4.7. Developing High Performance Teams
In this chapter, we've discussed work styles as well as cultural, generational, and gender differences. There are many other kinds of differences we experience including race, religion, political orientation, and more. The reality is that everyone is unique and brings a unique world and self-view to the team. Since work is about accomplishing results (and hopefully enjoying it along the way), your goal as the IT project manager is to find ways to get the very best out of each team member with the least effort on everyone's part. The old adage "Work smarter, not harder" certainly applies. If you can find ways to fully utilize individual team member's skills, talents, interests, work styles, and experience, you'll be getting optimal team results that should translate into optimal project results. In this section, we'll look at some generally recognized methods for creating highly functional teams. We won't reiterate the information presented earlier on work styles, culture, language, and generation differences, but keep them in mind as you go because they form the foundation for outstanding team performance. Many of these topics will be revisited later in this book when we discuss forming your project team and defining procedures and guidelines for team performance.
4.7.1. Ensure the Team Composition Matches the Task
High performance teams have team members whose background, skills, experiences, and work styles are varied. Having a homogeneous group leads to lopsided thinking and often results in errors and omissions because everyone has the same perspective. Whenever possible, include people on the team that are differentfrom different stakeholder groups (customers, users, managers, hardware, software, testing, quality, etc.), with different work styles, experiences, and talents. While you don't want to create diversity for diversity's sake (except in some instances), diversity almost always yields a better result, so strive to find a good mix of people with the right skills for the team.
4.7.2. Clearly Define the Project and Team Purpose
We'll discuss defining the project and the team's purpose in more detail later in the book, but an integral part of any high performance team is a clear understanding of purpose. When the project and its purpose are clearly understood and when the team clearly understands what is expected of it and what its deliverables are, the project will be far more successful. In cross-cultural teams, this is even more important to ensure that teammates working around the world can collaborate successfully toward a common goal.
4.7.3. Clearly Define Team Member Roles, Leveraging Unique Skills and Talents
Each member of the team should also understand his or her unique role on the team. Ideally, these roles should, ideally, leverage the individual's skills and talents. As we discussed earlier in this chapter, when a person can work inside his or her comfort zone, he or she is often far more effective. That said, a project is a great opportunity for people to stretch and learn new skills, so team roles should offer the opportunity to learn new skills and to work with new people, if at all possible.
4.7.4. Clearly Define Team Member Responsibilities to the Team
We'll also discuss this more later in the book, but it's important that each team member understand exactly what his or her responsibility is to the team. Often teamwork is just a group of individuals coordinating or parsing out a chunk of work rather than truly collaborating on a solution. Team members should be encouraged to work as a team. They should also be very clear about their responsibilities to the team, including speaking up if problems arise within the team.
4.7.5. Create Clear Guidelines for Deliverables
Highly effective teams understand clearly what is expected of them. Clearly defined deliverables help everyone know what is expected and when it's expected. Quality comes from clearly defined work that is delivered according to clear guidelines, so defining what a quality deliverable looks like is an important building block for your project. We'll spend a fair amount of time later in the book discussing how to build quality into your project through clearly defined deliverables.
4.7.6. Work as a Team to Define a Team Culture and Identity
Many project managers approach a project team as a temporary collection of people that have to get a job done. While that is, in fact, the mission of many teams, they can be far more effective when people begin to identify as part of the team, to form team bonds, and to create a team culture. Shared experiences help create bonds, so developing opportunities for the team to get to know one another (in work and/or non-work settings) can help forge relationships important to the success of the project. You can be creative in creating a team identityhave the team come up with a name, make team t-shirts, have lunch or coffee together as a team, etc., to develop a high functioning team.
4.7.7. Work as a Team to Develop Problem Solving and Conflict Resolution Guidelines
Any team will have problems and conflicts arise at some point in time. Rather than sitting down and laying out these guidelines, work with the team to develop them. This not only gets needed buy-in, but it will take into account cultural, generational, and work style differences. What might have seemed like a good conflict resolution solution to you might be completely unacceptable to your multigenerational, cross-cultural team.
4.7.8. Create an Environment that Fosters Respect and Courtesy
Respect and courtesy can be in short supply when we're under immense pressure to start, run, or complete a project. Added to all the other job responsibilities we might have, we can forget our manners pretty quickly. As the project manager, your job is to set the tone for the team. When you create an environment that fosters courtesy and respect and quickly addresses any lapses, members of the team will be more likely to want to contribute fully. Knowing that team activities will be respectful and courteous also encourages team members to speak up and raise contrary information and opinions that might be critical to the success of the project.
4.7.9. Recognize Individual and Group Achievement
As you read earlier in this chapter, recognition is one of the things that drives job satisfaction. This is a fairly universal human need, so cultural and generational differences melt away for just a moment. However, how that recognition should be delivered will be highly influenced by cultural and generational factors. As you learned, some cultures are very group-oriented and for you to single any one individual out for positive (or negative) feedback could be bad both for the group and the individual. Provide genuine recognition of achievements in whatever culturally acceptable method(s) you determine. The important thing is to provide that recognition.
4.7.10. Manage Team Time Efficiently
How many team or project meetings have you attended that were a complete waste of time? Too many to count, probably. Unfortunately, too many project managers (and other managers) don't manage team time effectively, causing team members to duck out of meetings early or not show up at all. Set an agenda for the meeting and make sure everyone knows the agenda. Make sure everyone is clear about their roles in the meeting (are they expected to make a presentation, deliver an analysis, bring ideas to solve a problem, etc.?). Make sure the meeting starts and ends on time and stays on topic. Allow time for socializing before or after the meeting, not during. If team or project meetings are clear, concise, and useful, people will actually attend and participate. It might be a foreign concept in your company, but give it a shotyou'll be surprised how effective a meeting can actually be when it's well facilitated. We'll talk later in the book about how to run effective project meetings in more detail.
4.7.11. Establish Communication Guidelines
Setting guidelines and expectations about communications is another important facet of high performance teams. As project manager, you may have some guidelines you'd like to establish (and that's fine). You should also work with the team to determine what's feasible and reasonable. Some companies expect e-mail to be responded to within a few hours, other companies seem to expect responses sometime in the next week or two. Time zones, cultural, and generational differences also come into play. For instance, some team members may be reluctant to log into e-mail on the weekends to check on and reply to e-mail (unless they have a specific need to do so). Other teammates may log in nights, weekends, and holidays just to keep their fingers "on the pulse." An e-mail sent at 8:00 A.M. in the U.S. might arrive just after normal working hours in another country and may not be replied to until the next day. In addition to issues of timeliness, your team should set guidelines about how they'll communicate. How often will they meet, do they need to talk by phone, net meeting, video conferencing, face-to-face meetings, etc.?
4.7.12. Implement Technology to Enhance Real-Time Communication and Collaboration
High performance teams have team leaders who work to reduce barriers to productivity and success. Looking for ways to implement and leverage technology to enhance real-time communication and collaboration among team members can have a huge impact on the success of the team. Utilizing existing tools more effectively can be part of your strategy and the implementation of new tools might be needed as well. Also, make sure everyone has access to the tools the team will use. If one part of the team has access to video conferencing and another part of the team doesn't, it can cause problems with communications and keeping the team in sync. In today's wired world, we all expect to have e-mail, phones, and access to the Internet, but these amenities are not universally available. If you have lone team members in remote locations, don't assume they're as connected as other team members. Assess which technologies the team can all utilize to communicate effectively.