Expected behaviors for project team performance

road rules, not road rage

Introduction

Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.

Michael Jordan (http://thinkexist.com/quotation/talent_wins_games-but_teamwork_and_intelligence/150227.html)

No project can succeed without the efforts of a project team. In today's competitive environment, projects require a number of participants from different areas of an organization. Parties from external agencies will also likely be involved, whether they are consultants or vendors. And in today's challenged economy, you are not guaranteed to get everyone you need, forcing you to make the most out of your team when doing more with less. Regardless of who is on a project team and how many members it has, the project will not meet deliverables and deadlines unless the group acts as a high-functioning team.

Creating Expected Behaviors

Most organizations rely upon teamwork to get the job done. This is especially true for projectized organizations; yet most project teams muddle along during the life of the project, hoping team dynamics will improve as the project progresses from one phase to the next.

Determining the “right” set of behaviors to support productive teamwork is never easy, as team dynamics are intricate and difficult. Defining a set of behaviors to best support teamwork must be articulated in a universal language, ideally because these behaviors need to be owned by the entire organization, not just project teams. When set at the enterprise level, the introduction of expected behaviors sets the framework for ensuring these behaviors are a means of conducting business, not just a set of words hung along corporate walls. Ideally, the entire organization must believe in the power of teamwork and to experience improvements in project outcomes and project performance as a result of strong teamwork.

These Expected Behaviors have universal appeal, regardless of company size or corporate culture. In other words, this set of team behaviors appeal to a broad audience because they are clear, easy to understand, and are comprehensible to diverse project teams, regardless of member position or title.

Project teams are more likely to realize results if they establish straightforward behaviors directly related to improving team dynamics. It is also important to create measurable behaviors so that staff can easily be held accountable.

Expected Behaviors

The set of expected behaviors that have universal appeal to project teams are:

  • Treat others with dignity and respect
  • Support and promote intra- and inter-departmental teamwork
  • Understand and consider the needs and impacts of your own work on others
  • Demonstrate an ability to problem-solve and make timely decisions
  • Actively seek and receive feedback for improvement
  • Consistently share knowledge and information

Introducing Expected Behaviors to project teams has a simple premise: Project work is conducted through groups; groups tend to be complex challenges from a management and communications point of view; if project teams come up with some ways to improve group dynamics, they can enhance group performance.

Team Tool Kit

Similar to the tools used to support successful project management practices, a tool kit can also support successful project team dynamics. The tool kit should contain simple user-friendly tools that teams can use to develop and refine their adoption of the Expected Behaviors.

A tool kit should include enough tools to meet team needs, but not so many tools that it overwhelms the users. Don't expect or require project teams to use all the tools. Some tools should be designed to help teams initially agree on how they will operate, while others should be used only if those agreements are not being kept. Others tools should be included for the purpose of helping teams address specific problems caused by not practicing a given Expected Behavior. Overall, the Tool Kit is used to encourage the healthy differences of opinion that naturally arise and enable the kind of respectful debate that occurs all the time in high-performing teams.

Project team experience to date suggests one size does not fit all. Teams know that minimum conditions of success include leadership buy-in, stable team membership, and a commitment to purpose. Success also relies on early engagement. Over the past ten years, working with many project teams, it is found that project teams that introduce Expected Behaviors early in team development are more successful than those who do not. Success comes when teams use a couple of quick and simple tools, are not overly prescriptive in their approach, and have mentors available to them as needed.

Walking the Talk

To ensure both awareness and accountability, ideally all project teams should adhere to these behaviors by progressing through a series of stage-gate activities in support of Expected Behaviors. Project teams who are required to participate in a minimal set of activities and tool use have favorable results on a consistent basis. The required set of activities includes a structured team conversation on Expected Behaviors, the completion of an Expected Behaviors Survey, a Rules of Engagement exercise, and use of standard meeting management templates.

Expected Behaviors Discussion Guide

The Discussion Guide was developed to assist team leaders (project managers) in planning a discussion with their team about the impact and value of adopting Expected Behaviors as a way to enhance team effectiveness. The intent is to have the project manager initiate a discussion that guides the team to evaluate which behaviors are done well and identify where and how improvements could be made.

Engaging team members in this discussion is not as difficult as you might expect. The key to having a successful dialogue is timing - when to have such a conversation defines success more often than the actual exchange itself. Timing is critical. Teams should not conduct this discussion too early; a group needs some time to cohere as a team before being able to evaluate its ability to behave well. On the other hand, don't wait too long, because bad behavior is hard to change. Experience suggests a successful dialogue for project teams occurs during the first three months of team formation. This obviously needs to be adjusted for teams with abbreviated project start/end dates.

The project manager (team leader) starts the discussion by setting the context. It is important to reinforce the value of team behaviors from the leader's perspective. The leader should express personal commitment to team behaviors and acknowledge that even leaders don't always get them “right.” As such, the leader must give the team permission to hold each other accountable, including the leader. The team leader must actively seek input from each team member as to whether the leader is demonstrating Expected Behaviors. Sharing the idea that all team members must hold each other accountable to demonstrate these behaviors is critical.

Have team members assess their team's current adherence to Expected Behaviors. This can be done in a number of ways. The easiest and most successful way to collect this feedback is by survey. All team members are asked to take an Expected Behaviors Survey, which is a simple way to measure adherence to Expected Behaviors. The survey looks like this.

Expected Behaviors Team Assessment Survey

Based on your experience to date, how strong do you believe the “_________Team” is performing in the following areas? Select the best rating for each statement.

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In today's environment, surveys can be administered in many different ways to encourage team member input. Web-based survey tools are inexpensive and easy to design; not only are they simple to use, they also can be submitted anonymously, further encouraging team member opinion.

Once the survey results are in, there are a number of questions the team can use to initiate the team discussion:

  • How does the Expected Behavior impact our group's effectiveness?
  • Survey data shows that we do this Expected Behavior well, what does performing “well” look like?
  • Even if we perform an Expected Behavior well, should we try to raise the bar? If so, how?
  • Which Expected Behaviors need improvement?
  • What does it look like when we don't perform this Expected Behavior well?
  • What needs to happen to make it “safe” to give feedback to each other?
  • How will we communicate to each other if an Expected Behavior is not being practiced?
  • Why should we make the effort to change our own behavior related to this Expected Behavior? What's in it for us?
  • How will we know when we are successfully practicing this Expected Behavior?
  • Are we willing to try using a support tool to help us improve our use of an Expected Behavior?
  • How and when will we evaluate the usefulness of the tool?
  • If another team that we interact with violates the Expected Behavior, how should this be handled?

The results of the team's discussion will determine next steps. If a team has much opportunity for improvement, the team leader must work with the team to prioritize areas of pain. The best way to realize success is through team engagement and agreement.

The survey is a good way to obtain a baseline measurement of the team's ability to work well together. Because the survey is done anonymously, participants are more inclined to answer honestly. Once a team has baseline results, it is ready to acknowledge strengths and tackle areas where improvement is needed. The survey is also a great way to track and record a team's progress over time. Teams should wait six months to one year before taking a second survey. Project teams have constraints around this; if a project team is in place for less than six months, there really isn't time to conduct a follow-up survey. This model works very well for long-term teams, as it provides a chronological view of team growth and development. Because long-standing teams will sometimes experience degradation in results, i.e., as the project progresses through the various phases, this survey is a great way to catch early warning signals.

Rules of Engagement

Conducting a Rules of Engagement exercise will allow team members to develop an initial contract that describes how they will treat each other with dignity and respect. Since the meaning of “treating others with dignity and respect” varies from individual to individual, this tool will help the team identify and discuss the various elements of behavior that are critical to the success of ongoing interactions. The Rules of Engagement exercise focuses on six key areas of behavior:

  • Basic Courtesies
  • Operating Agreement
  • Problem-Solving and Decision-Making
  • Accountability
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Leader's Role

In a team meeting, schedule extra time to focus on this. If a team does not dedicate time to this exercise, it will never happen. Many teams schedule a special session dedicated solely to Rules of Engagement. In this meeting, team members brainstorm and record a list of key behaviors that are important to them and that best support operating agreements. Consider asking such questions as: How do you like to work? What is your work style? What strengths do you bring? What types of behaviors annoy you? What kinds of behaviors take us off track or reduce our effectiveness? Allow time for discussion of the key areas and behaviors that the team wants to adopt. Ensure all voices are heard.

Run through each of the six key areas; all are important. However, teams may find that not all have equal weight. For example, Conflict Resolution may be more important to the group than Operating Agreement. Focus on getting through all areas while seeking common ground for consensus. Be sure to confirm that each area is complete before moving on. A team leader may need to solicit input from quiet team members; not everyone will have the same voice. As facilitators, it is important that team leaders acknowledge others' contributions to the discussion before relating their own remarks. Never distort others' views in order to advance your own. To be successful, the results of this exercise must represent the team's collective input. It is not unusual to invite an external party to facilitate this discussion; having a non-biased, unattached person lead the Rules of Engagement discussion often frees participants to share opinions freely.

It's a Virtual World

In today's global environment, many project team members participate from remote locations. It is not unusual for team members to participate in team meetings from different campuses, different states, or different countries. Combining virtual team members is not easy; it is particularly important to include all virtual team members in your Rules of Engagement exercise.

It is important to query virtual team members for their comments, input, and feedback. While engaging your virtual team members, be sure to consider the unique requirements of their virtual involvement, as virtual team members have challenges that differ from those team members who share team space. For example, consider:

  • Conflicting time zones: When is the best time for meetings to occur?
  • Are you familiar with international holidays, so scheduled meetings don't impact personal time off?
  • Be careful of using slang or language which may be offensive to others, particularly to those from different cultures
  • How long are your meetings? Do you need to stop meeting activities and allow virtual team members on the phone/video conference to take a bio break?
  • What happens if you lose your phone connection? Who re-initiates the call?
  • Do you need guardrails for background noise? (How do you handle the dog barking in the background?

Consider ways to make your virtual team members feel a part of the team. For example, sharing photographs creates intimacy among the group, even if you never have the chance to meet one another in person. Draw virtual team members into the team dialogue by acknowledging “their” world; talking about the weather or current events in their locale creates a sense of intimacy we often take for granted when we are physically co-located in the same geographical space.

Once the group decides on the key areas of behavior, they document and post their Rules of Engagement at every meeting as a reminder. Depending upon the duration of the team, the group can decide if the agreement needs to be refreshed; often teams do not return to their agreement unless there are challenges in a particular area or significant turnover in project team membership.

The results of a Rules of Engagement exercise should produce a team charter that looks something like this:

Expected Behaviors

Treat others with dignity & respect

Rules of Engagement Worksheet

Basic Courtesies

  • Limit Blackberry use to check on ONLY urgent or emergency messages; if an urgent message requires an urgent response, leave the room to respond.
  • Don't interrupt until the person speaking finishes.
  • Listen to and respect the viewpoint of others.
  • Arrive on time for the meeting.
  • No sidebar conversations.

Operating Agreements

  • Create team meeting calendar to ensure schedule of work is clear and that we cover all aspects of that work.
  • Distribute agendas and supporting materials two days in advance.
  • Post all materials to project team database.
  • Meetings will begin at 1:05 PM and conclude at 2:55 PM
  • Start and end all meetings on time.
  • Begin each meeting with a review of meeting minutes; minutes to include all decisions, with supporting rationale.
  • Members should complete a meeting evaluation at the end of the last meeting of each month.

Problem-Solving and Decision-Making

  • Make a decision based on what is reasonable from a business perspective and what will solve the problem, rather than hold out for perfection.
  • Identify and confront problems. Focus on the issues, not the people.
  • Focus on making the timeliest decision possible. If necessary, follow up on issues off-line.
  • Make decisions based on presentation of a combination of facts, experience, and judgment.

Accountability

  • Presenters need to ensure that presentations are clear and concise and address problem at hand.
  • Each member needs to support the project manager by helping drive constructive conflict, and timely resolution of issues and decision-making.
  • Project Manager holds self and others accountable.
  • Take responsibility -- no finger-pointing or blaming.

Conflict Resolution

  • Make sure that we fully engage in the discussion.
  • Make the conversation about the business problem and not people -- don't hold back if conflict emerges.
  • Ensure that discussion remains on point and that discussion does not become tangential to main topic.
  • Ensure meeting is facilitated and keeps to agenda and schedule.
  • If a conflict cannot be resolved within the meeting, the issue will be addressed off-line; an update will be shared with the group at a later time.
  • On regular basis, review results of meeting evaluations. Address feedback proactively.

Leader's Role

  • Take responsibility for task completion and accountability.
  • Ensure presenters are well-prepared and on point.

Successful Facilitation

Project Managers sometimes find the Rules of Engagement exercise difficult. It requires facilitation skill, one of those “soft” skills not often taught in the project management world. To successfully facilitate this discussion, project managers must guide the group so all members of the team are engaged in the discussion and own the results. Project managers cannot force the team to accept the leader's desires; the results need to be fully owned by all team members in order to hold weight.

While facilitating, the team leader must listen carefully to others. Ask clarifying questions to further understand what someone is saying; it is better to ask than to interpret incorrectly. Remember that silence can speak volumes; allowing some space in between comments creates an opportunity for team members to digest what someone has said. This will allow others to add to the previous comment or offer a slightly different view. Creating silence is never easy, but is necessary to ensure full team collaboration. Here are some key phrases to help facilitate this exercise:

  • “What I heard you say is….”
  • “Can you give us an example so we can better understand what you are saying?”
  • “Do we agree on this item?”
  • “Does anyone have a different perspective to offer?”
  • “Have we exhausted this topic? Are we ready to move on?”

For skeptics who perceive this activity as nonsense and a waste of time, when there is constructive and important project work to deliver, keep this in mind: Teams who conduct this exercise indicate their teams are positively impacted by the experience. Communication and working relationships improve; team members become more aware of behaviors toward others, more aware of others' roles, and better at seeing different points of view. Team who adopt Expected Behaviors say the exercise creates a more comfortable working environment, meetings are more productive, and teams are more efficient in meeting deliverables. The big surprise for most team leaders is the realization that the activities are not time-consuming, do not slow down work, nor do they stifle team energy or limit lively and productive discussion.

The size of a project team will determine how you conduct this exercise. If a project manager is leading a large program, with hundreds of staff assigned, a Rules of Engagement exercise cannot be conducted in one sitting. Experience suggests the optimum crowd seems to be no more than thirty participants. For larger programs, there are creative ways to conduct this exercise. A leader may want to conduct this with core leaders only. A team leader could develop a “trickle-down” system, whereby project managers assigned to each sub-team are responsible for leading their own discussions. Regardless of how a Rules of Engagement session is conducted, remember these two key points: A team must have total team engagement, and must document their results to be effective.

Meeting Management Tools

Since the majority of team interaction occurs during team meetings, it is critical that teams manage their meetings as effectively and efficiently as possible. In spite of intuitively knowing this, many project teams continue to manage their team meetings in absence of meeting management tools. Simple tools such as Meeting Agenda and Meeting Minute templates can make a world of difference for many teams, without bogging down the project manager with additional administrative duties. In fact, using meeting management tools on a consistent basis allows project teams to experience more productive meetings.

These tools should be very simple, generic templates to support meeting management. Here is what they may look like.

<Team or Project Name>
Meeting Agenda
<Logistics: Date, Time, Location, Call-In Numbers>

Attendees:

Facilitator(s):

Overall Meeting Goal:

Expected Behaviors for Team Performance
Treat others with dignity and respect Support and promote intra and inter departmental teamwork
Understand and consider the needs and impacts of your own work on others Demonstrate an ability to problem solve and make timely decisions
Actively seek and receive feedback for improvement Consistently share knowledge and information
DURATION AGENDA TOPIC WHO GOAL

<Team or Project Name>

Meeting Minutes / Results
<Logistics: Date, Time, Location, Call-In Numbers>

Attendees:

Facilitator(s):

Overall Meeting Goal:

Expected Behaviors for Team Performance
Treat others with dignity and respect Support and promote intra and inter departmental teamwork
Understand and consider the needs and impacts of your own work on others Demonstrate an ability to problem solve and make timely decisions
Actively seek and receive feedback for improvement Consistently share knowledge and information
Decisions
Open Action Item/Issue Owner Due
1.
2.
3.
Closed Action Item/Issue Resolution Closed

Regardless of what your meeting management templates look like they should include the Expected Behaviors. Listing the team behaviors on every meeting agenda or meeting minutes document is a subtle reminder of the behaviors each and every team member should strive to exhibit.

Expected Behaviors Make a Difference

According to organizations who have introduced Expected Behaviors on project teams, participants say it has made a difference. Follow-up survey results suggests the Expected Behaviors Team Survey tool very easily identifies team strengths and weaknesses and the Rules of Engagement exercise enables project teams to flag and fix team behavior smoothly. Taken together, this is an effective preventive course of treatment for successful team dynamics.

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.

©2009 Lisa DiTullo
Originally published as part of Proceedings PMI Global Congress 2009 – Orlando, FL

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