How Project Managers Help Teams Function Well
7 of 10 in Series: The Essentials of Managing a Project Team
A project manager knows she has a well-functioning when team members trust each other; have confidence in each other’s abilities; can count on each other’s promises; and communicate openly. A well-functioning team can devote all their efforts to performing their project work instead of spending their time dealing with interpersonal frustrations.
Help your team achieve this high-performance level of functioning by guiding them through the following stages:
Forming: This stage involves identifying and meeting team members and politely discussing project objectives, work assignments, and so forth. Share the project plan, introduce people to each other, and discuss each person’s background, organizational responsibilities, and areas of expertise.
Storming: This stage involves raising and resolving personal conflicts about the project or other team members. As part of the storming stage, do the following:
Encourage people to discuss any concerns they have about the project plan’s feasibility, and be sure you address those concerns.
Encourage people to discuss any reservations they may have about other team members or team members’ abilities.
Focus these discussions on ways to ensure successful task performance — you don’t want the talks to turn into unproductive personal attacks.
You can initially speak privately with people about issues you’re uncomfortable bringing up in front of the entire team. Eventually, though, you must discuss their concerns with the entire team to achieve a sense of mutual honesty and trust.
Norming: This stage involves developing the standards and operating guidelines that govern team member behavior. Encourage members to establish these team norms instead of relying on the procedures and practices they use in their functional areas. Examples of these norms include the following:
How people present and discuss different points of view: Some people present points of view politely, while others aggressively debate their opponents in an attempt to prove their points.
Timeliness of meeting attendance: Some people always show up for meetings on time, while others are habitually 15 minutes late.
Participation in meetings: Some people sit back and observe, while others actively participate and share their ideas.
At a team meeting, encourage people to discuss how team members should behave in different situations. Address the concerns people express, and encourage the group to adopt team norms.
Performing: This stage involves doing project work, monitoring schedules and budgets, making necessary changes, and keeping people informed.
As you guide your team through these developmental stages, keep in mind the following guidelines:
Your team won’t automatically pass through these stages; you have to guide them: Many people don’t like to confront thorny interpersonal issues, so they simply ignore them. Your job is to make sure your team members address what needs to be addressed and become a smooth-functioning team.
Your involvement as project manager in your team’s development needs to be heavier in the early stages and lighter in the later ones: During the forming stage, you need to take the lead as new people join the team. Then, in the storming stage, you take a strong facilitative role as you guide and encourage people to share their feelings and concerns. Although you can help guide the team as it develops its standards and norms during the norming stage, your main emphasis is to ensure that everyone participates in the process. Finally, if you’ve navigated the first three stages successfully, you can step back in the performing stage and offer your support as the team demonstrates its ability to function as a high-performing unit.
On occasion, you may have to revisit a stage you thought the team had completed: For example, a new person may join the team, or a major aspect of the project plan may change.
As the project manager, you need to periodically assess how the team feels it’s performing; then you have to decide which, if any, issues the team needs to work through. Managing your team is a project in and of itself!