Teamwork--is it one word or two ?

Project management in a 1990s matrix team environment



Concerns of Project Managers

Special Topics—Telecommunications

Tearns do not flourish just because people are assigned to them. Only a great deal of effort and time will make a team work and if the team does not “click,” teamwork will never be one word.

The primary objective of this article is to examine the instrumental role a project/product team plays in successfully managing a business in today's competitive, global environment. Using the analogy of the life cycle of a team, this article chronicles a team's experiences from conception, through infancy, childhood, adolescence and finally to maturity. By comparing “textbook” activities at each stage of the life cycle to the actual experiences of this case study team, this article documents techniques, pointers, and pitfalls for effective matrix teams.

In short, what makes a team work?


The concept phase is perhaps the most important. Proper attention to detail here establishes a baseline that precludes many problems. The term “conception” implies a situation in which there is limited control over the results.

The conception of a team, however, is much like the futuristic procedure of genetic engineering-a tightly controlled process of forming, molding and shaping. When this power is exercised wisely, it can guide and, ideally, determine the outcome.

During the conception phases, the project manager must take time hereto identify the objectives and goals and lay a foundation with as much detail as possible—then formalize the plan. Formalization, by producing a written document, is a step that is frequently skipped in a misplaced view of expediency. The common reason given is that there was no time. While it is generally true that there is never as much time as one would like for a major project, cutting comers in this area will be a critical mistake. If you don't have time to do it right the first time, when will you have time to do it over? There is no other way to adequately estimate the project scope and resource requirements.

Unless the goals are crystallized, it is impossible to identify what skill and experience will best achieve success. There is no better way to choose team members than to have an intimate understanding of their duties and responsibilities. In essence, this is a team-level job description of a position that can only be filled with individuals who mutually meet the requirements. It is not possible to define one generic team job description since its elements should be matched to the task at hand.

Each member will bring unique abilities to diversify and round-out the portfolio. This group will be expected to form a synergistic relationship, achieving success that would be out of reach individually.

It is obvious that matrix teams include people from many different functional areas, requiring them to subordinate functional loyalties to team loyalties. This deference will only occur if people are convinced that the team goal supports their functional concerns. Although this support may be subtle, it will be reinforced over time. Gradually companies are being realigned away from traditional functional organizations and toward task-oriented organizations.

In the case study, the goal was to form a project/product team capable of managing a product line. The team job description called for skills in many diverse areas: marketing, product management, sales, strategic planning, operational planning, financial analysis, technical research and development, design, and manufacturing engineering and production. A core team of six people was selected.


Infancy should be short-lived. Infants are frequently pampered and indulged. This intense care should only occur during the brief period of initial organization. A mollycoddled team suggests that upper management is not willing to relinquish authority. And a team that requires this security blanket for long no doubt needs immediate restructuring before they self-destruct.

In the case study, infancy passed in the blink of an eye—upper management was willing to empower and the team was willing to act.


Childhood focuses on education, training, learning to function as a team. Chosen for complimentary strengths and weaknesses, the team will gain their own insight into areas that may have been more obvious to the selectors. With this heightened awareness, they will discover areas where support or backup is needed.

Refining roles and skills is critical during this phase, making plans for training both individually and as a group to eliminate deficiencies.

Remember that during this time each member is sizing up the other members and searching for their own comfort level: How do I fit? What are their roles? What is my role? Relationships formed now will last through the life cycle of the team. Ideally, these relationships will be based on common understandings, cooperation and respect, and will bond the group together.

Childhood allows for any necessary restructuring of resources to overcome fatal defects. Before crossing the threshold into adolescence it maybe necessary to replace some team members. Perhaps skills were overestimated or previously unidentified skills are required. Even personality conflict should be taken into consideration since this group will only thrive with harmony and unity.

In the case study, individual members increased their own expertise and immediately the entire group participated in team building activities. Through a learning process, it was determined that the team make-up should be redefined, contracting from six to three core members. In addition, a core member was replaced.


Adolescence presents its own unique leadership and management challenges. It is here that the real “work” begins. With the key ingredients of patience and experience, a team can manage a variety of tasks and projects, all directed toward results.

Turf issues, power struggles, egos, individual goals, priorities, mistrust, distrust, responsibility definitions, unilateral decisions, hidden agendas, and inflexibility will all surface for attention during adolescence. If these issues are not resolved, the customer may be forgotten and all the team's energies spent in endless disputes—leading to disastrous consequences in a customer-driven business.

Education and training maintain their value now and during the life of the team. Place special emphasis on teamwork during this era to produce significant gains in productivity.

With the support of upper management, this is a growth period. Ever increasing levels of responsibility, combined with additional authority and autonomy should be granted based on readiness and results. The team will be testing upper management for support and testing upper limits imposed. Upper management will be testing the team for results and readiness for additional assignments.

How long will it take for a team to grey at the temples? The answer is situational, but can be influenced by the willingness of upper management to delegate authority, take risks, accept failure, and encourage innovation.

In the case study, the journey to majority was a steady progression—the team was not held back in any grade. The restructuring during childhood resulted in a team capable of meeting the challenge presented. The team matured with each increasingly complex task.


Maturity finally arrives and brings with it the opportunity to manage your business more effectively and profitably than ever before! What better way to ensure success than with a mature team with direction and focus, confident of their abilities.

Does maturity mean utopia? Utopia doesn't exist in the real world of business. What is attainable operates on a higher plane where disagreements and differing opinions are addressed and settled in an adult manner, transcending immature and self-serving methods.

The test of a true team is their response to difficult situations. Are they pointing fingers and blaming? Not if they have been “brought up right.” The payoff for careful nurturing is a team that pulls together under pressure to maximize their individual and group potential. Effective communication, negotiations and consensus decisions should be the norm.

Without a supportive environment, teamwork can rapidly become team work! A simple task can become a leviathan in an uncooperative group. Inefficiency is not a luxury for the 1990s and a dysfunctional team will beat best inefficient and at worst incapable of carrying out their charge.

In the case study, the team, after experiencing frustrations and growing pains, reached maturity. The team was faced with innumerable adverse situations during the introductory phase of a new product line. Turf issues, once a primary source of conflict, were minimized in an atmosphere of mutual respect and cooperation. Trust was built to support information sharing. Although individual goals still exist, they are generally preempted by the common goal.


Teams are not new. Multifunction and matrix teams are not new either. What is new is the goals that teams are striving toward, the care with which they are formed and the actions expected.

Historically, teams came together only on a temporary basis during various stages of a project. The focus was on the project or quickly solving a problem, with the assumption that any team assigned would be effective. Functional battles were expected, tolerated and accepted as a given. Team members came to meetings entrenched in their positions and prepared to win at all costs. What a difference a decade makes.

Managers of the 1990s must be prepared to work effectively across functional lines. Future teams will find this easier since there will bean emergence of a “Renaissance” manager. Leaders will be groomed to integrate resources in response to competition in a rapidly changing global environment.

A recent survey reported that over 75 percent of U.S. workers are not enthusiastic about their jobs and do not enjoy coming to work. This is a 20 percent increase since 1987! Over 70 percent do not feel that management seeks employee input on decisions and ranked increased responsibilities third in a list of motivators for increasing productivity. This trend supports the urgent need for the type of changes encouraged in a team environment empowered to achieve in traditional matrix situations.

In the case study, the team continually reemphasized customer satisfaction, an emphasis that will inherently steer successful companies down the path to prosperity. Has the team achieved nirvana? Of course not! Wouldn't things be boring in Camelot. But the quixotical journey is a challenge!

It should be noted that a successful team does not appear overnight-teams do not flourish just because people are assigned to them. Only a great deal of effort and time will make a team work and if the team does not “click,” teamwork will never be one word.


Casey Rausch is the optical product manager at AT&T Microelectronics’ Kansas City Works. She has the designations of PMP, CFPIM, C.P.M., C.I.R.M. and holds a B. S.B.A. and an M.B.A. in management. Ms. Rausch served on the Board of Directors of the Kansas City Chapter of the American Production and Inventory Control Society APICS) and was an officer in the Kansas City Chapter of the National Association of Purchasing Managers (NAPM). She recently received a masters in project management from George Washington University.

The primary benefits from the implementation of a standard PMP and integrated tool set are:

  • Customer satisfaction — The elimination of multiple ad hoc systems allows our customers to perceive our business as a single entity.
  • Teamwork – A documented standard PMP provides well-defined team driven roles, responsibilities and interactions
  • Common language – A set of consistent processes, techniques, tools and vocabulary throughout the business unit
  • Common performance metrics — Earned value concept tailored to any size project

Lower costs–An efflcient and tailored single-system approach with restraining costs minimized as personnel move between projects.


Rick C. Haverland is the project management process manager for the Federal Systems Advanced Technologies (FSAT) business unit within AT&T. His ten years of professional project management experience includes acting as the lead FSAT cost/schedule control system consultant and as the business manager on a large contract with the U.S. Navy. In his current position, he is responsible for the development and implementation of a re-engineered project management process and integrated tool set for his AT&T business unit. He holds a B.S.BA. from Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina.




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