Managing the engineering process

project team effectiveness


by William J. Colt, PMP

TEAMWORK, AN ESSENTIAL INGREDIENT for project success, is often an elusive trait on construction projects. The construction project team environment is almost always complex, often involving multiple corporate players. The diversity of projects, organizational structures and contract types render it impossible to develop standards defining teamwork. Thus, an adversarial relationship commonly develops between the owner, the designer, and the contractor. Shortcomings in scope definition or communications are often a root cause of these relationship problems.

The need for team unity is indifferent to project type and size, or to the nature of any contractual terms. However, traditional contracts that are designed around the exchange of goods or services rather than focused on the purchase of a (problem solving) team are prone to dispute and crisis.

Conducting a Project Team Effectiveness (PTE) workshop is beneficial for building trust and cooperation among the various stakeholders in a multicompany project setting. Project-sponsored team building serves to enhance a team's understanding of how to function as a single entity, rather than as a contractually obligated collection of multiple, self-serving teams. PTE events heighten a team's awareness of each other's responsibility, enhance a shared understanding of project objectives and goals, and help to align the efforts of the various parties.

PTE workshops are not a universal remedy for all of the issues that may plague project performance. However, the benefits are many. By eliminating adversarial, fear-based relationships among stakeholders, a PTE workshop strengthens trust and cooperation, improves communications, and ensures a shared understanding and alignment of project objectives, roles and responsibilities, performance expectations, company cultures and organizational structure, creating a win-win environment. When individuals understand how to work together better, get things done, and use scarce resources, it enhances individual commitment and results in improved scope definition and cost and schedule performance. The PTE process highlights critical project success factors and identifies significant barriers to success, allowing proactive and innovative team responses. This early focus enhances management's leadership role, as opposed to the “manager” role. Best of all, the individual insights gained can be carried forward to other projects.

To encourage the broadest possible participation, follow this prioritized guideline to attendees. While not absolutely necessary, it is desirable to have owner representatives in attendance if their designer or contractor counterparts are attending

Exhibit 1. To encourage the broadest possible participation, follow this prioritized guideline to attendees. While not absolutely necessary, it is desirable to have owner representatives in attendance if their designer or contractor counterparts are attending.

For the well-established team, a survey of the current level of functioning should be carried out prior to a team-building event. The survey shown here can be used to critique the group's performance as a team and to highlight areas of weakness so that the workshop can be focused where it will do the most good

Exhibit 2. For the well-established team, a survey of the current level of functioning should be carried out prior to a team-building event. The survey shown here can be used to critique the group's performance as a team and to highlight areas of weakness so that the workshop can be focused where it will do the most good.

A study by Robert Albanese (see “Team Building: Implications for the Design/Construction Process,” Source Document 87, Construction Industry Institute, 1993) documents that 100 percent of projects surveyed that employed some type of team building process found the process beneficial and would use team building programs again. When effectively applied early in a project's life, PTE programs enhance team performance, producing significant business benefits.

Planning the Workshop. A number of sample workshop modules are presented in the Appendix to this article. Any module can be modified for a specific project. Issues influencing the selection and/or application of a module include the current point in the project's life (i.e., preliminary engineering, detailed engineering, or construction), the time allotted for the workshop, the make-up of project personnel, the project's critical success factors, the complexity of the project's organizational structure. You may wish to consider some additional module topics: for example, an “ice breaker,” goals and deliverables, leadership, team unity, communications (especially interdisciplinary communications), problem solving, crisis management.

Pre-workshop planning should be performed by a project-specific team. The planning committee should consist of an experienced facilitator or “workshop host,” members of the owner, designer, and builder teams, and business unit and management representation. A functional mix is also desirable: include members from the design work group, procurement services, construction management, etc. Another key committee member is the scribe; someone designated to record the proceedings.

The facilitator's responsibilities are to be positive and supportive at all times, encourage active listening by all team members, and be accepting and noncritical of different views. The facilitator participates by making suggestions to spur creative thinking when the group is stagnating. If necessary, he or she also promotes interaction and participation by asking for opinions or by managing dominant talkers.

As with any meeting, the facilitator must review or establish meeting ground rules; maintain the group's focus on the agenda, on any time constraint, and on the expected report-backs; promote discussion and debate directed toward the agenda; and make sure the scribe captures the major points.

Who Should Attend? Project Team Effectiveness workshops will benefit all who attend; therefore, broad participation should be encouraged. Typically, program logistics seem to support a maximum of 80 attendees. Exhibit 1 provides a prioritized guideline of who should attend the workshop. While not absolutely necessary, it is desirable to have the owner representative for a given position in attendance if the designer or contractor counterpart is attending.

When and Where? There are no hard rules about when to hold a Project Team Effectiveness workshop; however, the earlier you start building team unity the better.

It may be appropriate to conduct one workshop at the initiation of preliminary engineering and a second workshop at the start of detailed design. While some workshop concepts are the same regardless of the engineering phase, issues such as objectives, roles and responsibilities, deliverables, and so forth may change over the life of a project. Also, the project's membership will probably have expanded as you enter detailed design.

Using an off-site facility for the workshop, such as a local hotel, sends a strong signal that this event is important and that it has management backing. An off-site venue also helps to reduce distractions such as telephone interruptions and checking voice mail. The facility needs a meeting room large enough to accommodate the entire team, and it must have sufficient smaller rooms to support the break-out sessions. A hotel setting is convenient if overnight accommodations are required. Food service is also a factor.

Team Effectiveness for the Established Team. For well-established teams, the level of teamwork should be assessed prior to conducting a PTE event. A survey, such as that presented in Exhibit 2, can be employed to critique the current status of how well the group is performing as a team and to highlight specific areas of weakness on which the workshop can focus.

Alternatives and more comprehensive surveys are presented in the books by Hartzler and Henry and by Badger and Chaston (see sidebar). Hartzler and Henry present a Team Fitness Meter, which evaluates the team's fitness with regard to four criteria: customer focus; clearness of direction; understanding; and accountability. The authors suggest planning a PTE workshop with only one focus area, and to initially select an area that will provide an immediate boost to the team's confidence.

Concluding the PTE Workshop. Each team-building event held throughout the life of a project requires a four-step closing.

image Summarize the results of the current event. List and restate the important conclusions and issues identified during the workshop.

image Review the bucket list of unresolved issues requiring outside follow-up. Establish priorities and assign follow-up responsibility;

image Establish the next team-building event. Scheduling the next event reaffirms management's commitment to the team approach.

image Celebrate the team's efforts! The team's participation in the PTE workshop will pay long-term dividends. This is project leadership's first opportunity to recognize the team for their efforts, help and commitment to success.

An Ongoing Commitment to Project Team Effectiveness. Project team effectiveness will not result from a one-time workshop. Excellence in teamwork and team spirit require a consistent approach to the way in which work is performed and a consistent application of team philosophy.

Many opportunities exist for the periodic reinforcement of teamwork. An excellent starting point is the “bucket list” from the PTE workshop. These issues provide a collection of improvement initiatives, which can be addressed by small subteams during the life of the project. The efforts of the subteams continues the team-building process initiated in the PTE workshop.

A formal Quarterly Performance Evaluation provides a technique that ensures a consistent, periodic review of a project's team performance. The evaluation is a process whereby the entire project team reviews what is going well and what needs improvement. The quarterly evaluation process allows the issues and principles discussed in the PTE workshop to be revisited, thereby reinforcing the team-building effort.

Reward and recognition of efforts demonstrating good teammanship is a powerful technique for perpetuating the benefits of the team-building efforts. Rewarding efforts that selfishly enhance the project's success as a team should be recognized by the project. This effort by a project's leadership demonstrates support and commitment to a team approach.

Justifying the Workshop. A “serious” workshop (50 attendees for three days) can easily cost $75,000 to $100,000 including payroll and expenses. Management might see this as an extravagance, but the benefit becomes obvious if presented as an economic advantage.

Consider a $100 million capital investment with a nominal three-year return. This facility will return about $90,000 per day in positive cash flow. Therefore, the cost of the PTE workshop is returned with one day's improvement in the scheduled start-up of the facility.

MOST OFTHE BENEFITS of project team building are intangible: relationships based in trust and respect, improved communications, an improved appreciation for roles and responsibilities, enhanced individual commitment. However, the tangible benefits of improved cost, schedule and performance reliability also flow from these intangible improvements. ■

William Colt, PMP, is a design project engineer with Morrison Knudsen Corp., Cleveland, Ohio, and a registered professional engineer. He has 19 years experience in design, operations, and construction.

Readings on Team Building and Team Effectiveness

Albanese, Robert. 1993. “Team Building: Implications for the Design/Construction Process.” Source Document 87. Austin, TX: Construction Industry Institute (February).

Badger, Beryl, and Chaston, Ian. 1992. 50 Problem Solving Activities. Brookfield, VT: Gower Publishing.

CBS. 1986. Team Excellence. Distributed by Video Publishing House, New York.

Construction Industry Institute. 1993. “Team Building: Improving Project Team Performance.” Publication 37-1. Austin, TX: CII (July).

Fisher, Kimball, et al. 1995. Tips for Teams. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Hartzler, Meg, and Henry, Jane E. 1994. Team Fitness. Milwaukee, WI: ASQC Quality Press.

Howell, Greg. 1990. “How Owners and Contractors Organize Project Teams.” Source Document 53. Austin, TX: CII (June).

Katzenbach, Jon R., and Smith, Douglas K. 1993. The Wisdom of Teams. New York: Harper-Collins.

Lewis, James P. 1993. How to Build and Manage a Winning Project Team. New York: AMA.

Video Arts, Inc. 1995. Talking to the Team” and “Building the Perfect Team.” Chicago, IL: Video Arts, Inc.


PM Network • November 1997



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