I love teams! They are the means to great production and great work satisfaction – when they are run well. Of course, when they are run poorly, it can easily lead to the opposite effect! Leading a successful team is a wonderful experience, but I never underestimate the challenge of it. Depending on the circumstances, as a leader you may well have to be good at everything from managing the task (estimating, scheduling, budget management, risk management, reporting, problem solving, etc.), and managing the team itself (recruitment, motivation, performance management, conflict resolution, etc.) through to managing stakeholders and other interested parties (line management, other department managers, contractors, suppliers, etc.). That doesn’t mean you have to do it all yourself – but you need to understand the essentials and should generally be across each aspect throughout the course of the project.

Like anything that is built to do a job, teams need care in the set-up. Good foundations are imperative. Yet teams are often assembled and initiated without due regard to some elementary requirements. When that happens, a price is typically paid sooner or later. Take one case I recently observed: cost and schedule overruns, accompanied by dismal team morale, could be traced largely to the up-front focus on getting people to quickly address their assigned jobs – rather than taking a little time to build the team and set it up for success.

The following are just a few things worth thinking about.

It seems obvious that everyone should be very clear on what the overriding objective and critical sub-goals are for the team – surprisingly, however, when you talk to members down the track you often find it isn’t as clear to them as you would expect. So, understanding what is to be delivered to whom by when and in what manner are just some of the basics. And ensuring team members understand why these are important is a good addition that’s sometimes missed. For example, what are the end-user benefits which will be derived by the team’s successful completion of the project… will it make people’s lives better, or reduce potential accidents or bring other benefits to society? How will it benefit the organisations; how will it benefit each team member? People are inspired to give more when they are more connected with how the outcomes make a difference.

Establishing a good sense of who is on the team is another great starting point – particularly when it’s a new team and people don’t know each other so well. There are many insights you can gain in a carefully managed session or two that can make a difference down the track. What have team members done previously that’s worked well for them or not worked so well? What do they love doing – inside and outside of work (if they feel comfortable to share that)? What are their strengths? What do they value? What does each person bring to the team and what would they like to get from participating in this particular project? It’s all about giving people a chance to express who they are and to let others know more about them. The team leader needs to exercise good judgement in determining where, how and when to manage this exercise – for example, some aspects may be best conducted one-on-one and some in a team setting – but in most instances it is not a complicated process and it pays a great return when properly run with the team itself.

One final aspect of up-front clarity worth mentioning is that of individual team member roles. It’s essential that each person understands what they are required to do and what is expected of them more generally as a team member. Ideally, there will be some detailed discussions up front about this, as well as along the way. Team members should be in no doubt about what constitutes success for them and how they are measuring up at various points throughout the project. It’s also important that each team member is aware up-front of what other people’s roles are in the team and how this could impact their own particular responsibilities.

– Ken