The first significant hurdle for any project team effort is to establish clarity around the purpose of the project. No project can be successful without clarity of mission.
Properly orienting a new project team ensures that the team starts off on the right foot. Use of the Team Orientation Process™ I devised provides a means for a project team to understand the task at hand and provides a basis to begin working together as a team.
The goal is to reduce the time to build an effective team by deliberately initiating and enabling an ongoing team-building conversation that would otherwise gradually emerge over an extended time period.
What is the Standard or the Guideline?
At the beginning of a project, the project manager should initiate a team-building dialog during a team meeting to address the Team Orientation Process™, which consists of these steps:
Step 1: Ask “What is our task?”
Typically, the task of the team is assigned and the team has little or no say about it. The purpose of a project may seem obvious, but often team members make assumptions about it. Typically, there are as many ideas as there are team members.
To avoid those different ideas about the project at hand and to enable a common understanding, encourage the discussion about the objectives of the project by asking the team members about their perspective. The goal is to gain clarity about the mission of the project team by answering this question:
“What is it that we must do, deliver, or build that is bigger than any of us, requires all of us, and none of us can claim individual victory until it is done?”
Step 2: Ask “What’s in it for you?”
Ask each team member for their motivation of accepting the assignment to this project team (reasons beyond a paycheck and continued employment). The project manager can accomplish this with a series of questions that penetrate to the heart of the matter and careful listening to responses.
It’s common to get some form of a “I don’t know” response. The project manager can ask again using a variation of, “What could possibly be in it for you?” Listen carefully to the response and watch for a shift of energy in tone of voice, facial expression, or body language that indicates striking a positive nerve.
Note that team member motivation may not correspond with the purpose of the project; it may be purely a personal self-interest having nothing to do with work life, and that’s okay. Also note that motivation is a better predictor of success than technical skills — so don’t skip this because it feels weird.
Step 3: Promote Team Agreements
Ask the team for proposals about team agreements and seek a consensus from the team about their adoption. Team agreements serve to make norms explicit that are otherwise expected but may be only implied.
Expectations that are not explicitly agreed are oftentimes the basis for conflict within the team at some point. Team agreements serve to accelerate the “forming, storming, norming, performing” model of team growth.
Team agreements can generally cover, but are not limited to, these areas:
- Personal responsibility in the context of team work (making and delivering on commitments)
- Time commitments (working hours, team meetings, etc.)
- Communication (when and how it takes place)
- Decision-making (who makes what kinds of decisions, methods, etc.)
- Cleaning up after a problem or upset (how to resolve conflict)
- Confidentiality (sharing of information with others outside of team)
Step 4: Craft a Clear and Elevating Goal
A characteristic of high-performance teams is that they have a “clear and elevating goal,” a purpose that transcends the task of the project and creates energy and excitement in the team. It is the team’s sense of meaning about what they’re doing together.
To enable the growth of a project team toward high performance, start a conversation that leads the team to establish their clear and elevating goal. This is a discovery process and may take some time and be an ongoing conversation. Use these questions as a way to help the conversation:
- What’s in it for us? What do we want to get out of this effort that is above and beyond the task?
- What will we be celebrating when we complete the project?
Step 5: Ask “What do you bring to the team?”
We often say that people are our most important resource. This step is an opportunity to treat people as more than “interchangeable parts” and discover the unique gifts each project team member brings to the situation. To do so, elicit the unique capabilities that each team member possesses and is willing to bring to the team. The key is to honor differences while acknowledging the potential value present in each team member.
Why Establishing Guidelines and Standards is Important
Recognizing the factors that contribute to building a high-performance team and deliberately addressing them positions a team to more quickly traverse the curve toward achieving higher performance levels and deliver increasing value. Taking the time to consider the contributions each individual team member can make to the project makes people feel valued. And a high-performance team in which everyone works together toward the goal makes the task more fun!
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Christopher Avery, Ph.D. wrote the popular book Teamwork Is An Individual Skill: Getting Your Work Done When Sharing Responsibility — which Fortune Magazine claimed is the only teamwork book worth reading. He is a recognized authority on how individual and shared responsibility works in the mind and an advisor to leaders worldwide. Master leadership or build a responsible team (or family) with The Leadership Gift Program for Leaders.
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