The work of a project team – working together in order to work


Project teams do the work of the project. Team building is well-known, focuses on team attitudes and teamwork. Transferring the learning from team building and teamwork to working as a team is tough. Little thought or effort is given to the work of the team. Become a more effective project manager. Understand project team development, teamwork and the work of the project team. Know that project work and project management work is not teamwork, nor the work of the team, nor the development of the team. Be a better project leader by understanding teams and ensuring the team works.


My study to understand leadership caused a BFO (blinding flash of the obvious) experience. (See Exhibit 1.) The business of leaders is people. Teams do projects. This realization caused me to change our project system (Exhibit 2) to include teams as a Force. The PMBOK® Guide lists Human Resource Management as one of the functional areas. The PMBOK® Guide would be better served if this were team management.

The planning component of leadership is to enable teams and remove limits to performance. Leaders help their people push the envelop of known limits. This is alien in many organizations, where management limits team performance in ingenious and inventive ways. Unfortunately, these limitations spill over onto project teams.

The second insight LFO (little flash of the obvious) is that teams can lead projects. Teams as individuals and as a group can take responsibility for the components of leadership. We successfully triple-hatted technical leadership in new product development. They were anointed with a selling/relationship responsibility to the businesses they served, with responsibility for the technical platform and technical expertise, and with the responsibility to complete projects. Why not within a project team, double and triple-hat members? A team member or the entire team can assume responsibility for an aspect of leadership. Collectively, they can hold each other accountable for their responsibility.

Next, the format developed for leadership was applied to teams (Exhibit 3). This produced the third insight (another LFO). I realized how little work as project managers we put into teams. We assume people know how to work together. We assume by knowing project management, we know how to get people to work together.

Exhibit 1


Exhibit 2


Exhibit 3


This lack of work on teams may be caused by the lack of teams. Do teams really do projects? What kinds of teams do projects? (See Exhibit 4.) This complexity may be part of the problem. My perception is that a project manager is appointed, assigned a group of people to accomplish the work, and then launched. The project manager develops a schedule and pounds individuals to deliver their work according to the schedule. This type of team dates back to kindergarten days when kids played in parallel, not together. Our challenge is to get dysfunctional people to work and play together not in parallel.

Our universal team model is a sports team where each individual becomes a specialist at a position. No one switches places or backs up other members. Team members have NMJ tattooed on their chests (Not My Job). The coaching responsibility does not rotate. Watching sports teams reinforces our perception on how teams should work. The sports team does not self-manage and most action comes in 30 seconds or less increments with only half a dozen variations. The coach/manager calls all the plays, writes the game strategy, and handles the tactics during the game. Project managers follow this model very effectively. We are delusional if we believe there is a team or synergy is this situation. The people are simply bi-pedal production units.

Few project teams are like a volleyball team where all players play each position. In volleyball, there are roles such as spiking. However, all players are expected to backup and cover for each other. Is this concept alien to project teams? Everyone can share in the work of the team.

Exhibit 4


Intentional Teams

What can a project leader do with a better understanding of teams and intentional teamwork? First, know the differences among leadership, management, project management work, project work, organizational project work, and the work of the team. Understand as in volleyball, you may be a player coach! Be intentional! Be methodical! Deal with the project team with the same gusto you use with other project management responsibilities.

Team Development

Use the Team Development charts (Exhibits 5 and 6) to manage your team's growth. The chart gives excellent examples of the activities required at each level of team formation. Take time and do specific activities. Help nurture the team to higher levels of performance. This may take the form of commutating better, cooperating, cohesive, or celebrating victory. The C5 is teamwork—the “grease” that delivers project results. You might measure these C5 as part of team development.

The volleyball team practices and practices to do its project work—playing a game. They must develop as a team both individually in the skill of the game and collectively in the skill of the team playing the game. The team still must grow together, and learn each other's styles, strengths, and shortcomings. This is team development.


The chart Building the Team (Exhibit 3) makes visible the work of the Team. Use the chart to understand, to share expectations, and to assign responsibilities is teamwork. The team must have clear boundaries, defined power and authority, current and desired team skill levels of individuals, and current and desired performance levels of the team. How many of us have well-defined project plans addressing any of these?

Teamwork is anything that improves commitment, communication, cohesion, cooperation and celebration within the team. The volleyball team can again help us to understand teamwork and the work of the team. Team members must subvert their egos for the needs of the team. An individual may be given an assignment that is not the best use of their strength but it is for the best of the team. This willingness is the commitment. If the team is open, members will voice opinions, make recommendations, and contribute to the strength of the team, communication and cohesion. The team will talk about cares and concerns. They will then be open to talk about how to win the next game. A team must first listen in order to be heard. Finally, the team must cooperate. They must help each other out to achieve the mutual goal. They have to be unselfish in giving time to the team and to practice. For a strong player to improve, they must compete against stronger players. Players build each other up by giving all they have.

The test to separate teamwork from the work of the team is the question: does it enhance commitment, communication, cohesion, or cooperation? If yes, then it builds teamwork. Or does it require effort that enhances how they work as a team to do the project work? If yes, then it is the work of the team.

Exhibit 5


The Work of the Team

Finally, we reach the work of the team. Recall the volleyball team. Each team member understands they play a role on the floor and off the floor. Knowing and playing the off-floor role is the work of the team.

Another example is how the team communicates with each other during the game. The thousand sounds, and body and arm movements tell each other what is happening of the floor. This is communication but it helps the team do its work better.

The values and their enforcement is the work of the team. If a player comes late to practice, does not put out during practice, does not practice in the off season, or does not stay physically fit may violate team values. Teams that enforce values are real teams.

Exhibit 6


One tool to begin exploring what the team needs to work on is the P4R tool. (See Exhibit 7.) This will help the team and its members know each other and the needs of the team. Notice an internal part and an external part. What do you have as an individual member or as a team? What do others need and expect from you? How do you maintain relationships?

The team responsibility chart (Exhibit 8) has been helpful in project organizations. Its power has impressed me. Defined Roles and Responsibilities are crucial. We set down an Army Reserve Battalion in Honduras with people from four different units and were operational in hours because we knew all the roles and responsibilities. Can a project team come together and be productive 1,500 miles from home in 24 hours? Remember, people can share responsibility for leadership, for the work of the team, and for their own work.

People play team roles as well as their role in project work. These roles emerge but just as easily can be written into team member's responsibilities. (See Exhibit 9.) Unfortunately, in most instances people do not want to invest in the team and look to the project manager to play all the roles. This also is dangerous. This list also looks a little like the list of management activities: planning, organizing, staffing, directing, controlling. The difference is these roles pertain to the team and how the people work together to do the project work. The management list is the activities of getting the work of the project completed. These roles can be assigned otherwise they emerge with the risk being the wrong person may emerge.

Just as there are project management processes, and project work processes, there are team processes. (See Exhibit 10). These team processes are the work of the team. Planning these and using the processes will make the team, no matter what kind of team it is. Use this list as a starting point to define how the team will make decisions. We have spent hours with some teams just defining who solves problems at what level. Many team and people skills are ignored. This is an opportunity to make team processes intentional rather than evolving as crab grass.

Exhibit 7


Exhibit 8


Exhibit 9



The team processes appear to be management processes. There is a difference. Projects run by decisions. We advocate an intentional process for managing decisions. On the other hand, a team makes decisions while it does the work of the project. What are the team decisions? When to meet, what are quite times, how to handle communications, what is faxed, what is not, who updates the schedule, when? There may be 1,000 team decisions that need to be made and how they are made will either strengthen the team or hurt it.

Because project teams are transient, these processes are ignored. Yet, many teams are in existence for three to six months. The people on the project again look to the project manager to take care of all the processes. This is a power trap for a project manager. Use the Project Team Process to help the team identify what they need to discuss, to develop, and to maintain.

Build project teams, build project teamwork, develop work processes of the team while you build project management processes and project work processes.

Exhibit 10


Proceedings of the Project Management Institute Annual Seminars & Symposium
November 1–10, 2001 • Nashville, Tenn., USA



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