Managing high performing project teams

In this article we look at how project teams can be built and maintained for optimal performance. This is an essential trait of effective project leadership. Creating the right environment in which the team can thrive is key to success.

Choose a good balance of knowledge, energy and experience.

I put these three headings together because by themselves they are not very effective. You can have an experienced team without the right energy or knowledge. You can have a knowledgeable team with no experience. Neither of these combinations is very effective. If you can select on your team a strong blend of experience, knowledge and energy, this can be a very effective combination.

Knowledgeable people that have the relevant project experience and the energy to deliver project tasks can be powerful. If you get the knowledge, experience, energy balance right on a project team, anything is possible, and progress will be sustained.

One fact that everyone on the team needs to understand is that no one person is bigger than the project or the team, no matter how good they are or how good they think they are. No one is indispensable.

Clear roles and responsibilities

Another essential element of a high performing project team is that they all understand their roles and responsibilities. This is particularly important on long term projects. The boundary of responsibility and the role may change but once they are clear, the team can work together effectively. It can of course be possible to have a primary responsibility and a supporting role in a project, this can be clearly described in the project RASCI Matrix, RASCI – Responsible, Accountable, Supporting, Consulted, Informed) a vital document for all projects that needs to maintained and updated regularly throughout the life of a project.

If you get the knowledge, experience, energy balance right on a project team, anything is possible, and progress will be sustained.

Unified focus

The ability for project teams to have the same focus or priority is a key attribute that is often overlooked. Once the project priorities are clear for the entire team, much unnecessary communication and “non-value add” meetings and discussions can be avoided. Many project meetings take place to “clarify” the priority for the team and stakeholders. If the priority or priorities are clear from the beginning, then the team can focus their efforts on the work.

It is not uncommon when faced with several tasks that someone will need clarification on what should come first. The project plan should spell this out and should leave no room for discussion. This can be helped with the addition of a Kanban that can serve to remind the team of what is coming next and also to indicate the new priority or order of execution should it be changed for any reason.

 

Transparency

If there was one quality to start with when training new project managers it’s the importance of transparency. In large organizations, politics, pressure, personalities and context can all make it difficult to be transparent on a project. If there is transparency at all levels of the project it can have a number of advantages such as:

1. Dealing with problems and issues – the more you know, the sooner, the quicker any issues will be resolved.
2. If transparency is encouraged then potential issues can be avoided by discussing the waring signals
3. Transparency will encourage accurate record keeping which is particularly important during testing, where test failures and challenges need to be documented accurately.
4. Encouraging people to put their hand up and ask for help with out fear or hesitation.

Evaluating team performance

When evaluating how a team is performing, we need to look at a number of factors:

Completion of work in a timely manner – are deadlines being met consistently?

What is the quality of the output? Is there any repeat work involved due to poor quality?

How are the team working together, supporting each other and communicating?

How to they perform under pressure? Do you need to “ask” people to stay late to complete a deadline or is it done regardless?

How many of the same issues are recurring? Are the team learning from previous errors?

Effective leaders will always deal with any concerns at the earliest sign of a pattern emerging.

 

Managing high performing teams

When managing a high performing team, it can be a challenge to bring them down to earth sometimes. High levels of confidence can be very powerful but if not managed correctly they can lead to complacency. High performing teams do the basics right every time, if you keep focus on maintaining a high standard on basic tasks, these can be the building blocks of success.

Utilizing a sports analogy, many of the world’s most successful sports people when asked about their success have alluded to the fact that they do they focus on being brilliant at the basic skills of their sport. Soccer for example – passing, running and shooting – that’s what wins games. Ensure the basics are done well and never let the team forget that.

Pairing people with the right partner is a huge factor here too, matching personalities and skills so team members can learn and challenge each other can enhance your team’s output and serve to ground them in the benefits of teamwork. I’ve never subscribed to the concept of autonomous self-managing teams but partnering and mentoring internally can bring with it a high level of internal team management to maintain performance.

Giving the right feedback at the right time is another element of managing high performing teams. A former boss of mine would often say “That was fantastic – well done. Now what did we learn this this project and how can we improve on the next one.” That sounds better than “You’re good but you do better.”

 

In summary

1. Choose a good mix of knowledge, experience and energy
2. Ensure that everyone is clear on their role and responsibilities
3. The team must have a unified focus or the same priority
4. Encourage transparency in all areas of the project
5. Look at several factors of teamwork when evaluating overall performance, not just volume of output.
6. Manage and control performance by focusing on maintain a very high standard on the basic skills and tasks.

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