One of the challenges project managers often face in building a team is the lack of full-time involvement of team members. Specialists work on different phases of the project and spend the majority of their time and energy elsewhere. They are often members of multiple teams, each competing for their time and allegiance. And so, building a team identity is a rather difficult job.
Project expert David Frame points out that for many of these specialists a specific project is an abstraction; as a consequence their level of motivation suffers.
The 5 Activities to Establish Team Identity
Project managers need to try to make the project team as tangible as possible to the participants by developing a unique team identity to which participants can become emotionally attached. Here are five key activities that you can use to build team identity:
- Team meetings
- Co-location of team members
- Team names
- Engage the team to achieve something early on
- Team rituals
Effective use of meetings.
Periodic project team meetings provide an important forum for communicating project information. A less obvious function of project meetings is to help establish a concrete team identity. During project meetings, members see that they are not working alone.
They are part of a larger project team, and project success depends on the collective efforts of all the team members. Timely gatherings of all the project participants help define team membership and reinforce a collective team identity.
Co-location of team members.
The most obvious way to make the project team tangible is to have members work together in a common space. This is not always possible in matrix environments where involvement is part time and members are working on other projects and activities.
A worthwhile substitute for co-location is the creation of a project office, sometimes referred to as the project war room or clubhouse. Such rooms are the common meeting place and contain the most significant project documentation.
Frequently, their walls are covered with Gantt charts, cost graphs, and other output associated with project planning and control. These rooms serve as a tangible sign of project effort and will help establish team identity.
Creation of project team name.
The development of a team name such as the “A-Team” or “Casey’s Crusaders” is a common device for making a team more tangible in increase team identity. Frequently an associated team logo is also created.
Again the project manager should rely on the collective ingenuity of the team to come up with the appropriate name and logo. Such symbols then can be affixed to stationery, T-shirts, coffee mugs, etc., to help signify team membership.
Engage the team to do something together early on.
Nothing reinforces a sense of a team more than working on something together. In the case of one international project, the manager simply hosted a potluck dinner where each member brought a dish his or her country was famous for. This can be as simple as the above example.
Just as corporate rituals help establish the unique identity of a firm, similar symbolic actions at the project level can contribute to establish a unique team identity or subculture.
For example, on one project members were given ties with stripes that corresponded to the number of milestones on the project. After reaching each milestone, members would gather and cut the next stripe off their ties to signify progress.
Ralph Katz reports it was common practice for Digital Equipment’s alpha chip design team to recognize people who found a bug in the design by giving them a phosphorescent toy roach.
The bigger the bug that was discovered, the bigger the toy roach received.
Such rituals help set project work apart from mainstream operations and reinforce a special status thus establishing a strong team identity.