Types of Teams
Teams can outperform individual team members in several situations. The effort and time invested in developing a team and the work of the team are large investments of project resources, and the payback is critical to project success. Determining when a team is needed and then chartering and supporting the development and work of the team are other critical project management abilities.
Teams are effective in several project situations:
- When no one person has the knowledge, skills, and abilities to either understand or solve the problem
- When a commitment to the solution is needed by large portions of the project team
- When the problem and solution cross project functions
- When innovation is required
Individuals can outperform teams on some occasions. An individual tackling a problem consumes fewer resources than a team and can operate more efficiently—as long as the solution meets the project’s needs. A person is most appropriate in the following situations:
- When speed is important
- When one person has the knowledge, skills, and resources to solve the problem
- When the activities involved in solving the problem are very detailed
- When the actual document needs to be written (Teams can provide input, but writing is a solitary task.)
In addition to knowing when a team is appropriate, the project manager must also understand what type of team will function best.
A functional team refers to the team approach related to the project functions. The engineering team, the procurement team, and the project controls team are examples of functional teams within the project. On a project with a low complexity profile that includes low technological challenges, good team member experience, and a clear scope of work, the project manager can utilize well-defined functional teams with clear expectations, direction, and strong vertical communication.
Cross-functional teams address issues and work processes that include two or more of the functional teams. The team members are selected to bring their functional expertise to addressing project opportunities.
A cross-functional project team in Tennessee was assigned to develop a project approach to drafting, shooting, and editing educational videos without storing the videos on the school server. Although the complexity of this goal is primarily related to creating the videos and procuring editing equipment, the planning involved coordination of the script drafting, procurement of equipment and talent, and establishment of project controls. Team members from each of these functions developed and tracked a plan to meet the project goal. Because they communicated so frequently and clearly, the cross-functional team was successful in designing a process and executing the plan in a way that saved three weeks on the video schedule and several thousand dollars in cost by hosting off-site.
Problem-solving teams are assigned to address specific issues that arise during the life of the project. The project leadership includes members that have the expertise to address the problem. The team is chartered to address that problem and then disband.
Creating a Project Culture
Project managers have a unique opportunity during the start-up of a project. They create a project culture, something organizational managers seldom have a chance to do. In most organizations, the corporate or organizational culture has developed over the life of the organization, and people associated with the organization understand what is valued, what has status, and what behaviors are expected. Edgar Schein identified three distinct levels in organizational culture.
- Artifacts and behaviors
- Espoused values
Artifacts are the visible elements in a culture and they can be recognized by people not part of the culture. Espoused values are the organization’s stated values and rules of behavior. Shared basic assumptions are the deeply embedded, taken-for-granted behaviors that are usually unconscious, but constitute the essence of culture.
Characteristics of Project Culture
A project culture represents the shared norms, beliefs, values, and assumptions of the project team. Understanding the unique aspects of a project culture and developing an appropriate culture to match the complexity profile of the project are important project management abilities.
Culture is developed through the communication of:
- The priority
- The given status
- The alignment of official and operational rules
Official rules are the rules that are stated, and operational rules are the rules that are enforced. Project managers who align official and operational rules are more effective in developing a clear and strong project culture because the project rules are among the first aspects of the project culture to which team members are exposed when assigned to the project.
During an instructional design project that required individuals to collaborate remotely, an official rule had been established that individuals would back up their work in a location other than the shared folders they were using every week. It did not take long, however, for everyone involved to see that one member was actively backing up all work. Believing that was sufficient, the operational rule became simply leaving the backing up to a single individual. They assumed that official rules could be ignored if they were difficult to obey.
When this individual fell ill, however, no one picked up the slack and followed the official rule. When some files were corrupted, the team found that their most recent backups were weeks old, resulting in redoing a lot of work. The difference between the official rules and the operational rules of the project created a culture that made communication of the priorities more difficult.
In addition to official and operational rules, the project leadership communicates what is important by the use of symbols, storytelling, rituals, rewards or punishments, and taboos.
A project manager met with his team prior to the beginning of an instructional design project. The team was excited about the prestigious project and the potential for career advancement involved. With this increased competitive aspect came the danger of selfishness and backstabbing. The project leadership team told stories of previous projects where people were fired for breaking down the team efforts and often shared inspirational examples of how teamwork created unprecedented successes—an example of storytelling. Every project meeting started with team-building exercises—a ritual—and any display of hostility or separatism was forbidden—taboo—and was quickly and strongly cut off by the project leadership if it occurred.
Culture guides behaviour and communicates what is important and is useful for establishing priorities. On projects that have a strong culture of trust, team members feel free to challenge anyone who breaks a confidence, even managers. The culture of integrity is stronger than the cultural aspects of the power of management.
Innovation on Projects
The requirement of innovation on projects is influenced by the nature of the project. Some projects are chartered to develop a solution to a problem, and innovation is a central ingredient of project success. The lack of availability of education to the world at large prompted the open education movement, a highly innovative endeavor, which resulted in the textbook you are now reading. Innovation is also important to developing methods of lowering costs or shortening the schedule. Traditional project management thinking provides a trade-off between cost, quality, and schedule. A project sponsor can typically shorten the project schedule with an investment of more money or a lowering of quality. Finding innovative solutions can sometimes lower costs while also saving time and maintaining the quality.
Innovation is a creative process that requires both fun and focus. Stress is a biological reaction to perceived threats. Stress, at appropriate levels, can make the work environment interesting and even challenging. Many people working on projects enjoy a high-stress, exciting environment. When the stress level is too high, the biological reaction increases blood flow to the emotional parts of the brain and decreases the blood flow to the creative parts of the brain, making creative problem solving more difficult. Fun reduces the amount of stress on the project. Project managers recognize the benefits of balancing the stress level on the project with the need to create an atmosphere that enables creative thought.
When a project manager visited the team tasked with designing the website for a project, she found that most of the members were feeling a great deal of stress. As she probed to find the reason behind the stress, she found that in addition to designing, the team was increasingly facing the need to build the website as well. As few of them had the necessary skills, they were wasting time that could be spent designing trying to learn building skills. Once the project manager was able to identify the stress as well as its cause, she was able to provide the team with the support it needed to be successful.
Exploring opportunities to create savings takes an investment of time and energy, and on a time-sensitive project, the project manager must create the motivation and the opportunity for creative thinking.