Team Building

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
Dick’s Books on Amazon

When many project managers, team leaders and team members see the term “team building,” they immediately think of a facilitator or consultant coming to work with their group. These facilitators run games and exercises as a way of improving team member performance. That kind of team building has its place and can be effective.  However, team building is also a part of every project manager’s work day because you should never stop developing your team. Team building starts when project team members are selected and continues through the planning and implementation phases. It ends when the team is disbanded after the close-out phase. Leading Teams Main Page

 Team Building – Creating A High-performance Team

So what should you as a project manager do to build a high-performance team? The first question to ask is what is a high-performance team? You will get many answers but here are some universally accepted characteristics of high-performance teams:

1. Team members are committed to the same goal

2. Team members know and fulfill their roles on the team

3. Team members are cooperative and supportive

4. Team members share information honestly and openly

5. Disagreement and conflict among team members is considered productive, not destructive.

Team building produces high performance teams that respect each other, support, cooperate and trust each other. The team members use effective problem solving techniques. They have norms of behavior that reflect the positive relationships and the group enforces those norms. The norms include a high level of productivTeam Buildingity and the ability to make conflict productive.

Every project manager wants a high-performance team that is composed of supportive, highly motivated, aggressive problem solvers who are committed to their deliverables, budgets and due dates. Are there teams like this? Yes, but they are rare. That’s because too many factors interfere.  First, team members bring “baggage” with them from previous projects, their real jobs and the relationships they already have (good or bad) with other team members.  Their attitude toward your project may be affected by bad experiences on previous projects. Perhaps they were unfairly blamed for overruns or project failures.  If a team member’s home department or organization has conflicts with another team member’s department or organization, you will probably have to deal with conflict between those team members. Leadership and Team Assignments

It’s usually easy to identify what you want from your team. But deciding what team building tools and techniques to use is not as easy. There are certainly team-building classes and facilitators who can help you create a more effective culture. But it’s very easy for those behavioral changes to vanish as soon as the training session is over. Effective Feedback

 Team Building – Leadership Moments of Truth 

It’s really up to the project manager to build a high-performance team. It’s not done by talking about how everyone’s going to be highly motivated, aggressive problem-solvers, etc. No, it’s done in three critical instances of a project manager’s interaction with the project team. These instances are moments of truth that establish the culture of the team, communicate the project manager’s expectations  and teach the team members how to work with each other and the project manager. Team Motivation

These moments of truth occur at particularly important times in the relationship between each team member and the project manager. The first occurs when the project manager assigns a task to a team member. Bad techniques in this assignment process can undermine trust between the team member and the project manager.  They also alert the team member to start protecting themselves from being blamed for project failures. We’ll discuss the right techniques to use in a bit. Team Types

The second moment of truth occurs when the work estimate and duration of the task(s) are established. If the project manager handles this poorly, the team member’s alarms go off about being set up for failure.

Finally, how the project manager handles bad news about an assignment is critically important to maintaining the team member’s productive attitude when they encounter the inevitable problems.

Team Building – Stages of Team Development

A researcher named Bruce Tuckman developed a model of how teams evolve from the time they initially come together. Each of these stages (forming, storming, norming & performing) has particular characteristics and they offer the team leader  different opportunities for effective team building.  The first stage of team development, the forming stage, occurs when a team is first brought together. Typically each individual’s behavior at this stage aims at being accepted by the rest of the group. So they “play nice” with the others. As a result, there is very little conflict or disagreement. Everyone is gathering information about the other team members and how to get along with them.  Everyone is sensitive to what others think of them so that is when the project manager can have the most direct influence on the culture of the team and the norms that develop.

During the second stage, called storming, disputes and disagreements arise. The project manager must stop unproductive or destructors behavior from affecting the group’s culture and performance. As an example, a team member from the operations department might make critical remarks about the sales department in front of that department’s team member.  The project manager doesn’t want conflict between different functional departments and the storming phase is the time to stop it. The project manager’s subtle frown the first time one of these remarks is made is usually enough. If interdepartmental bickering flares up again, the project manager may stop the conversation and talk about how critical remarks between departments are unproductive. This direct but polite remark should be enough stop that behavior because everyone is sensitive to that sort of criticism during the storming phase. If the project manager sits back and doesn’t actively participate with the team during this phase, the conflicts between departments may become a routine part of the team’s culture and their norms. Stopping it then is exceedingly difficult and some teams never get past the storming stage.

If the team progresses to the next stage, called norming, the team’s culture is established and team members cooperate with each other and establish good working relationships.

The final stage is called performing. As it implies, the team members make decisions and solve problems as they work toward a successful project outcome.

Team Building – Team Member Behavior 

With all these ideas in mind, the first decision a project manager needs to make is selecting the team culture and the kinds of behavior they want the team members to exhibit.

The culture is built from the personality types of the team members.  Being able to observe your team members and talk with them provides you with the information to determine each person’s personality type.  Everyone is either an extrovert or an introvert.  They also have a temperament which determines their communications preferences and the focus of their lives.  Gaining an understanding of each team member’s personality type and temperament lets you use that information to assess people and decide which techniques you will use to deal with them. This is a key to effective leadership and creating a high performance team. This is not a set of techniques that you can master the first time you try them. Practice will improve your skills at “reading” the people on your project team and effectively influencing their behavior.

A key principle is that you change behavior with praise and rewards, not with punishment. Getting angry and emotional at a team member who misses a goal or encounters difficulty on an assignment is not going to change their behavior. It also won’t reduce the likelihood of it happening again. A project manager who gets angry only encourages team members to cover up problems until they are too big to solve and the team members can no longer hide them.

So you should steer the team members behavior with praise, rewards and positive feedback rather than anger and punishment.

Team Building – Team Culture

There are many unique types of project team cultures. In the beginning, it’s useful to think about these project team cultures as resulting from the balance between a focus on the members’ interpersonal relationships and a focus on achieving the planned results. It’s not possible to perfectly control the culture of a team but there are things that the leader can do to steer behavior and the culture in productive directions. Let’s talk about some extreme situations.

A team with a strong focus only on achieving results does not have team members who are supportive and cooperative with each other. These team members tend to be more competitive. There’s also a focus on avoiding blame if the desired results are not achieved.  This is not to say that the team shouldn’t focus on achieving the desired results. But when that is all the manager and team members are concerned about, they rarely have a high performance team.

At the other extreme is a team where relationships between team members are the primary focus.  These are teams where there is a lot of support between members as well as nurturing and helping team members overcome problems. But there is so much focus on the relationships and making sure everybody “likes everybody” that these teams do not perform at a high level and achieve their goal.

Team Building – Foundation for Action

We have discussed a number of techniques for team building.  A project manager who can build a high performance team must use a wide set of skills and techniques. They must be able to:

    • Identify their team members’ personality types from observation of their behavior and conversations
    • Determine the type of project team culture that would be most effective, given the team members’ personality types and the purpose/mission of the team
    • Understand the stages of team development and be able to play an appropriate leadership role as they guide the team through these stages
    • Master the techniques for giving effective feedback/criticism and for rewarding  team member performance
    • Use leadership techniques that positively affect the team members’ behavior and the team culture.

You can learn effective team building tools and techniques in our project management basics courses. Take a look at the basics course in your industry specialty.

At the beginning, when you and Dick talk to design your program and what you want to learn, you will select case studies that fit the kind of projects you want to manage. Chose you course and then select the which specialty case study from business, or marketing,  or construction, or healthcare, or consulting.  That way your case studies and project plans, schedules and presentations will fit your desired specialty.

  1. 101 Project Management Basics
  2. 103 Advanced Project Management Tools
  3. 201 Managing Programs, Portfolios & Multiple Projects
  4. 203 Presentation and Negotiation Skills
  5. 304 Strategy & Tactics in Project management

Author: Dick Billows, PMP

Dick has more than 25 years of project and program management experience throughout the US and overseas. Dick was a partner in the 4th largest professional firm and a VP in a Fortune 200 company. He trained and developed 100's of project managers using his methodology. Dick is the author of 14 books, over 300 articles and director/producer of 90 short project management training videos. He and a team of 25 project managers work with client companies & students across the US and in Europe, South America, Asia and the Middle East. They have assisted over 300 organizations in improving their project performance. Books by Dick Billows, PMP are on