Building and Leading High-Performing Teams

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November 2023

How can project managers build and maintain high-performing teams? By focusing on culture, empowerment, engagement and resilience.

Organizations today see a need to adapt. According to the 2023 PMI Annual Global Survey on Project Management, two-thirds of companies are engaged in digital transformation efforts. They’re also prioritizing shifts in organizational strategy (36%), adoption of new technology (34%) and expansion into new markets (32%).

Companies need future-focused project teams to drive these changes. It’s a tall order, however, when project teams are, by nature, cross functional and temporary. Further, they’re composed of members who have other responsibilities, report to functional managers outside the project, often work on multiple different project teams, and may never meet face-to-face over the course of the project.

In the face of these challenges, how can project managers build high-performing teams? By employing strategies to develop and manage talent that can nimbly switch gears while staying on mission. Project leaders who prioritize and nurture soft skills — capabilities so important that we at PMI call them power skills — can help build and reinvent teams in ways that deliver and sustain a competitive edge.

In this report, we discuss four guideposts for building high-performing and forward-thinking project teams.

Building and Leading High-Performing Teams

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Guidepost 1

Cultivating an Ethos for Change

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The New Reality:
Today’s increasingly diverse workplace can inspire new ways of thinking.

The Big Question:
How do you best tap into all perspectives to build a positive and powerful team culture that accelerates impact?

A strong team culture doesn’t simply happen. It must be nurtured with deliberate intent — and that culture won’t look the same for every team. A good starting point is understanding the company culture, which influences how individual teams work and can offer a starting point through the organization’s values, attitudes, behaviors and standards.

For project managers seeking to build diverse, people-centric teams, it’s about being servant leaders (see Figure 1) who can inspire high-performing teams to deliver innovative and inclusive solutions. Fostering a positive, supportive culture means ensuring team members have a sense of agency and ownership about their work. They want to be as comfortable sharing bold ideas during brainstorms as delivering candid feedback during status updates.

Infographics Figure 1

At AstraZeneca, Lara Martinez Gonzales, PMP, makes sure team members are involved in designing rules for processes like communication preferences and conflict resolution. She is the global head of talent strategy, based out of Boston, Massachusetts, USA. These experiences not only consolidate team members’ feedback, but they also forge a shared understanding for ways of working. Teams also need an affirming platform for sharing project challenges, which is why Martinez Gonzalez dedicates time on each project for “vent sessions,” allowing team members to discuss their problems and pain points in a productive and supportive environment.

“Cultivating psychological safety within the project team by creating trust and setting the ground rules for all the team members is critical for project success,” says Martinez Gonzalez. “It will encourage innovation, reduce risks by increasing transparency and drive internal accountability.”

During onboarding at Cognizant, team members are encouraged to share feedback on materials as a way to promote from the start the company’s culture of inclusivity and constant improvement. The company also creates opportunities for teammates to temporarily switch roles so they can gain new perspectives and skills or dip their toes in leadership waters.

Circle headshot of Lana Martinez

Cultivating psychological safety within the project team … will encourage innovation, reduce risks by increasing transparency and drive internal accountability.


Boston, Massachusetts, USA

“We give them the ball and see what they suggest,” says Michele K. Ninivaggi, PMP, senior manager, Salesforce Healthcare, Cognizant, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, USA. “If they’re a junior developer we ask them, ‘If you were the lead, what would you do?’ Because it’s through a synthesis of ideas that true genius comes along.”

Uninhibited thinking is the oxygen behind those enlightening moments. It’s how Google developed its Real Tone post-processing software — bringing together a diverse team of image experts to test and tweak imaging technology that would produce more realistic skin tones in photographs. It’s why Microsoft established an Inclusive Tech Lab, a dedicated space where people with disabilities can develop and test the latest digital tools to ensure products are designed to not only address accessibility requirements but also deliver an optimum experience for all users.

Building a more inclusive culture can also amplify employee engagement and cement the ties between teammates. When Cognizant launched a recent AI pilot project for a client, the team’s small size meant many who were eager to participate had to be turned away. To keep everyone connected to the initiative, project leaders hosted an all-access launch party. Then, throughout the project, they maintained the all-in culture by creating a platform for team members to share stories that everyone could access. “Learning and enthusiasm spread throughout a larger pool of employees,” Ninivaggi says. “The messages just kept cascading along.”

Developing a culture with inclusion at its core goes far beyond hiring practices. Project leaders must embed diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) into the team’s decision-making processes, fueling brainstorms and driving feedback loops. Doing so ensures teams cast a wider net for insights that can increase project benefits. It’s an opportunity to “tap into the mindfulness of the workforce across the enterprise,” says Yael Israel, PMP, senior program manager, Wipro, New York, New York, USA. 

Circle headshot of Yael

DE&I … amplifies a decision-making model that can safely challenge the status quo, flush out bias, build resilience and deliver continuous improvements.


New York, New York, USA

“DE&I mobilizes a network of self-directed, cross-functional teams — across generational, gender, cultural, remote and in-person modality,” she says. This combination “amplifies a decision-making model that can safely challenge the status quo, flush out bias, build resilience and deliver continuous improvements.”

How can project leaders make a passionate and affirming culture a characteristic of high-performing teams? An easy starting point is to identify ways to acknowledge a team’s efforts. Whether it’s a project postmortem celebration that recognizes strong teamwork or a card that praises an individual’s achievements, carving out time to reflect on a team’s impact helps validate team members and punctuate a culture of accountability.

“Engaging and recognizing team members for their work not only at the project level but at the organization level builds a sense of confidence and ownership,” says Tine Vižintin, PMP, project director, Triglav Group, Ljubljana, Slovenia. “It’s a way to encourage team members to always think in the bigger picture, not only focusing on the current project but constantly thinking about the near future — what will the team do next?” 


Great teams require a great team culture that must be developed with purpose. Some tips include:

  • Involve the team in setting guidelines for communication and collaboration.
  • Develop practices to acknowledge the team’s efforts and celebrate successes.
  • Facilitate team members switching roles or shadowing one another to provide a firsthand look at what each team member faces.
  • Share project progress with the entire organization to facilitate transparency and engagement beyond the team.


I have a guiding principle: Leave the egos and emotions at the door, and let’s achieve something. I don’t need to be right. If someone on a team is feeling boxed out, I meet with them offline to address it. Empathy is about respect. It’s about allies and training on allyship. You need to understand and respect your teammates.

—Michele K. Ninivaggi, PMP, senior manager, Salesforce Healthcare, Cognizant, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, USA

Guidepost 2

Understanding What Inspires Strong Performance

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The New Reality:
As a new era of talent enters the workforce, teams span more generations than ever.

The Big Question:
How do you nurture and empower the up-and-coming leaders — and facilitate cross-generational collaboration?

While millennials (ages 27 to 42 in 2023) now represent a majority of the global workforce, Generation Z is approaching fast, on pace to make up 27% of the workforce by 2025, according to a 2023 Zurich Insurance report. At the same time, Gen Xers and baby boomers provide powerful sources of experience and knowledge, particularly for the millennials now advancing into leadership roles. Shifting workforce demographics mean project leaders must not only unlock how individual team members work best, but also find ways to empower and encourage collaboration among all ages.

Knowledge sharing is at the core of developing new talent. It bridges generational gaps while empowering young team members to apply new skills. That combination builds high-performing teams with members who understand what is being done, why and how. Knowledge sharing can be achieved through tried-and-true actions like mentoring, lessons learned, good-practice archives, organizational onboarding, formal training sessions and project-specific coaching. But learning shouldn't be only top-down. It also needs to bubble up across the team, which is why project leaders should actively establish opportunities for all team members to exchange knowledge as well as perspectives on what motivates them (see Figure 2).

Infographics Figure 2

Case in point: AstraZeneca created a program in which early-career team members are paired with senior leaders with the goal of swapping information and insights. To sustain cross-generational knowledge transfer, the company introduced “Ask me anything” sessions with senior leaders and established social interactions between rising talent and members of the company’s board and leadership team. The efforts not only develop a pipeline of next-gen talent, but also expose project leaders to new ideas and ways of thinking.

“It gives our most seasoned employees an opportunity to learn about the digital skills and mindsets that the new generations bring to the table, and the newcomers can get exposure and learn from the experience of our top leaders,” says Martinez Gonzalez. “Encouraging our senior leaders to be an example and share their knowledge and career path helps to break barriers and secure the diverse workforce that we will need in the future.”

Offering such training is especially important for attracting and retaining younger talent. Gen Z and millennial job seekers ranked learning and development opportunities as the Number 2 reason they chose to work for a company (just below work/life balance), according to a 2022 Deloitte survey. To deliver continuous learning with broad appeal, organizations make use of various strategies, from reimbursement for professional certifications to formal career development programs to social hackathons and gamified learning applications.

But training needs to do more than build technical skills — it should also show how team members with divergent motivations and working styles can learn to trust each other and gel. Project leaders can help direct team members’ professional development pursuits by suggesting which skills they need to strengthen now — and pointing them toward knowledge that will help grow expertise and leadership abilities.

At Triglav Group, training and onboarding are designed to provide a springboard for next-gen talent, helping them build competencies for managing risk, change and digital transformation. Eager to create an expedited path for advancement, the company developed a program that steers new hires who have the most leadership potential into individual development plans. Those plans combine coaching, mentoring and peer shadowing to prepare young people for future management roles.

“This kind of knowledge exchange is priceless,” says Vižintin. “This helps young talent learn all the tricks and little secrets in a year instead of years.”

Circle headshot of Vintinz

Knowledge exchange is priceless. This helps young talent learn all the tricks and little secrets in a year instead of years.

Triglav Group

Ljubljana, Slovenia


Empowered teams have both the power skills and technical skills they need to work together to conquer any challenge. Some tips include:

  • Provide a process for mentoring and coaching between senior and junior team members.
  • Help team members identify areas for skill development and connect them with learning opportunities.
  • Encourage team members to take advantage of the organization’s professional development programs.


Successful collaboration means acknowledging and appreciating differences within the team, openly discussing and sharing individual preferences, enabling multiple types of interactions and creating feedback mechanisms. The role of the leader is to create that type of environment so psychological safety can flourish while nurturing appreciation for the diversity within the team.

—Lara Martinez Gonzalez, PMP, global head of talent strategy, AstraZeneca, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Guidepost 3

Forging Real Connections — and a Sense of Purpose — in a Virtual World

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The New Reality:
Remote and distributed working arrangements are here to stay — which means you’ll need to effectively engage team members from afar.

The Big Question:
How can you establish trust and true collaboration?

Whether it’s a legacy structure of having team members spread across the globe or a postpandemic extension of work-from-anywhere policies, most companies continue to make concessions for flexible work arrangements, particularly if they’re out to recruit and retain dynamic talent. Sixty percent of companies allow team members to work remotely at least part of the time, according to a 2023 global survey by business cybersecurity firm Fortinet. And since 2021, the number of countries that grant visas for remote work has soared from 21 to 51.

Turning an around-the-world talent pool into high-performing teams requires project leaders to rethink team engagement and to develop a flexible and inclusive mindset. It’s more than just adapting meeting invites and schedules to accommodate time-zone differences. It’s also managing work and schedules in a way that builds trust, from learning about cultural considerations and communication preferences to acknowledging local holidays and empowering team members to determine which events merit utilizing paid time off.

Now more than ever, project managers must find ways to spark a sense of connection. The pandemic proved to be the ultimate pilot for virtual engagement. It’s time to assess and apply those lessons learned so each team member can perform at their best.

At Thales Digital Banking and Payment, a financial services firm spread across 20 countries, video calls became a way for project managers to re-emphasize active listening during weekly status updates, forecast follow-ups, quarterly staff meetings and global townhall discussions. Now virtual face-to-face conversations strengthen engagement, reduce the risk that participants are distracted by multitasking during calls and ensure that meetings end with clear direction for next steps.

“This promotes more focus on the meeting discussion and allows the organizer and the speaker to collect more nonverbal communication from the audience, which helps with more effective communication,” says Amr Sadek, PMP, global director, customer engagement and success at Thales, Valbonne, France. “It fosters faster and far more efficient alignment.”

Of course, project leaders need to understand how virtual ways of working can negatively impact performance (see Figure 3). For example, to make sure screen fatigue doesn’t lead to burnout among team members, organizations and their project leaders need to set limits on video calls and find creative ways (and funding) for team members to engage in person.

Infographics Figure 3

Still, there’s no getting around the reality that high-performing teams also need access to the right tech tools as a means of boosting engagement. Training up teams on tech can accelerate conversations in ways that help keep projects on course. For some teams, it might mean using basic cloud-based collaboration software or incorporating low-code/no-code apps to streamline tedious processes. For others, it could involve learning to use complex digital twin virtual models that simulate physical objects as a way to generate more immediate and accurate feedback.

At iMerit Technology, the organization developed a proprietary web-based tool that helps project managers monitor workloads and productivity, allowing for efficient distribution of tasks to team members who have downtime, says Shashwat Samrat Paul, PMP, project manager at the Kolkata, India, company.

No matter what type of tech teams use or where they use it, Sadek says project leaders need to focus “on how we collaborate as one team” even when working across enterprise functions. “We encourage our leaders to be purpose-oriented rather than focused on the specificities of what tools they use,” he says. “Project managers need to adapt to the diverse preferences of their teams and steer toward the greater purpose.”

Circle headshot of AMR

Project managers need to adapt to the diverse preferences of their teams and steer toward the greater purpose.


Valbonne, France


Remote work means that building team engagement requires a conscious, concerted effort. Some tips include:

  • Focus on people rather than tools or technology.
  • Set limits on video calls to prevent screen fatigue.
  • Look for creative ways to engage in person where possible.
  • Seek feedback from the team on virtual engagement processes and apply lessons learned to improve collaboration.


We empower local project leaders to be ambassadors. This boosts the collaboration of cross-functional teams working in hybrid modes by retaining focus on team communication and engagement. Local leaders convene team events and bonding moments outside work throughout the year. We use those events to celebrate small successes like new customer acceptances, welcoming newcomers, sharing customer feedback with teams working on more back-office missions, and supporting everyone to keep them engaged and to tie their day-to-day work to bigger goals. Showing gratitude doesn’t need to be a major event — it can be done in short meetings. But no matter how much time you devote to it, there’s great value in recognizing and appreciating team members — and providing spaces for people to talk.

—Amr Sadek, PMP, global director, customer engagement and success, Thales, Valbonne, France

Guidepost 4

Bouncing Back — Again (and Again)

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The New Reality:
No matter what the job market looks like, you’ll be staring down talent gaps.

The Big Question:
How can you reallocate responsibilities to fill those holes — and build a more resilient team?

In today’s highly dynamic business environment, teams must be pivot-ready as a default state.  Emerging geopolitical risks, shifting strategic priorities or some out-of-nowhere digital disruption can push projects off track or unlock opportunities for new initiatives with little notice. For project managers, cultivating team resilience — the ability to bounce back or keep your footing during times of change — is a modern must.

Yet building high-performing, resilient teams is complicated by widespread workforce reductions and increasing utilization of external and temporary talent. Roughly 1 in 5 CEOs have already implemented hiring freezes in 2023, and 1 in 6 has made workforce cuts, according to PwC’s 2023 global CEO survey. Such moves belie the ongoing shortage of project talent, with PMI’s most recent Talent Gap report finding that 2.3 million additional project professionals will be needed globally each year through 2030 in order to keep pace with demand.

To make the most of the talent they have, organizations need project leaders who can deftly establish working norms — and nimbly adjust those ways of working in the face of change. Whether that means adjusting communication styles mid-project to accommodate new team members from differing countries or finding ways to amplify productivity in the wake of resource cuts, project leaders who are able to exercise creativity and proactive problem-solving will be best positioned to nurture resilience among team members.

To support high-performing teams even amid constant change, project managers must rethink how they deploy resources and look for ways to help team members navigate shifting expectations, says Amit Kasodekar, VP, strategy and project management office at JPMorgan Chase in Bengaluru, India. He offers this advice:

  • Dedicate more time to planning and meeting prep. This helps ensure you ask the right questions of all stakeholders — and get clear direction for your team.
  • Increase the frequency and duration of brainstorming sessions for important deliverables. Doing this gives team members more time to develop innovative and strategic solutions.
Circle headshot of Amit

Once you define the high-level objective and establish scope and boundaries, it’s easier for teams to navigate through changing requirements and move ahead with an agile mindset.

JPMorgan Chase

Bengaluru, India

“Once you define the high-level objective and establish scope and boundaries, it’s easier for teams to navigate through changing requirements and move ahead with an agile mindset,” Kasodekar says.

In a perfectly static world, team members would know their exact responsibilities and workloads from the outset. But that’s hardly the norm — particularly for teams that are using agile to prioritize versatility. Still, it’s helpful when project managers are able to help team members distinguish which project elements are within their control, says Kasodekar. He also recommends reviewing weekly progress to identify opportunities to make processes leaner — for the benefit of team members and himself. “This helps me manage the stress level of my team and in turn my stress level as well,” he says.

Of course, frequent changes, team turnover and shifting responsibilities can breed burnout or frustration — and the impact can be significant (see Figure 4). To help mitigate those risks, project managers should regularly check in with team members to surface potential stressors and assess their workloads and well-being. They also need to build down time into the schedule for team members, arranging those breaks around seasonal peaks and lulls. All of these efforts can help inform the resource plan, too.

Infographics Figure 4

“We ask project managers to proactively forecast if things will get too heavy so that we can bring additional resources onto the projects,” says Clement Chin, PMP, program and project management lead, RAC Insurance, Perth, Australia. “We also measure whether we place unrealistic demands on subject matter experts across all the projects and report this to our executive team each month.”

Technology can also lend a hand, when it’s used to shoulder mundane repetitive tasks and maximize efficiencies that free up team members to focus on more strategic activities. For instance, AI-powered tools can assess complexity and risks, so project managers are better able to pair particular tasks with the most appropriate person for the job, says Niral Rajani, project manager at Aristocrat, a gaming solutions provider in Sydney, Australia. Such tools can also help with tracking progress, so when a resourcing wrinkle arises team members can be reallocated swiftly and efficiently.

“You need to make sure the proper training is provided to the team — otherwise, people may not be able to effectively use the tool or the features, and the whole operations will not give you the desired result,” he says. “We also need to continuously evaluate whether the tool and the features you have selected is still right for your business.”

Circle headshot of Niral

You need to make sure the proper training is provided to the team — otherwise, people may not be able to effectively use the [tech] tool or the features.


Sydney, Australia


Today’s teams must navigate both expected and unexpected changes and challenges. Some tips include:

  • Check in with team members regularly on their well-being and stress levels.
  • Look for tools and technology that can help the team work smarter, not harder.
  • Facilitate brainstorming sessions with the team to encourage innovation.
  • Make time for planning to ensure expectations of both team members and stakeholders.

Helping Teams Find the Power Within

Having a future-focused vision for building and leading high-performing project teams gives companies a strategic advantage. By super-charging engagement, reinforcing resilience, developing an in-depth understanding of employee motivations and cultivating a positive culture, project leaders can empower teams to deliver value that’s both immediate and lasting.

Visit the Power Skills Resource Hub to explore other related content.


Talent and resources will always be scarce, so one has to prioritize. To assemble the right combination of talent within the team, I follow a rule wherein 80% of team members are versatile with fungible skills and 20% are subject matter experts with niche skills. This gives me flexibility to adapt roles and responsibilities to changing requirements and optimize resource utilization. When hiring, I also value people with basic common sense and the right attitude. Ultimately, no matter how technology helps us do our jobs, the people behind the machine matter.

—Amit Kasodekar, VP, strategy and PMO, JPMorgan Chase, Bengaluru, India


PMI would like to thank the following contributors, who provided the insights and actionable recommendations on building high-performing project teams presented in this report:

  • Luis Branco, PMP, PMI-ACP, CEO, Business Insight, Consultores de Gestão
  • Clement Chin, PMP, program and project management lead, RAC Insurance
  • Yael Israel, PMP, senior program manager, Wipro
  • Andy Jordan, PMP, author and president, Roffensian Consulting
  • Amit Kasodekar, VP, strategy and project management office, JPMorgan Chase
  • Lara Martinez Gonzalez, PMP, global head of talent strategy, AstraZeneca
  • Michele K. Ninivaggi, PMP, senior manager, Salesforce Healthcare, Cognizant
  • Stephane Parent, PMP, PMI-RMP, PMI-ACP, team lead, Shared Services Canada
  • Niral Rajani, project manager, Aristocrat
  • Amr Sadek, PMP, global director, customer engagement and success, Thales
  • Shashwat Samrat Paul, PMP, project manager, iMerit Technology
  • Tine Vižintin, PMP, project director, Triglav Group