and identify innovative solutions. Therefore, team diversity can directly contribute to the successful outcome of a project.

This situation creates a new paradigm for project managers, forcing them to become virtuosos of Project Human Resource Management. This softer side to project management can no longer be treated as a stepchild; it must be embraced and managed as vigorously as cost, scope and quality. Consequently, this paper introduces the framework for a Project Team Development Plan, a component of the overall project plan that will guide project managers in effectively leading and motivating diverse project teams.


Two primary assumptions surround this topic. First, hand picking team members is a rare luxury. Typically in financial services, the project manager is assigned team members from various functional managers. Depending on the priority of the project, these team members may or may not have the skill sets, availability or personality types preferred.

Second, “Influence without Authority” is the standard operating mode for most financial services’ project managers. Therefore, we must seek creative means to obtain the commitment and responsiveness needed from our team members.

The Project Team Development Plan

The “Dream Team”

Envision this scenario:

You are the project manager of a large, complex, corporate initiative. Your team consists of 20 crackerjack, but widely diverse performers. They show up to all your meetings. They submit their deliverables on time. They identify and resolve issues in a timely manner. They help each other solve problems and actively participate in project decision-making. They share responsibility for project success and demonstrate unwavering commitment. They are your “Dream Team”

The Dream Team is not some project manager's unfulfilled fantasy. It is as realistic and achievable as completing your project on time, under budget, and within scope. As with any other successful project management practice, however, creating a Dream Team requires planning and commitment. This is accomplished through the creation and administration of a Project Team Development Plan.

Project Team Development Plan Goals

The primary goal of the Project Team Development Plan is to create a project environment that facilitates high team performance. Based on studies surrounding project team performance, there are six drivers that positively impact the tangible and intangible performance measures of projects (Verma, 1995, p. 120):

•  Assignment of interesting and challenging work

•  Recognition of accomplishment

•  Experienced management personnel

•  Proper direction and leadership

•  Qualified project team personnel

•  Professional growth potential.

Therefore, the content of the Project Team Development Plan must, at a minimum, support these drivers.

High performance alone, however, cannot create a Dream Team. As Babe Ruth aptly stated, “The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don't play together, the club won't be worth a dime.” Thus, the characteristics identified with successfully integrated project teams should also be considered when developing a Project Team Development Plan. Based on these characteristics, the overall effectiveness of the project manager in creating a cohesive project team can be measured by 10 critical success factors (Cleland, 1990):

Exhibit 1. The “Dream Team” Model

The “Dream Team” Model

•  Establish a common goal

•  Provide a strong sense of belonging

•  Instill pride and enjoyment in the group

•  Encourage dependency and collaboration among team members

•  Obtain commitment to the team rather than to specific individuals

•  Set strong performance norms, focusing on results

•  Require the team to be accountable for successes and failures, not individuals

•  Encourage interaction among team members

•  Demand respect for individual differences

•  Establish a climate of trust and healthy conflict.

Once developed and approved, the Project Team Development Plan will become a key component within the overall project plan. It will formulate the basis for achieving maximum team member effectiveness and thus, will make the Dream Team a reality.

The “Dream Team” Model

The Model

The Dream Team Model serves as a practical template for creating a comprehensive and effective Project Team Development Plan. As displayed in Exhibit 1, there are five core components to the model:

•  Define Team Expectations

•  Reward and Recognize Team Members

•  Embrace Team Diversity and Dynamics

•  Advance Team Capabilities

•  Motivate and Manage Team Performance.

By establishing action items within the Project Team Development Plan that support these five key areas and consistently implementing these activities throughout the course of a project, the Dream Team can be a reality.

“D”: Define Team Expectations

You cannot build a strong team on a weak foundation. Defining team expectations, therefore, is the first and most critical task faced by the project manager in establishing a Dream Team. Failure to establish a team foundation will “(1) hinder the group's ability to de-velop effective and efficient processes, (2) set the stage for frequent areas of conflict, and (3) make the job of the project manager hard than it needs to be” (Kiser, 2002, p. 6).

Exhibit 2. Project Team “Code of Conduct”

Project Team “Code of Conduct”

The project kick-off meeting provides the perfect opportunity to begin setting expectations and establishing a team foundation. Often these meetings focus on introducing the project and team members. However, it is recommended that the project manager expand the project kick-off meeting to incorporate several key action items from the Project Team Development Plan:

•  Communicate and discuss the project's mission and vision

•  Define team member roles and responsibilities clearly

•  Review and approve a team member communications plan

•  Review and approve problem escalation procedures

•  Share and obtain team acceptance of the team's “code of conduct” (see Exhibit 2).

Subsequently, throughout the course of the project, the team should revisit these expectations. Is the project still on target with the original mission and vision? Are proposed scope changes consistent with the mission? Are team members fulfilling their committed responsibilities? Is the “code of conduct” being followed? These are the types of questions that should be periodically reviewed and reinforced/modified during team meetings or at one-on-one discussions with individual team members and/or the project sponsor. Additionally, the expectations set during the project should be evaluated in the “lessons learned” discussion(s) at project phase gates and/or closure.

Exhibit 3. Project Team Performance Reward Matrix

Project Team Performance Reward Matrix

Note: CT refers to Core Team members & ET to Extended Team Members

“R”: Reward and Recognize Team Members

Recognition is frequently overlooked as one of the responsibilities of a project manager. However, for the project manager who has relatively little direct authority over team members, recognition can be an invaluable tool. “Recognition is the greatest motivator” (Gerard C. Eakedale). It can encourage a weak performer to improve. It can inspire a strong performer to contribute even more. It can make the difference between a good team and a great team.

Optimally, budgets for medium to large projects should include provisions for monetary rewards. These rewards can vary, depending on the complexity of the project, the level of effort and commitment demanded from the team, and the potential impact of the project to the bottom line of the Corporation. Obtaining funding from management for a rewards program, however, can be a challenge. One method to justify such expenditures is to develop a Project Team Performance Rewards Matrix (see Exhibit 3). This matrix removes some of the subjectivity associated with the awards process, linking specific performance criteria with monetary rewards and participation levels. Therefore, management is assured that rewards will be paid only if the project progresses successfully.

Money, however, isn't the only way to recognize superior performance. Project managers can implement an effective team member recognition program without formal funding. There are many fun, unique, and inexpensive ways that a project manager can recognize team member performance:

•  Email kudos! Express your appreciation for a job well done. (Don't forget to cc: their boss.)

•  Build a “Wall of Fame” on a bulletin board or web page to display positive customer comments.

•  Have a team pep rally. Hang balloons, hand out silly awards, lead team cheers, and have a fun time telling the team what a great job they are doing.

•  After reaching a major milestone, bring a cake to the team meeting with “The Sweet Taste of Success” written on the top with icing. Alternatively, bring sparkling cider and plastic champagne glasses to a meeting to “toast” the group's successes.

•  Acknowledge team members for their work outside of the office such as volunteering, hobbies, sports, and talents. Appreciate them for everything they are.

•  Wash a team member's car in the office parking lot or give them a VIP parking space.

•  Create a new “title” for your special performer. For example, give them a plastic crown with the “King/Queen of the Day” title.

•  Take photos of your team members while hard at work. Post them on a bulletin board or on your project's web page.

•  Keep an inventory of inexpensive gift certificates, reward coupons, greeting cards, or sweet treats at your desk to acknowledge a special act. Even a small $5 or $10 gift card for a video rental, bookstore, or favorite coffee shop can yield significant results.

•  Choose a stuffed toy as a team mascot. Let the mascot travel from person to person to acknowledge positive team values.

•  Send pizza to the home of a team member who has worked overtime, so dinner won't be a problem.

•  Establish a “Caught Ya!” reward to recognize a team member who is “caught doing the right thing.”

Whatever form of recognition is used, Project Managers should be mindful of the diversity of team members. Some people enjoy highly visible, public recognition. Others prefer quite, one-on-one recognition. By being sensitive to your recipient's preferences, the recognition will have more meaning.

“E”: Embrace Team Diversity and Dynamics

Maya Angelou, one of the most highly regarded poets of this century, artistically described the importance of embracing diversity: “We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color.” In order to facilitate creation of a Dream Team, the project manager and team members must understand and respect each other's diversity. This can best be accomplished through frank and open discussion. Early in the planning stages of the project, one or two sessions should be scheduled to focus specifically on the similarities and differences among team members. Some questions that participants should answer include the following (Cher-beneau, 1997, p. 35):

•  Identify your personal strengths.

•  Characterize yourself as it relates to your role on this project.

•  What behavior on the part of others brings your best performance?

•  What behavior inhibits your effectiveness?

•  What norms, operating principles and procedures should be agreed upon in order to accommodate our differing styles and needs, as well as our effectiveness as a team?

The outcome of this discussion will drive the ultimate norms, operating principles and procedures adopted by the team for the project. The resulting decisions may require modifications to the Project Team “Code of Conduct” (see Exhibit 3). Additionally, team members should be periodically approached with the following questions to ensure these decisions continue to be effective (Cher-beneau, 1997, pp. 35–36):

•  How well are we listening to each other? Have we made avoidable mistakes or wasted time/opportunities?

•  What have we learned that will assist us in the future?

•  Do we want to make any new agreements regarding norms, operating principles or procedures?

In addition to sharing information concerning personal diversity, team members may also benefit from understanding individual variations in personalities, behavioral styles and/or learning styles. This can be accomplished through a variety of analysis tools available on the market.

Ultimately, the goal of embracing team diversity and dynamics is to foster a project environment that will permit each team member to perform comfortably and optimally.

“A”: Advance Team Capabilities

In addition to understanding the diverse capabilities of team members, the project manager is responsible for providing the team with the necessary tools and information needed to successfully respond to project demands. The degree to which this is necessary often depends on the complexity/size of the project and its priority within the organization. Typically, high priority projects draw the most talented, skilled, and experienced team members. Unfortunately, the resource pool of these individuals is usually extremely limited. Therefore, the Project Team Development Plan must contain activities that will advance the team beyond their initial capabilities:

•  Training may be required, especially if the project represents a new technology or market. Team members should be consulted concerning their needs in this area and the project budget should be modified accordingly. Additionally, it may be necessary to contract a subject matter expert, even if only on an as-needed basis, to assist in resolving questions and issues raised by project team members.

•  Colocation, or physically positioning team members at the same location, encourages communication, information sharing and in-terdependency among team members. This “war room” approach, however, may not be feasible in global projects. In these situations, Internet/intranet technology should be leveraged to create a virtual war room, providing immediate access to critical project documents, contact information, message boards, online conference ca-pabilities, etc. Whether co-location is accomplished virtually or otherwise, the project manager should always attempt to physically work at the same location as they key members of the project team. Remote management of a complex project is rarely successful, and not conducive to creation of a Dream Team.

•  Team Building can significantly improve a team's capabilities. “Team building is the process of helping a group of individuals, bound by a common purpose, to work more effectively with each other, the leader, the external stakeholders, and the whole organization” (Verma, 1997). Numerous team-building exercises are available on the market; some are quick and simple while others can be quite involved and timely. Project Managers should judge the relative value of these tools based on the needs of the team and the project. Obviously, some team building efforts at the early stages of the project will aid the team in coming together and carrying the project forward. However, the value of team building during the later stages of a struggling project is often overlooked. When a team is losing commitment, performance is dropping, deliverables are being missed and interdependency is disintegrating, team-building exercises can yield a significant boost in team morale and synergy. Although scheduling a team-building session may take time away from the tasks at hand, the productivity improvements achieved from a reenergized team may more than make up the difference.

•  Additionally, as team members join/leave the project, the need for training, co-location and/or team building should be revisited. Overall, a project manager must occasionally play detective, looking for the clues that will allow him to advance his team beyond their current performance levels.

“M”: Motivate and Manage Team Performance

“Motivation is like food for the brain. You cannot get enough in one sitting” (Peter Davies). Continuous motivation is crucial to maintaining a Dream Team. Obviously, many aspects of the model discussed thus far in this paper will serve to motivate the project team to yield top performance. Therefore, this section will focus specifically on the importance of emotional intelligence as a means to motivate and manage team performance.

A leader's moods and behaviors will directly impact the moods and behaviors of their team. When a “leader is in a happy mood, the people around him view everything in a more positive light. That, in turn, makes them optimistic about achieving their goals, enhances their creativity and the efficiency of the decision-making, and predisposes them to be more helpful” (Goleman, 2001). A project manager with high levels of emotional intelligence will be able to foster a project climate that supports the characteristics of an integrated project team, as reviewed at the beginning of this paper, including information sharing, trust, healthy risk-taking and personal growth.

Dee Hock, founder and CEO emeritus of both Visa USA and Visa International, shares a similar viewpoint: “If you seek to lead, invest at least 50% of your time in leading yourself, your own purpose, ethics, principles, motivation and conduct. Invest at least 20% leading those with authority over you and 15% leading your peers.” This is, in many ways, contradictory to traditional concepts of leadership, but supports studies surrounding the value of emotional intelligence in the workplace. “Know Thyself” (Socrates) should be the guiding principle behind leading a diverse project team.

Exhibit 4. “Dream Team” Model Implementation Template

“Dream Team” Model Implementation Template

Consequently, the final recommendation for creating the project Dream Team is to assess your emotional intelligence as leader of the team. Several analysis tools have been created to facilitate this process, but generally a leader must resolve five questions:

•  Who do I want to be?

•  Who am I now?

•  How do I get from here to there?

•  How do I make the change stick?

•  Who can help me?

“An emotionally intelligent leader can monitor his or her moods through self-awareness, change them for the better through self-management, understand their impact through empathy, and act in ways that boost others’ moods through relationship management” (Goleman, 2001). The end result is a strong leader, a happy and productive team, and a successful project.


The Dream Team does not have to remain a fantasy. Walt Disney, the master of bringing visions to reality, once stated, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” Development and implementation of a Project Team Development Plan, incorporating the five core components of the Dream Team Model, will provide the foundation for leading and motivating diverse project teams. A comprehensive overview, organized according to the PMBOK® Process Groups, is displayed in Exhibit 4. This matrix serves as a template for project managers to create their own Project Team Development Plans and ultimately, their own project Dream Teams.


Cherbeneau, Jeanne. 1997. Hearing Every Voice: How to Maximize the Value of Diversity on Project Teams. PM Network (October): pp. 34–36.

Cleland, David. 1990. Project Management: Strategic Design and Implementation. Blue Ridge Summit, PA: TAB Books.

Goleman, Daniel. 2001. Primal Leadership: The Hidden Driver of Great Performance. Harvard Business Review (December): pp. 42–51.

Kiser, Glenn. 2002. Foundation Building: Where a strong team gets its start. People on Projects (February): pp. 6–7.

Verma, Vijay. 1997. Managing the Project Team. Upper Darby, PA: Project Management Institute.

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



Related Content

  • PM Network

    Banishing Burnout member content open

    We asked the project management community: What steps do you take to ensure team members aren't overwhelmed by the project workload? In addition to project management practitioners responses, global…

  • PM Network

    Pick up the Pace member content open

    By Rockwood, Kate David Barbieri, PMP, knows how to put the pedal to the metal. When he was given 12 months to complete a construction project that would normally take 24, he didn't roll up his sleeves and start…

  • Leadership and team dynamics in the new millennium member content open

    By Raghupathy, Shobhna There is a pronounced shift in the demands confronting organizational leadership, and these changes are a reflection of shifts in the global marketplace. With globalization, companies need to…

  • The project manager as team coach member content open

    By Woods, Juanita | Abdon, Pamela Coaching is a widely recognized business management skill today, with business leaders focusing on coaching their direct reports to success. Coaching can be a valuable tool in the toolkit of a…

  • PM Network

    Go, team, go! member content open

    By Kent, Simon Despite the difficulties involved in selecting project team members, project managers can assemble project teams staffed with experienced and successful top-level project professionals. But no…