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Building High Performance Teams

Project leaders must understand that they cannot have a high-performance team in place and expect them to deliver desired performance with respect to the pre-decided benchmarks. His team will be called as High-Performance Team only after the targets are met in a better than expected way. To achieve this project leader has to take his sensitivity with respect to all the critical aspects of the project to a higher-level right from the word ‘GO’!!

1. Understand and connect to the soul of the project

Project success is usually mapped on three dimensions viz cost, schedule and Quality or performance. In some project, the overriding aspect is the timing and in no way, one can accept any failure on that front e.g. organizing Olympic Games. Some projects due to the organization’s delicate financial position there is no room for crossing the budget but Top management expects some savings at the end. But in most of the projects, the quality and or performance of the final product of the project is of utmost importance and no one can accept any shortcoming on that front e.g. construction of a Nuclear power plant or a Huge water dam. Once the project leader gets clarity on the priorities of these dimensions and assumes oneness with it all future decisions/ actions would speak the same language or the priority.

2. Visualize the project with its rough specifications, system design and layout

Before even putting in place the team under him, the project manager needs to do a thorough study of the sponsor's objectives as well as similar projects completed in the past wherever it is done. The purpose is not to generate detailed specifications but in attempt of getting to first rough cut specifications of system components, their layout and interactions within themselves and then similar specifications for subsystems of each system component project leader acquires deeper understanding of the scope of the project and also about the organizational structure he needs to put in place so that every aspect of the project is well-taken care off. The more the efforts project manager puts in in this stage by working alone the more are the chances of a project comes out in flying colors. For all the decisions in this and future steps, the awareness about the soul of the project understood from step I should always form the base.

3. Carefully pick professionals for leading various functions in the project

This is a very crucial phase as the project leader starts assembling the dream team. Building on the work done in step 1 and 2, it is important to get team members on board to take important positions such as leading individual functions such as Quality control, procurement, Human resource management, finance and then the functional heads depending on type of project such as civil works, electrical works, Engineering etc. Project leader must not compromise on the attitude, character, and expertise of these key personnel and must be sure that the recruited personnel would gel well in the entire team.

4. Induct the recruited core team members with the ‘Kick off’ meeting 

Once all the key functional heads are recruited, it is now time to induct them into the project and project leader has to do it personally. He must prepare well and must conduct an impactful kick-off meeting and give the team a purposeful name such as ‘THE CORE TEAM’ or ‘DEPARTMENT HEADS COMMITTEE’ etc. The main purpose of this meeting is to make them understand and connect to the soul of the project and how each one of them is going to play the most important role in making the project achieve the vision of the organization or the chief stakeholder. Along with this project leader also should chart out the mission of the team to achieve this vision and present a rough-cut plan in front of the team and ask them to work together to give it a final shape and generate a detailed master plan for the project and arrive at a consensus on the deadline by which the master plan will be ready to make it public. Henceforth all the meetings proceedings to be captured in the form of minutes of a meeting or any other suitable way. Also, decide on the frequency and duration of meeting of this core team throughout the project.

5. Actively interact with the core members during the initial phase of project definition

Project leader should maintain high-level openness in his interactions with the core team members. The discussions should cover all standard aspects such as scope finalization, risk management, Quality management, technology management, Information management, manpower management, finance management, Engineering aspects, procurement management etc. Also, it is important that internal customer-supplier relationship within the functional heads gets established in line with the requirements of the project. The project leader must consistently display behavior of total involvement, commitment, concern with all the aspects of the project and where ever appropriate establishing a connection with the soul of the project. Project manager should always wear a smile of confidence and make sure it percolates down to the core team members. A couple of social gathering out of the premises and/or combined training programs can be a good idea during this phase but project leader needs to keep things under control so that the central focus is never compromised. Project leader should avoid individualized training programs in this phase unless it is utmost necessary and cannot be postponed to the next phase. By the time the master plan and project Gantt chart is ready the entire team should get converted into an orchestra where each member plays his own instrument but in line with the central tune given by the project leader and together, they create a melodious track of achieving the vision of the project.

6. Earn support from the Top Management & Primary stakeholder: Get an approval of the master plan, fund disbursement and the go-ahead to set up a project organization

This is one of the hectic phases of the project. Project leader needs to work closely with the stakeholder and / or top management to get the clearance to the master plan and the proposed schedule and budget for the project. No activity starts unless the project is serviced with the initial dose of the funds. Once the funds are allocated the project leader along with the core team gets into action of setting up the various functional departments which includes getting the required manpower, equipment, systems, approvals from authorities, logically locating the functional departments etc. Location of the functional departments is a major influencer in deriving superlative performance from the team and hence a good thought process must go in deciding the locations of various functions. The project leader along with the functional head must interact with each functional team and ensure that the same vision, mission and project spirit percolates down to each member of these functional teams. Functional heads must assume responsibility of creating a positive, interactive, open and motivated environment in the department and consistently display behaviors of commitment, sincerity, teamwork, hard work, team altruism etc. The internal customer-supplier relationship also needs to be explained by the functional heads to the team members so that each functional team understands its role with in the entire project and gels very well with the project theme. The entire project organization should become one solid team working towards a common goal of fulfilling the vision of the project.

7. Get visibility to the project by formally launching it

To ensure a successful outcome of any project, visibility of the project and high-level support is of utmost importance. To ensure this the Project Leader can use the occasion of the formal launch of the project. Topmost person of the organization and / or of the stakeholder’s organization should be invited along with some prominent local leader or authority to grace the occasion. Invite all the employees as well as other persons working on the project. Motivating speech from chief guest or another Top Management person would suit the occasion appropriately and would have a lasting impact on the team members.

8. Do micro and macro management of all the functions but with a smile

Project leader must not have a standard management style. Following the activities minutely i.e. micromanagement is essential in some critical functions especially those which have a direct impact on the soul of the project. Also, some functional heads do need support initially as they may not be fully in charge of the situations in their functional areas. Micro management in such cases would ensure that the function does not lose track of the spelled-out mission. Whereas with some functional heads, especially those who are experienced and confident, it would be just sufficient to monitor the results and variances and leave the rest to the functional heads. Micro management in such cases creates unnecessary tension and usually results in prolonged off-track results. Another most important aspect the project manager should remember that he has to develop environment of trust with in the project organization and it starts happening right from project manager’s office. During all interactions as well as crises handling situations project leader should not loose cool and must remain in control all the time. He must display ever smiling, ever confident behavior while monitoring, controlling and handling unexpected results, throughout the project period.

9. Lead from the front

Projects, be it of any kind, are never smooth sailing. Each project may have its unique set of issues that needs to be resolved in time. The team members may or may not be able to handle it on their own. So, there will be occasions requiring some help or guidance. Project manager must step in here and take charge of the situation and either give solutions to the issue of organizing expert’s help to solve the issue.

10. Project is also for the people in the team

Although it is not spelled out anywhere in the vision and mission statements of the project, it should be the project leader's mission to work towards the betterment of the employees and other people working on the project even it requires consuming some of his budgets. It can be in the form of skill development training, theoretical training, giving them state of art tools and consumables to work with, providing and ensuring safety wears are used by them and safety procedures are followed, periodic social activities to recharge them, providing appropriate compensation of their efforts in terms of cash and / or kind. Inherently the project team members are low on motivation as most of them are unsure of what they will be doing once the current project is finished. But when they see that while on the current project they are also adding to their own skills which can improve their career advancement prospects. Once team members see the commitment of the project leader towards their betterment the logical and obvious reply from them is their commitment towards betterment of the project. A collective commitment of the team members improves the chance of becoming a high performing team.

11. Adopt new Technology

Project manager should be ready to adopt new but tested and tried technologies for project monitoring, project control and other aspects of project management. As far as the new technologies in the area of hardcore project systems, if project manager becomes aware of new developments, he should immediately inform the primary stakeholders of the project as it can be a major development in the project which can take the project performance at a much higher level than the earlier expected and designed level. He should never hold back the information even if it may cause a major change in the project scope, for the obvious reason that the performance of the product of the project is far more important than increase in scope, budget, target date and the amount of disturbance the ongoing project has to undergo. The simple logic is that project activities are temporary nature whereas project product performance remains as long as the product of the project is put in use. On the other side, he need not be actively involved in pursuing the primary stakeholder about any such adoption but should pass the information actively say by highlighting it in project update reports and then leave it to the decision of the primary stakeholder and his team. In case the project has to undergo any change in its scope then accordingly budgets and schedule target dates have to be amended accordingly. Taking care of the project’s cost and schedule performance is the primary responsibility of the project manager and should not be compromised under any condition.

12. Recognize and Reward

Every individual gets an extra boost of motivation when some senior pat his back for a job well done. Project manager should use this psychology effectively in keeping the atmosphere charged for continuous achievements by the project team members. Usually, financial rewards must be planned at major milestone achievements and must be for the entire team but for other small achievements non-financial awards or recognitions such as appreciation letter, best idea for the week, best suggestion for avoiding accidents on project or risk to the project, and so on. Also, this needs to be done at small function or get together so that the other team members get motivated and start thinking / working that extra bit to qualify for upcoming rewards or awards. On the hand project manager must be also careful that there are no wrong practices, procedures, politics is being used by the team members to become eligible for the rewards, as it would possibly harm the project performance in many ways.

13. Retain the same team members for future similar projects

The team may or may not achieve its required goals in first go i.e. the first project. But if the same team, if not all same team members but a majority of them, is retained and is given similar projects to handle in future, it learns fast, the ways and means to do the things with greater perfection. Over a period, the team emerges out as a high performing team excelling its expected performance on many dimensions of project performance.

The project manager now has a team ready to take more challenges and excel in various project performance parameters, a real ‘High Performance Team’.

This article is a summary of the article by our student Haresh Raulgaonkar, supervised by Dr Zdeno Matta.

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