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.
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