Project managers play a key role in developing high performance teams. They recruit members, conduct meetings, establish a team identity, create a common sense of purpose or a shared vision, manage a reward system that encourages teamwork, orchestrate decision making, resolve conflicts that emerge within the team, and rejuvenate the team when energy wanes.
Project managers take advantage of situational factors that naturally contribute to high performance teams development while improvising around those factors that inhibit team development. In doing so they exhibit a highly interactive management style that exemplifies team work and, as discussed in the previous article, manage the interface between the team and the rest of the organization.
Recruiting Team Members
The process of selecting and recruiting team members will vary across organizations.
Two important factors affecting recruitment for high performance teams are:
- the importance of the project
- the management structure being used to complete the project.
Often for high-priority projects that are critical to the future of the organization, the project manager will be given virtual carte blanche to select whomever he or she deems necessary.
For less significant projects, the project manager will have to persuade personnel from other areas within the organization to join the team. In many matrix structures, the functional manager controls who is assigned to the project; the project manager will have to work with the functional manager to obtain necessary personnel. Even in a project team where members are selected and assigned full time to the project, the project manager has to be sensitive to the needs of others.
There is no better way to create enemies within an organization than to be perceived as unnecessarily robbing other departments of essential personnel.
Experienced project managers stress the importance of asking for volunteers. However, this desirable step oftentimes is outside the manager’s control. Still, the value of having team members volunteer for the project as opposed to being assigned cannot be overlooked. Agreeing to work on the project is the first step toward building personal commitment to the project. Such commitment will be essential to maintain motivation when the project hits hard times and extra effort is required.
Skills Needed When Building High Performance Teams
When selecting and recruiting team members, project managers naturally look for individuals with the necessary experience and knowledge/technical skills critical for project completion. Assembling high performance teams takes effort and requires a complex understanding team dynamics.
Also, there are less obvious considerations that need to be factored into the high performance team building process:
Problem-solving ability. If the project is complex and fuzzy, then a manager wants people who are good at working under uncertainty and have strong problem identification and solving skills. These same people are likely to be bored and less productive working on straightforward projects that go by the book.
Availability. Sometimes the people who are most available are not the ones wanted for the team. Conversely, if members recruited are already over-committed, they may not be able to offer much.
Technological expertise. Managers should be wary of people who know too much about a specific technology. They may be technology buffs who like to study but have a hard time settling down and doing the work.
Credibility. The credibility of the project is enhanced by the reputation of the people involved in the project. Recruiting a sufficient number of “winners” lends confidence to the project.
Political connections. Managers are wise to recruit individuals who already have a good working relationship with key stakeholders. This is particularly true for projects operating in a matrix environment in which a significant portion of the work will be under the domain of a specific functional department and not the core project team.
Ambition, initiative, and energy. These qualities can make up for a lot of shortcomings in other areas and should not be underestimated.
Project Managers’ Role in Building High Performance Teams
After reviewing needed skills, the manager should try and find out through the corporate grapevine who is good, who is available, and who might want to work on the project. Some organizations may allow direct interviews. Often a manager will have to expend political capital to get highly prized people assigned to the project.
In matrix environments, the project manager will have to request appointments with functional managers to discuss project requirements for staffing. The following documents should be available at these discussions: an overall project scope statement, endorsements of top management, and a description of the tasks and general schedule that pertain to the people from their departments.
Managers need to be precise as to what attributes they are seeking and why they are important. Functional managers should be encouraged to suggest names of people within their departments as candidates.
If the project manager is asked to suggest names, it might be wise to say, “Well, I would really like Pegi Young, but I know how critical her work is. How about Billy Talbot?” If the conversation goes this way, the project manager may be able to cut a deal then and there and will want to be sure to put the agreement in writing immediately after the meeting as a memorandum of understanding.
If, on the other hand, the functional manager balks at the suggestions and the meeting is not progressing, the project manager should adroitly terminate the conversation with an understanding that the matter will be discussed again in a few days.
This technique demonstrates persistence and a desire to do what it takes to resolve the issue. Ultimately, of course, the project manager will have to settle on the best offer.
When it comes to recruiting members for high performance teams managers should exercise care not to reveal how different members of the team were selected. The project might be crippled at the start if reluctantly assigned members are identified and the team perceives differences in attitude and commitment.
Project managers have to navigate a complex maze in order to create high performance teams. Until the final selection step they need to show resilience, a good understanding of the project, leverage their connections within the organization, etc. A complex process involving many departments and interests from a wide range of stakeholders.
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