Team Building Techniques

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
CEO 4pm.com
Dick’s Books on Amazon

Leaders use team building techniques to increase the team members’ motivation, work attitudes and performance.  These techniques are used for three Moments of Truth (MOT). If team leaders handle them properly, these Moments of Truth (MOT) produce team members who actually try to do the following:

  • finish assignments early
  • take responsibility for solving problems
  • try to find better, faster ways of producing their deliverables.

When these MOTs are handled badly, they produce a team that does the following:

  • let the work fill the available time
  • wait for someone else to solve their problems
  • focus their attention on avoiding blame for failure.  Leading Teams Main Page

Team Building Techniques: Moment of Truth #1 – Team Commitment to Their Assignments

The first Team Building Technique Moment of Truth comes early, during the project planning phase when you’re building the plan and schedule. You’ll work with your team to define their assignments. You are clear about the deliverable they will produce and how you will measure if it is acceptable. You will document all that in a one-page work package so there is no confusion or misunderstanding. Finally, you’ll speak to their boss and pin down the team member’s availability for the assignment.

Working with the team member, you’ll estimate the amount of workteam building techniques the deliverable will take.  The two of you will calculate the task’s duration (how long it will take) from that data. It is important that the team member is clear on the assignment and has input into the estimate. You create a work package that is like a contract. That’s because changes to the assignment also require changes to the estimate. That’s the best way to do an estimate because it helps build the team member’s commitment to their assignment.    Leadership and Team Assignments

Team Building Techniques: What Gets in the Way?

Lots of things can destroy the success of this team building technique. Trust between you and the team member is a key component.  Sponsors and lazy project managers who won’t do their work are one cause of problems.  These people need to take the risk of being wrong rather than hedge their bets with vague expectations.  Here’s an example. Let’s say that during your project initiation meeting with the sponsor, he was quite clear about the required completion date and repeated it often.  Successful project managers always respond with, “I understand when you want the project done.  But I won’t know if that date is possible until I understand exactly what you want. Then I must determine how much work that will take and how many people I will have to do it.” The sponsor won’t like that answer, but it is the truth.  A foolish project manager commits to the due date without having all of the necessary  information. Effective Feedback

As you get deeper into planning this example project, it becomes obvious that finishing all the tasks by the sponsor’s due date is impossible. It’s not just tough. Even with lots of overtime, it’s mathematically impossible. So you are waiting for exactly the right moment to tell the sponsor that their date is impossible. You are also hoping for a miracle breakthrough that will make the date feasible. You’re working with the team members on estimating their tasks and starting to squeeze them on their estimates.  Eventually you abandon their participation and just make the task durations hit the sponsor’s completion date. Team Types

Bad Team Building Techniques: Due Date Determines the Schedule

This is the dilemma of the first Team Building Technique Moment of Truth. You can confront the sponsor with the truth about the date and take the heat. Or you can yield to the temptation to continue postponing the confrontation. In the latter situation, you show the sponsor acceptable dates by backing into the schedule from his completion date. You do this silly process by starting from the sponsor’s desired completion date and working backward. You pluck task completion dates from the sky like this, “Jack has to be finished by June 23 so Mary has to be finished by June 5th and Pat has to be finished by May 19, etc.”

When you are done with this exercise, you will have met the sponsor’s required date. Then you tell each team member when their assignment has to be finished. If anyone protests, you blame the sponsor directly or shrug and point up to the executive floor. This lets the project finish precisely on the sponsor’s due date, at least on paper. That makes the sponsor happy, at least for awhile.  You may be thinking, “We’re smart and hard working; maybe we CAN finish by then.” Team Building

This technique is widely used. In fact in some organizations, plucking dates backward from a due date is their project management best practice. Of course these organizations have 70% project failure rates. More to the point, the imaginary finish dates that you plucked from the sky cause you to fail at Project Team Building Moment of Truth #1. The project team feels they have been plucked themselves. The younger and more innocent members of the team are discouraged, knowing that they will fail to finish on time. The more experienced team members also know they’ll finish late. But their experience tells them they will get to spend months after the project’s “finish” date cleaning up the mess that was frantically slapped together to finish “on-time.”

Worst of all, what kind of commitment do you get from your team with this kind of process? People who know they have no chance of hitting their “committed” dates have little dedication or enthusiasm for their tasks. Even if you and the team use every ounce of creativity, you must squeeze the plan and develop shortcuts to slash the duration. 99.9% of the time these efforts will still fall short of the sponsor’s completion date expectation.

Team Building Techniques: Moment of Truth #2 – Handling Bad News

Whatever happens during planing, every project next faces the second Team Building Technique Moment of Truth. It starts at an early project team meeting and continues until the project is complete. Here’s how it goes. One of the members says to you, “I’m gonna finish a week, maybe two, later than planned.” Visions of the whole project collapsing flash through your mind. But you have choices on how you handle the situation.

This bad news may tie your stomach in knots because the slipping task is on the critical pathThat means it will delay the entire project completion date. It’s very easy to react emotionally. You might even treat this bad news as a personal betrayal by the project team member.  So you you get angry and act as if it’s something for which you can punish them. That action stops the team members from telling you about problems.  The team member who spoke up will not tell you next time and the rest of the team won’t either. Even if your anger is delivered to the team member in private, the rest of the team will hear about the incident within hours.

Some project managers (and executives) think refusing to listen to bad news is a sign they are dynamic and aggressive leaders. The truth is just the opposite; they are stupid. When project managers teach people not to give them bad news, they deny themselves the opportunity to solve slipping tasks when they are small problems. From then on, team members will wish and hope they can finish on time rather than tell the PM about the problem. They won’t lie. They’ll just use a bit of optimism when reporting the status of their assignments. The PM who doesn’t view bad news as an opportunity to fix a problem dooms himself to learning about big problems when it’s too late to fix them.

You need to learn to handle bad news positively and show appreciation for the opportunity to solve the problem. Keep in mind that the team member with a late task often is not to blame. Even if they are the culprit, it shouldn’t be obvious that you’ve reached that conclusion. You should handle the variance as a problem you and the team member have to jointly solve. You want your team members to continue to trust you. When they do, you get the valuable opportunity to solve problems early, when they’re small. If you discourage your team members from giving you bad news, you doom yourself to discovering problems when it’s too late to recover.  Leadership & Team Performance

Bad Team Building Techniques: Moment of Truth #3 – Micromanagement

Even if you are able to plan correctly and handle the bad news properly, you will still face Team Building Technique Moment of Truth #3. The temptation for many technically savvy PMs is to react to every problem by diving right in and making all the decisions. For many project managers, this is a very comfortable position. It’s much easier than trusting the team members and giving them room to make mistakes and own their results. These PMs even relish the sight of a line of team members outside their cubicle waiting for decisions. You know the micromanagement disease is raging when these PMs start complaining about how their team members, “lack initiative and the ability to work independently.” Of course, none of the team members feel ownership of any result or have a sense of achievement because the PM is making all the decisions.

Micromanagers want to “make things happen, now!” so they stick their fingers into everyone’s assignments. They may have built a commitment foundation where the team feels accountable for their achievements. But as soon as they make the decisions and treat the team members as drones, they’ve reverted to micromanaging. It’s difficult to keep your hands off people’s assignments when the sponsor is putting pressure on you about missed deadlines and budget overruns. But that is exactly the moment when you need the benefit of a project team that feels accountable for their achievements. Then they have some incentive to meet and, hopefully, exceed their assignments.

Team Building Techniques: Summary

When you succeed in each of these three Team Building Techniques Moments of Truth, you substantially increase the likelihood of project success. Each of the Team Building Techniques Moments of Truth involves both personal leadership techniques and sound project management processes.

You can learn these processes and our proven project management methodology in our online courses with individual coaching and mentoring. You will practice every tool and technique you are learning in assignments and role-playing exercises with your instructor. Whenever you have a question or want to discuss a technique, you can telephone or e-mail your instructor and always get a response within 24 hours. You have as many live online meetings with your instructor as you need.

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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 60 short project management 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 are on Amazon.com