Team building

the new strategic weapon

by David I. Cleland

PROJECT MANAGEMENT—an idea whose time has come—cleared the way for the emergence of cross-functional and cross-organizational teams as elements of enterprise strategy. Today, teams are increasingly used as one of the key means for strategically managing the enterprise. And it's paying off. The March 6, 1996, issue of Fortune magazine stated, “The ability to organize employees in innovative and flexible ways and the enthusiasm with which so many American companies have developed self-managing teams is why U.S. industry is looking so competitive.”

Today the strategic management of the enterprise—managing the enterprise as if its future mattered—depends on alternative teams to deal with the inevitable change impacting all organizations and all environments in today's fiercely competitive global marketplace. As the enterprise identifies and selects those operational and strategic initiatives required to position it for an uncertain future, improving the competencies of the team members who manage organizational change becomes paramount. Team building becomes a key policy for improving the performance of those people assigned to alternative teams in the enterprise.

What Is Team Building? Team building and development is the process of forming, growing, and improving the knowledge, skills, and attitudes of those people who serve on teams as well as those who provide support to teams. Personal competency—the ability to perform as a productive contributor—draws on the individual's knowledge, skills, and attitudes and on the collective roles that are played out during the team's activities.

Effective teams are those whose members have the competencies to do the team's work, who can be trusted, and are committed to achieving the team's purposes. A team that has this demonstrated competence will have a strong sense of belonging by its members. It will have carried out its own team development through formal training programs, efficient and effective internal work processes, and through the motivation of the team members to maintain their individual and team competencies.

Team Development Methods. The successful team continuously improves itself through an ongoing practice of self-audit and the selection of strategies to improve its operational capability using several means:

Individual Managerial/Leadership Competencies. Training programs to improve competencies in communication effectiveness, problem-solving, managerial and leadership abilities, decision-making and execution, workgroup cultures, and to recognize and understand individual differences and the benefits of teamwork.

Technical Competencies. Instructional programs for the development and application of knowledge and skills in the individual's technical area of expertise.

Team/Organizational Competencies. Training and orientation courses dealing with team and organizational improvements, to include such topics as evaluation and selection of organizational mission, objectives, goals, strategies, policies, procedures, financial strategies, R&D processes, and marketing/sales initiatives.

Awareness of Environmental Issues. Insight into competitive and environmental issues, to include stakeholder management, political, social, economic, and technological trends likely to face the team in the organization's future.

Climate/Setting. Intra-team sessions that help to set the stage for the team to work together. In these sessions team members are provided the opportunity to express concerns about the team's operation, potential interpersonal considerations, individual expectations, conflict resolution, the processes for dealing with a team member's non-participation, and are provided guidelines for reaching consensus on team decisions.

Once the team has been formed and the individual and collective roles of the team members have been established, a first session of team building and development can be undertaken. Team building and development, what it means and how it is best carried out, can be one of the first topics for discussion. A frank discussion by the team members can deal with the types of questions covered in the first part of the sidebar.

Ongoing Performance Assessment. Periodic assessment of the efficiency and effectiveness with which the team is operating and interfacing with its constituencies. During this assessment the team's competencies in attaining its purposes are evaluated as well as the adequacy of how well the team works together in reaching its goals.

When the team meets to review progress, questions like those in the second part of the sidebar can be used to stimulate discussions about the effectiveness of the team's activities.

Meetings…and More Meetings. Team members spend a lot of time in meetings—and many of them think that most of those meetings are a waste of time. Unfortunately, this belief is all too often well-founded. By carefully managing its meetings, a team is afforded ongoing opportunities to enhance its team development processes. Meetings also serve to measure progress toward the team's purposes. Basic practices that improve team meetings include:

image  Establishing the purpose of the meeting. Prepare an agenda and use it! Provide time limits, as well as a preliminary definition of the expected output of the meeting.

image  Managing the meeting. Keep to the agenda and avoid diversionary discussions. Summarize progress, or lack of progress, during the meeting. Encourage all attendees to participate, to include taking adversial positions as appropriate to help ensure that all issues are thoroughly discussed and evaluated.

image  Summarizing the results, or lack of results, at the end of the meeting. Identify those persons who have been assigned the responsibility to follow up on agenda items and discuss those items at the next meeting. Provide meeting attendees with a brief summary of the meeting minutes, including follow-up responsibilities.

Try to allow time at some of the meetings to have a discussion about team development matters, that is, how well the team is functioning as an integrated and effective unit. Meetings are an important opportunity to develop the team's capabilities, and should be used accordingly.

Source Material. Team leaders who plan to provide team building and development strategies have a growing body of literature to use in team development activities. A paramount source is PMI's 1996 edition of A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge. The PMBOK Guide is a powerful prescription on how to manage projects, and is basic to developing the knowledge on why and how projects should be managed in the enterprise. A careful review of PMI Symposia Proceedings will provide additional useful insight into how best to manage projects in a wide variety of applications. The Project Management Journal and PM Network are rich sources on project management theory and practice, including team building and development. Other publications coming out of project-related professional organizations, such as the International Journal of Project Management, provide additional insight into the science and art of project management. In addition, books, periodicals, research reports, and publications that cover team building without being project management-specific provide a growing source of literature. The project management community continues to publish in the field, adding to the rich material that is available to those project team members who want to perform better.

A project manager should be aware of and use the published sources of the literature on project management. As each manager reviews the literature, important publications can be selected and passed on to the project team for their perusal. Handing out select publications to members of the project team and to designated stakeholders can help to continue the team development strategies under way on the project and in the enterprise.

Questions to ask when developing a positive team climate

What information do the team members need regarding the team, its formation, its purpose and how it will operate? What questions do the team members have about their individual and collective roles?

What are the specific objectives and goals of the team, and what expectations do the team members have regarding these objectives and goals?

What do the team members expect of each other in terms of respect, trust, commitment, and cultural working conditions?

What do the team members expect of the team leader? of senior organizational managers? of stakeholders?

How will the team make and execute decisions?

How will conflict be handled on the team?

How will “non-performers” on the team be handled?

What can the team leader and the team members do to build a supportive team culture to enhance the team's performance?

What can the team do to enhance its performance and contribute to its purposes as well as to the enhanced satisfaction of its members?

Questions to ask when evaluating team performance

Is the team making progress towards its purposes? If not, why not?

What is going right on the team? Is there anything going wrong that should be corrected?

What are the strengths of the team? Its weaknesses?

Are the disagreements on the team being settled effectively?

What is the team's image with its stakeholders? Is there need for improvement?

Do the team members help each other? If not, why not?

Is everyone on the team fulfilling his or her role?

Is serving on the team enjoyable and perceived by the team members to be worthwhile?

What further team building and development are needed by the team?

Given the opportunity, what might the team do differently to improve its performance?

Is the team an effective organizational unit?

TEAMS ARE BECOMING key elements of an organizational design in which effective cross-functional and cross-organizational work have become the standard for coping with the inevitable changes that face all organizations. The use of teams has modified both the theory and practice of management. The ability to serve as a contributing team member and to provide leadership to teams is now recognized as a core competency that managers, managers-to-be, and team members at all levels and disciplines need to develop. The use of effective team building and development strategies will do much to prepare people to serve enhanced roles on their respective teams—and help in preparing them for increased responsible positions in contemporary, and future, organizations. ■

David I. Cleland, PMI Fellow, is the Ernest E. Roth Professor and professor of engineering management at the University of pittsburgh. He is the author/editor of 26 books in the fields of project management, engineering management, and manufacturing management.

PM Network • January 1997



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