Posts Tagged With: team building

Exploiting team building opportunities within your project management ceremonies

While focusing on the triple constraint and keeping stakeholders engaged are crucial, building a high performing team is an essential ingredient of project success.

Unfortunately there are at least two forces which work against team building events – time and cost constraints. With many projects, the team is already starting behind the eight ball and a project manager who attempts to build in regular team building activities might be criticized for diverting attention from scope delivery.

Faced with such challenges, we need to exploit team building opportunities whenever we can. Here are five common project management events which can help.

Project kickoff

Beyond understanding the rationale behind the project and the usual introductions, a kickoff meeting provides the ideal opportunity for a team to develop their ground rules or rituals, to start to learn about each other, and to share fears, uncertainties and doubts. A good exercise to start the mutual learning process is for each team member to share their pet peeves and idiosyncrasies with each other to reduce misunderstandings. It’s also a great time for the team to come up with a name for their project, especially if the official project name is boring or generic.

Risk identification & qualitative assessment

Nothing brings a group of people together like sharing concerns about what might go wrong! Doing this in a group setting is cathartic as it helps team members gain perspective. It also helps the team as a whole start to understand individual risk biases. The project manager can make the process interesting by asking team members who tend to be pessimistic to identify opportunities and those that are optimistic to identify threats. Wideband Delphi techniques could be used to assess the probability and impact of identified risks. This will not only reduce the impact of bias, it can also be entertaining if cards (a la Planning Poker®) are used.

Developing a Work Breakdown Structure

Resist the temptation to jump straight to building a schedule! While a WBS is a valuable way to define and control scope, developing one through top-down decomposition or bottom-up aggregation is a good way to build shared ownership. Assign different branches of the WBS to different team members and once it looks complete give out chocolates to the team members who are able to identify missing scope elements.


Identifying lessons learned shouldn’t only happen at the end of a project or phase even if you are using a waterfall delivery approach. High performing teams are learning teams so have the team spend some time at least once every two weeks to reflect and identify those behaviors or practices which they want to start, stop or continue. Using creativity generating materials like Play-Doh® or LEGO® will help to keep your team engaged.

Building a network diagram

Creating a network diagram using the “old school” approach of Post-It notes on a whiteboard creates greater buy in to the eventual schedule, increases overall team understanding of the interdependencies of their individual activities and ensures that everyone has a chance to identify opportunities for optimization.

A focus on team building can be a great way to change a team’s cynicism about project management ceremonies.

Good teams incorporate teamwork into their culture, creating the building blocks for success.” -Ted Sundquist

Categories: Project Management | Tags: , | 2 Comments

How comical is your project?

Frequent readers of my blog will know how much I respect Scott Adams’s unique insights into the dysfunctions of corporate life. Let’s analyze the case study provided in today’s comic strip!

Risk (mis)management

The pointy-haired boss who serves as a constant reminder of the validity of the Peter Principle expresses surprise about the bumpiness of their white-water team-building project.

A modicum of effective risk management might have caused him to utilize an avoid risk response by picking a slightly less adventurous event although with that group it is hard to envision what would be a perfectly safe one!

If there was still a desire to take the group white-water rafting, then perhaps investing in life vests for those who couldn’t swim would have been a reasonable risk mitigation response, although as the boss indicates in the last frame of the strip, there would likely have been a corresponding higher cost for implementing this response.

While the boss uses ignorance as his rationale, there is no excuse for not practicing risk management commensurate to the level of complexity and uncertainty of a given project.

Avoiding assumptions analysis

An assumption is stated in the sixth frame by the pointy-haired boss about Ted’s ability to swim. That assumption germinated a key risk – if Ted was NOT able to swim and fell in, he’d require more assistance than a competent swimmer and hence the team’s decision to not look for him was unwise. Had the boss conducted a quick elicitation of assumptions and had the team challenge those assumptions which could have been proactively validated, Ted might not be missing.

Project managers have a responsibility to ask their team members and key stakeholders what assumptions are being made as plans are defined, incorporate those assumptions as inputs into risk identification, and schedule reminders to validate those assumptions as the project progresses.

The glamour of groupthink

The fourth and seventh frames of the comic strip confirm that the team members are complicit in the project’s failure. While team consensus was achieved with the decision to not look for Ted after he fell in and then again later by pretending that he never participated, it is quite likely that Asok or Dilbert, who are two characters who usually act as the conscience of the narrative, would not have agreed with these decisions but were likely concerned about rocking the boat (or white-water raft!).

While project managers are expected to recognize the symptoms of groupthink so that it can be nipped in the bud, a more effective countermeasure is to encourage healthy conflict as one the team’s ground rules so that individual team members don’t shy away from speaking up if they believe the wrong decision is being made.

Oscar Wilde – Life imitates art far more than art imitates life


Categories: Project Management | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Generalizing specialists put the T back in teams!

Whether your company is adopting agile delivery approaches or not, there are a number of benefits to encouraging your team members to become generalizing specialists. These include:

  • Improved understanding and closer collaboration between roles which historically would have operated within siloes. Gaining first-hand experience with someone else’s job is a great way to increase empathy and break down barriers.
  • Increased capacity for specific skills and improved resilience to unexpected resource shortfalls. While you might not get the same level of productivity or quality from project “pinch hitters”, it’s still a better outcome than being unable to progress if a key team member is suddenly unavailable.
  • More enriching work experiences for your team members. It’s nice to work on tasks which you are very comfortable performing but most professionals enjoy the occasional opportunity to step out of their comfort zones to try something new.

But transforming a team of individual specialists isn’t easy and resistance could come from any of the following directions:

  • The team members themselves might have fear of the unknown, ego issues or disdain for tasks which are not within their normal job description. They may also be concerned that performing such activities won’t be recognized by their managers or won’t help them further their careers within their area of specialization.
  • Given the likelihood that demands on their teams exceed available capacity, functional managers may not want their staff to work on different tasks and would rather assign their team members to multiple concurrent projects where they would remain focused on their core activities.
  • While Human Resources are likely to encourage versatility and flexibility in staff development, performance management systems and job families are usually geared towards specialization and HR may be unwilling to evolve them to support the development of generalizing specialists.
  • If some of your team members are part of a union, there might be explicit constraints within labor contracts preventing them from performing other tasks or preventing others from performing their tasks.
  • Finally, you might be reluctant to have your team members take on work outside of their areas of speciality. Concerns about the quality issues or increased conflict within the team might cause you to unconsciously discourage cross-pollination.

One method of overcoming some of these challenges is to meet with team members and their functional managers as early as possible to ask whether they have any issues with occasionally performing alternate activities if it benefits the team. Leading by example is another way to do this. While your primary focus is managing the project, it can be extremely rewarding to roll up your sleeves on an exception basis if it helps the team and you are comfortable doing so. You might consider leveraging gamification techniques by setting up a simple recognition program whereby team members earn badges for performing different activities.

Patrick Lencioni wrote in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, “Remember teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability.” Encouraging the development of T-skills within your team is a great way to build trust.





Categories: Agile, Facilitating Organization Change, Project Management | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

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