How to set up your project team for success


Often the main challenge I face developing project leaders to build elite teams is their mindset. When you were at school and the teacher asked you a question, what was your behaviour? What most people do is work out the answer in their head, stick their hand up, and get told whether they were right or wrong by the teacher. Based on what the teacher thought the answer was. True? What would have happened if you started having dialogue with your class mates? Yep…told off, sent out of the class for being naughty, or even beaten with a ruler or cane! So we learnt that teamworking and collaboration is cheating…and the teacher had the answers. No wonder we struggle with teamworking today!

As a project leader you achieve your results through the teams in your project. And in today’s world of globalisation, dispersed geographical teams, chaotic projects, and many temporary relationships we need to know how to do teaming. This means getting people together who don’t know each other and getting them up to speed quickly so that you can work together effectively. Let me ask you a question…When you last put a project team together what do you focus on first, deliverables or relationships?

If I was to ask the question, which one are you measured on? Would that focus your answer? In my leadership teaching I have asked this question many times, the answer is always deliverables. The danger is of course we get sucked into the deliverables before we have built the team and just expect the team to perform.

Many years ago I was doing a number of project teambuilding sessions with a client. They kept sending their teams to us to rescue them. The message we were getting from the client was that the teams started off ok in terms of performance but it had dwindled in the past few months. Tensions were high, relationships were breaking down and they were having a tough time trying to hit deliverables.

After a few different project teams had left all fired up and ready to rock, it dawned on me that the project managers of the teams had no idea how to build teams in the workplace, and that the real problem we needed to sort out was them. I arranged to meet the Programme Director and shared my thinking…he loved the idea as of course it would save him plenty of budget! And I felt ethically great even though I had lost out on plenty of revenue from doing team builds for them!

I taught project managers at all levels how to build teams in the workplace. The performance improvement was exponential. For the first time project teams had been set up for success. I had taught them how to build and sustain elite teams quickly.

What do you do to build and sustain team performance? When we look at today’s world and all the ambiguity and complexity it brings we also need to build alliances, partnerships, global teams, multicultural teams, and virtual teams. All require a high level of skill and process to create effectively and quickly. Many of the commercial opportunities that are out there today require organisations to put a multi-disciplined team together quickly and efficiently. One of the clients I work with in the UK had just added £240M to its top line in 18 months by being the first to grab a change in government policy.

They achieved this because they are agile and can form project teams quickly. The competition were still going through the business case, planning and risk processes!!

If we focus on deliverables and not bother with enabling the team for success we fall foul of the dead body syndrome. This is where you have “attendees” rather than a group of highly engaged and enabled people doing great stuff together.

The problem is many leaders rely on a strategy of hope when it comes to building teams. You need to learn how to do it and become a teambuilding wizard! There is a guide available in ChangePro to achieve this, check it out… it’s in the Teaming section!

Your job is to set up and develop a team who can move from being managed by you to ultimately being self managed and you adopting a leadership role. Your job is to make yourself redundant! By the way, you can get promoted then. You can’t if you are the controlling project manager. Think about that for a while!

This is the process I teach leaders how to set up teams for success. It enables you to create your team canvas.

What is the Team Canvas?

It is a road map that a team creates to ensure that all involved are clear on where they’re heading, how they’re going to get there and how they will know when they’ve arrived!  You can download the template in the resources section.

It keeps the team focused and provides a reference point to remind everyone what was agreed, keeping priorities in everyone’s mind. It means that more effective decisions are made, where all individuals are committed to achieving the best result to achieving the team’s purpose.

Time taken agreeing the Team Canvas will be repaid many times over as a team’s work progresses.

Where can I use it?

  • To get off on the right foot when a new team is formed.
  • When a team is in trouble and people need to regain their view of the big picture.
  • To provide focus, enabling better prioritisation and decision making.
  • As a way of capturing what a team is doing really well, so they can continue using their magic formula.
  • It can be used for people who work together day to day in teams.
  • It can also be used for teams who come together for a specific purpose, such as project teams.
  • For teams that work at a distance from one another geographically.
  • To provide clarity as changes occur within the organisation, which will impact upon the team.

How do I use it?

  • Invite team to a workshop
  • Use the team canvas and ensure everyone involved has a view of this template (can be done remotely if needed). Explain and discuss why it is important.
  • Ask each question in turn. To enable everyone to contribute, ask them to write down their thoughts on post-it notes as individuals first and stick onto flip chart paper or a wall etc., somewhere visible for everyone.
  • Identify any common threads and group these post-its. Cluster and prioritise down to key themes.
  • Note in the relevant box on the template. Keep it top level. See tips below.
  • Once all questions have been answered bring together the team’s thoughts into one place, for example, typing up the Team Canvas page which shows the teams commitments for each of the areas. Get it branded.
  • A credit card sized version could be produced for everyone to keep at hand.
  • Send out to everyone involved.
  • Refer to this regularly at meetings etc., to keep it fresh and alive. It can be updated if necessary to keep it relevant.
  • Challenge each other to live the Team Canvas.

Have fun setting up your team for success.

Graham Wilson, Leadership Expert, Author and creator of ChangePro™

[email protected]