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The Dynamics of Project Team Management: Practical Guidelines For Success

The goal of this paper is to take a broad look at the conceptual and practical dimensions of team management within the larger context of project integration management. The author’s burden is to enlighten (with a view to arousing the interest of) both project team managers and their team members, on the need for the development of team management skills - as being one of the essential project management competences.

This presentation is necessitated by the fact that consistent observations and the
literature have shown that there are yawning gaps among practitioners, in both the
awareness of effective project management standards, and the possession of and the application of essential competencies, including, of course, project team management skills, among practitioners globally, resulting in project failures or abandonments at all conceivable levels.

According to the Project Management Institute (PMI, 2000), “Project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques, to project activities to meet the project requirements.” Drawing from the foregoing definition, scholars have seen that project management is to a great extent, people management; people management, because, the duty and responsibility of overseeing the project stages, falls upon the shoulders of the project manager, who, in turn, gets the task done
through the project team. Newton (2016) writes that “There is nothing more important to the success of a project than the people who make up the project team. Without good people – who possess the knowledge, experience, and motivation to get the job done – all of your other planning will be quickly wasted.”

The author adds that project management “is managing people, who will do the work of the project.” Put another way, project management is teamwork, in which, the project manager also wears the cap of a team leader or manager. Hence, project management and project team management are so interwoven, and almost functionally synonymous. Succinctly said, the project manager serves the same role as the project team manager. Nonetheless, the project team management functions can be located as a subset of project integration management, of
which, the earlier skill, is one of the essential competencies for the latter. This is so
because, in the course of his/her project management functions, the project manager operates as the project team’s facilitator, hands-on-trainer, guidance, communicator, motivator, morale builder, observer, mentor, delegator, overseer, coach, appraiser, developer, etc. Thus, before one can become an effective team leader, one must first become a thoroughly bred project manager. There is, therefore, no gainsaying that project success or failure, hinges heavily on the project team manager’s professional knowledge, personal and performance competencies. By extension, since the project manager does not work alone, it means that he/she has the responsibility of reproducing these competencies in the team members, through professional and practical development strategies. Hence, the success or failure of any project depends to a large extent, on the development and application of standard project management competences, which include at the core, ability to walk the project team through - from project conceptions to conclusions. Again, since project failure is not the direct opposite of project success, there is the added need to identify the factors that lead to project
failures, for the purpose of addressing, or at least, minimizing them via project manager competency development; on the other hand, there is a need to identify the factors that help project success, with a view to inculcating them into project management professional development programs.

Reasons for Project Failures

Monumental accounts gleaned from both the literature and general observations have shown that project failure is commonplace. Many reasons have been adduced for this ugly experience which affects both developed and developing countries alike. All the causes of failure have been largely found to be rooted in lack of project-manager competences, as the literature reveals.

Reasons for Project Success

Among numerous commentators on the factors leading to project success, is Rockart (1979), who corroborated the need for enhanced competency of the project managers by upholding his 8 Critical Success Factors in Project Management: these factors, to a great deal, emphasize the need for developing team management skills.
Since the place of team management skills for project success cannot be
overemphasized, the researcher has explored the available literature with a view to exposing the project team managers and their team members to the team dynamics
and practical guidelines for success.

LITERATURE REVIEW

Available resources have provided much data on the concepts, principles and practical guidelines for successful project team management. Therefore, the researcher has reviewed and presented resources on the subject matter under the following outlines within the space available: The Concepts of Team and Teamwork; Team Building Defined; Essential Stages of Team Development; Steps in Building a Collaborative Team Environment; Suggestions for Handling the Newly Formed Team; Team Building as an On-Going Process; Major Barriers to Project Team Development; Overcoming Team Building Barriers; and Tips for Managing Difficult Team Members.

The Concepts of Team and Teamwork


Team Defined 

Team concept has been variously defined in the literature. Generally, a team is seen as a group of people, or things working together for a common goal. This generic definition accords with the English Language Learner’s Dictionary which defines it as a group of people who compete in a sport, game, etc., against another group; a group of people who work together; a group of animals used to pull a wagon, cart, etc. However, since we are concerned with a sort of work team, the foregoing definition is quite applicable to the work environment. Newton (2015) defines a work team as a “group of people who share a common understanding of their mission and work together to accomplish it.”
Further to this, given that a project is not the same as a normal day to day work, we may
define a project team as being differentiated from ordinary work team - as a group of
people working together on a given project. Bearing in mind the temporay nature of
projects and hence, project teams, a project team is one whose members usually belong
to different sub-groups or sub-teams with their various functions assigned and
supervised by the project manager. This implies an element of teamwork, since all team
members or sub-teams, though assigned differently, are working towards one goal.

What Then is Teamwork?


Teamwork implies unity of purpose; the creation of a synergistic environment whereby
team members contribute efforts and skills towards the achievemnt of a common goal.
Hence, teamwork is an inevitable factor for a successful project delivery. Accordingly
therefore, Jamaledine (2018) describes teamwork as a term used for joining the efforts
of members in a project or business together to achieve a common goal. The
ProofHub (2017) adds that the French language describes it as esprit de corps,
meaning a sense of commonality among team members in such a way that inspires
enthusiasm, devotedness, and a strong commitment to the group. Carnegie (2016)
basically describes teamwork as the ability to work together with a common vision that
directs individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives, thus, fuelling the
achievement of extraordinary results.

Reasons Why Teamwork Matters


Given the inevitability of teamwork, many reasons exist as to why project team leaders
and their members should ensure the creation and sutenance of the spirit. The
literatures have offered many reasons why teamwork is critically needed, which project
managers ought to to do well to observe. ProofHub (2017) captures most of the literary
opinions in the following six reasons why teamwork is essential:


1. Teamwork Unifies the Workplace Environment by creating familiarity,
understanding, friendship, family togetherness, supportive work environment that
encourages hardwork and selfless that is devoid of grudge and egotism.


2. Teamwork Promotes Workplace Synergy that allows team members to work
together in an interactive, cooperative manner that creates a result far better and
more satisfying than individuals working alone.

3. Teamwork Makes Way for Flourishment of Ideas that allows for creativity, thus
helping both personal and corporate fulfillments’.


4. Teamwork ensures successful completion of projects. This is simply logical given
that project work calls for a synergistic approach for there to be success. Hence,
team members working together are better than one working alone.


5. Teamwork promotes delegation of responsibility. Given that teamwork is about
working together to accomplish a common task, one can effectively delegate
responsibility among the team members. This not only helps to lessen the
workload but also contributes in developing accountability in team members; it
also prepares every member of a team to be clear about what is expected of
them, thus propelling them to perform with dedication and responsibility for their
work.
6. Teamwork leads to improved productivity and efficiency through a shared
community of brotherhood that fosters morale boosting and loyalty.
Newton (2015) summarizes the above viewpoints by writing that teams bring several
benefits to organizations, including: greater levels and depth of expertise; more
productivity; ability to deliver large projects successfully; and a workplace community
brotherhood that boosts morale.
In the light of the foregoing, effective team management is critical for any project
success. It behooves us at this stage therefore to explore the dynamics of team building
and management.


What is Team Management?

The ability to manage a team is highly critical for a successful teamwork. This entails the
skills of team-coordination, communication, objective setting and performance
appraisals. Hence, team building and management have received elaborate attention in
both project management and other literatures. Accordingly, the Business Dictionary
defines team Management as the “ability of an individual or an organization to
administer and coordinate a group of individuals to perform a task.” Agreeably, helpful
team building and management approaches have been developed by both individual
and organizational experts. Some of these are included below as they are believed to
highly beneficial for the project managers’ consideration.


Team Building Defined


Simply put, teambuilding is the tactical process of group formation and blending of
individual personalities, efforts, relationships and abilities towards the common goal. It is
perhaps, the most critical skill required by the project managers for project success.
Hence, keen attention should be paid to the dynamics of team building and the proven
practical guidelines which have been offered by experts as given below. To start with,
among many other experts, Wilemon and Thamhain (1983) define team building as the
“process of taking a collection of individuals with different needs, backgrounds and
expertise and transforming them by various methods into an integrated, effective work
unit.” In this transformation process, the authors say, “the goals and energies of
individual contributors merge and support the objectives of the team.”


Essential Stages of Team Development


Building a team takes time and effort. Much of the team building theories in the literature
have been based on academic researches that are rooted in psychology and sociology.
Newton (2015) writes that these team building theories began with the work of Wilhelm
Wundt (1832-1920). Building on Wundt’s work, Kurt Lewin (1890-1947) coined the
phrase “group dynamics” to describe the positive and negative forces within groups of people; and by 1945, he established The Group Dynamics Research Center at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as the first institute ever devoted to the study of
group dynamics and how it could be applied to the real world experience. Ever since,
studies have been extended into how group performances could be improved upon in
the workplace. Newton (2015) further writes that one of the most influential researchers
in the area is Bruce Tuckman (1965), who proposed the four-stage model called,
‘Tuckman’s Stages for a Group’, which states that the ideal group decision-making
process should occur in the following four stages of team formation, namely - Forming,
Storming, Norming, and Performing. Some scholars have expanded the stages to 5, by
including Adjourning. Below therefore, is the 5-stage model as commonly expressed in
most literatures:

Five Essential Stages of Team Development


The following are the five developmental stages of a typical team:
1. The first stage is the ‘Forming’ Stage. Here, members, being newly assembled,
are just getting to know each other, trying to understand their roles, and the goals
they are to achieve. The leader at this point is concerned with orientations about
the group’s mission, goals and objectives and scopes of operation. The
atmosphere is usually that of apprehension at this stage.


2. The second stage is the ‘Storming’ Stage. Since team members are new to each
other, conflicts arise because they are uncomfortable with their fellow colleagues.
Competition for roles and leadership may also arise as differences in
perspectives and experiences collide with each other. At this point, the leader’s
role emphasis is to reduce tension through relationship building skills and
personality orientations.


3. Next comes the ‘Norming’ Stage. With proper relationship building, members at
this stage start to communicate well together, they build trust among themselves ,
and everyone gets to know their roles. Leaders at this point emphasize communications between members that enable them start to start a stable teamwork.

4. Now we reach the ‘Performing’ Stage. In this stage, having achieved a highlevel
of communication, understanding, and trust between the team members,
individuals are working together efficiently to achieve their common goal. Group
decision making, collaboration, motivation and effective development is
happening here. At this point, leaders emphasize affirmation to the members
individually and also as a team for their good performance.


5. The last stage is the ‘Adjourning’ Stage. This stage marks the project closure
with the delegated roles and goals either having been completed effectively or
not. According to whatever the accomplishments are, the team either becomes
permanent or temporary - some members are forced to go back to the early
stages due to their incapability of achieving what was desired, whereas, others
may be retained as a stable team taking on more responsibilities on future
projects.

The Role of the Project Team Manager as the Team Transforms


As explained, above, team development goes through 5 stages. At each stage, the role
of the project team manager transforms to meet the need of the team members.
According to Newton (2015), the recommended roles are as follows:


Forming Stage: The team manager’s role is a hands-on approach that ensures clear
communications as to dispel misunderstandings, and give directions, and guidance.


Storming Stage: Here the team manager’s role assumes that of conflict management,
offering supports, aiding and explaining decision making processes, active listening, and
altering team composition when necessary.


Norming Stage: At this stage, the team manager’s role begins to transform from that of
a coach, to being an observer, facilitator, and mentor.

Performing Stage: At this stage, the project team manager now serves as a delegator,
overseer, and monitor.


Adjourning Stage: This is a time for appraisals, appreciation and learning from the
project successes or failures.

Steps in Building a Collaborative Team Environment


Building a good team is important for any project or affair to succeed. So it is advisable
that diligent efforts be put into team building activities. Gratton and Erickson (2007),
offered the following Factors that Lead to Success in building a collaborative team
environment: 1. Executive Support. 2. Investing in signature relationship practices. 3.
Modeling collaborative behavior. 4. Creating a “gift culture.” 5. Focused HR Practices. 6.
Ensuring the requisite skills. 7. Supporting a sense of community. 8. The Right Team
Leaders. And, 9. Assigning leaders who are both task- and relationship-oriented.

Team Formation and Structure

According to Gratton and Erickson (2007), “The final set of lessons for developing and
managing complex teams has to do with the makeup and structure of the teams
themselves. They call this “Building on heritage relationships.” In the authors’ opinion,
given that trust is highly important for successful collaboration, forming teams that
capitalize on preexisting, or “heritage,” relationships, increases the chances of a
project’s success. Their research shows that new teams, particularly those with a high
proportion of members who were strangers at the time of formation, find it more difficult
to collaborate than those with established relationships. In the situation, newly formed
teams are forced to invest significant time and effort in building trusting relationships. On
the contrary, the authors say, “when some team members already know and trust one
another, they can become nodes, which over time evolve into networks. …we
discovered that when 20% to 40% of the team members were already well connected to
one another, the team had strong collaboration right from the start.”

As already emphasized, team collaboration is essential to guide the path to a successful
future. Over time, strong bonds within the team will evolve into a family-oriented
atmosphere where every individual’s participation is needed.


Suggestions for Handling the Newly Formed Team


Newly formed teams could be inherently problematic as the members struggles to know
each other, trying to understand their roles, and the goals they are to achieve. Great tact
is therefore needed by the team leader. According to Wilemon and Thamhain (1983),
anxiety arises in a newly formed team for many reasons that constitute barriers to
getting the team quickly focused on the task. Such anxieties, the authors say,
consciously or subconsciously, keep the members focused on the resolution of their
personal anxieties to the detriment of group goals.
The authors therefore, recommend that the following steps, if taken early in the life of a
team can help in the handling the above problems, especially, if the project leader at the
start of the project talk with each team member on a one-to-one basis:
1. What the objectives are for the project.
2. Who will be involved and why.
3. Importance of the project to the overall organization or work unit.
4. Why the team member was selected and assigned to the project and what role he/she
will perform.
5. What rewards might be forthcoming if the project is successfully completed.
6. A candid appraisal of the problems and constraints which are likely to be encountered.
7. What rules-of-the-road will be followed in managing the project, for example, regular
status update review meetings.
8. What suggestions the team member will have for achieving success.
9. What are the professional interests of the team member? 
10. The challenge the project is likely to provide to individual members and the entire
team.
11. Why the team concept is so important to project management success and how it
should work.


Furthermore, the authors observe that the achievement of team spirit is paramount for
project success. The reason is that the team members feel committed to the project and
when they “feel free to share their information and develop effective problem-solving
approaches.” Hence, attention should be paid ceating comradeship.


Team Building as an On-Going Process


Team building is an ongoing process. Of which, the project manager must be continually
monitoring team functioning and performance to see what corrective action may be
needed to prevent or correct various team problems. Some useful hints are given by
Wilemon and Thamhain (1983) for success in this direction. The authors discovered
several good indicators of potential team dysfunctioning that must be worked on. For
example, noticeable changes in performance levels for the team and/or for individual
team members, such as conflict, lack of work integration, communication problems and
unclear objectives; these should always be followed up. Changing energy levels of team
members may also indicate that the team is worked up. the way forward, accoding to the
authors is sometimes, to change the work pace by “taking time off, or selling near-term,
more easily reached targets can serve as a means to reenergize team members.” They
further recommend that project manager should “spare time to hear the needs and
concerns of team members (verbal clues) and to observe how they act in carrying out
their responsibilities (nonverbal clues).” Finally, the authors say that detrimental
behaviour of one team member toward another can also be an indication that a problem
within the team calls for attention. “More serious cases”, the authors say, “can call for
more drastic action, e.g., reappraising project objectives and/or the means to achieve them. Besides, they recommend that project leaders hold regular team building
meetings to evaluate overall team performance and deal with team functioning
problems.”


Major Barriers to Project Team Development and Overcoming Strategies


Further helpful hints are given by Wilemon and Thamhain (1983) concerning the most
common major barriers. They also gave helpful tips for overcoming them. For each of
the major team-building barriers identified, Wilemon and Thamhain (1983) offer several
suggestions that can be advanced for either minimizing or eliminating them. They are
outlined below to help project managers in their team-building and management efforts:

1. Differing Outlooks, Priorities, Interests, and Judgments of Team Members: The
way forward is to make effort early in the project life cycle as to identify the
conflicting differences; explaining the scope of the project and the rewards for
successful completion; selling “team” concept and explaining role expectations;
and trying to blend individual interests with the overall project objectives.

2. Role Conflicts: This challenge could be minimized early in a project by asking
team members where they see themselves fitting into the project; determining
how the overall project can best be divided into subsystems and subtasks (e.g.,
the work breakdown structure); assigning/negotiating roles; conducting regular
status review meetings to keep team informed on progress; and watching out for
unanticipated role conflicts over the project's life.

3. Project Objectives/Outcomes Not Clear: This could be helped by assuring that all
stakeholders understand the overall and interdisciplinary project objectives;
ensuring clear and frequent communication with senior management and the
client; engaging in status review meetings for feedback purposes; and adopting a
proper team name that can help to reinforce the project objectives.

4. Changes resulting from Dynamic Project Environments: This creates a major
challenge for stabilizing both internal and external influences. Success is
achieved by ensuring that key project personnel work out an agreement on the
principal project direction and selling this direction to the whole team; educating
senior management and the customer on the harmful consequences of
unwarranted changes; forecasting the environment within which the project will be
developed; and designing contingency plans.

5. Competition Over Team Leadership: This could be helped if senior management
help establish the project manager's leadership role; if the project manager fulfils
the leadership expectations of team members; and where clear roles and
responsibilities are defined to minimize competition over leadership.

6. Lack of Team Definition and Structure: This challenge is better coped with where
project leaders sell the team concept to senior management as well as to their
team members; hold regular meetings with the team to reinforce the team notion,
tasks, roles and responsibilities; and ensuring visibility in memos and other forms
of written communication with both senior management and client participation
with the purpose of unifying the team.

CONCLUSIONS

This presentation has attempted to take a broad look at the dynamics of project team
management within the wider context of project integration management. The objective
has been to explore the body of available literatures with a view to expose project team
managers/leaders and their team members, to team dynamics and practical guidelines
for successful of team management. In pursuance of the above purposes, the researcher has reviewed and included robust resources on the subject matter within the
space available.
It is hoped that in all, the tutorial format of this paper will benefit project team managers
and their team members, by bridging at least, part of the perceivable knowledge and
application gaps among project management practitioners, as well as, lay a basic
stepping stone to their development of team management skill. Since team management
is one of the essential competences of a project manager, it is believed that an
improvement in this area will eventually lead to more project successes.
 

Author: This is a full version of an article written by our student Ogechi Ogbonna, supervised by our lecturer Dr. Amr Sukkar, Ph.D. MBA. 

 

 

 

 

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