Team Building - Project Team Example

This team works within a large public utility company that was originally set up to provide water services. The company was originally owned by the state but has been privatized and now operates as a commercial organization.

The Water Services Regulator is responsible for ensuring that it continues to provide a quality service to all its customers and offers 'value for money.' This body ensures also that the water company adheres to all the required legislative regulations.

In the past, the company has operated with a traditional authoritarian management style, but it is endeavoring to alter this to a more commercial and empowered style of management through its change management program. All managers are expected to develop, coach, and mentor their staff so that they adopt the competencies required by the new commercial organization.

The IT department is headed up by a new director who has been brought in from a software company to update the organization's IT systems so that operations become more efficient and profitable.

Project Leader
In this scenario, you have been with the organization for five years and witnessed its evolution from a traditional water authority to a modern water company. You are currently a team leader and have just been given the responsibility of managing a key IT project for the next twelve months. You are responsible for ensuring that the project is delivered on time and within budget.

Project Objective
Your objective is to develop a suite of software programs to enable the company to monitor water quality throughout its catchment area. This will be a web-based IT system that allows water quality data collected from remote locations to be entered into a central database where it can be analyzed by the water quality department. This Team Briefing Checklist walks you through the process of preparing a team briefing.

Composition of Team
The members of this team are all university graduates, their ages vary between 25 and 45 years, and they are all consider themselves relatively well paid. Five of the team members work directly for the company and three are freelance contractors.

Development team example

As you can see from the organizational chart above:

  • The team has eight members excluding yourself
  • Five of them are company employees
  • Two have been seconded to the project from the water quality department
  • One member, the database analyst, is only available to the team on a part-time basis
  • Three of the team are external contractors

The first thing to notice about this particular team is that it is operating under what is known as a Matrix Management Environment. The expert users belong to the water quality department and the analysts and the DBA belong to the IT department. They are only assigned to you for the duration of the project, and when it is completed they will return to their respective departments. You do not have any direct control over them outside of the day-to-day running of the project. They still report to their own line managers, who are responsible for their appraisals, remuneration, promotions, etc.

The freelance contractors are all independent workers who have contracts with the company for the expected duration of the project. They have all worked for the company on previous projects and are keen to add another successful project to their resumes.

Challenges you are most likely to encounter
The composition of this development team highlights certain issues you could face as a project manager of this team. The high-level challenges are evident when you apply each of the principles of team building to this scenario.

Define Success Criteria
Arguably, the success criteria have already been defined as:

To develop web-based software that enables the company to centrally monitor water quality throughout its catchment area within twelve months.

However, this is not terribly useful when managing the team on a day-to-day basis, which is why your first major task as project manager is to oversee the production of a detailed project plan that will specify all of the deliverables required and the timescales for producing them. A detailed description of these project milestones and individual work plans is beyond the scope of this eBook, but the important thing to note is that they define the most useful success criteria for individual team members as well as the project as a whole.

Lead by Example
It would quite common in this type of project team to find that the technical expertise of the IT staff and the contractors far outweighs your own. In addition, the expert users who have been seconded from the water quality department will know far more about this aspect of the business than you do.

This means that you cannot rely on your technical expertise to make you the natural leader. You will have to demonstrate your leadership through your organizational, planning, monitoring, and communications skills. You will also have to make your own assessment on how 'knowledgeable' you consider each of these experts to be and adapt your management style to suit your findings. The rest of the team will be looking to you for direction and qualification of their actions.

Leading by example

You will need to work with this team to set clearly defined tasks with an associated deadline and then allow them to use their expertise to deliver the required outputs. This would be done according to the project management methodology being used for this project. If you would like to improve your project management skills then you can download our series of project management eBooks from this website.

You should be prepared to be flexible in the level of supervision and monitoring you allocate for each team member, depending on how they perform against the project plan over the first few weeks. This aspect of team leadership is dealt with in the eBook 'Team Leadership' which is also available from this website.

One of the most influential aspects of your leadership will be your communications skills and interpersonal skills, which will be visible to the team during team meetings. For example, do you make all members attend every meeting regardless of whether they have a contribution to make, or do you use other means of communication (e.g. emails) to keep the whole team informed?

Value All Contributions
You have direct control over how well each individual feels his or her contribution is received and valued by both yourself and the rest of the project team. You will be able to demonstrate this in your behavior and readiness to consider and evaluate each contribution in terms of its input and worth to the project.

The difficulty here is in striking a balance between considering everyone's point of view and making efficient progress. Success in this area is a matter of chairing the team meetings effectively. This topic is dealt with in detail in the eBook 'Chairing a Meeting' which is available from this website.

Team Recognition and Reward
You have two sets of people within this project team and each set is rewarded in different ways. For the company employees, rewards will be tied up with their own individual appraisals and these remain the responsibility of their respective line managers.

You should make every effort to brief the relevant line managers regularly about the progress of the project and their own staff member's contribution to it. This is important for two reasons.

Firstly, if the project looks like it is going to overrun then the line managers need to know as soon as possible so that they do not commit the staff member to another project when you need them most. Asking a line manager if you can hang on to one of their staff who they have already scheduled other work for will only lead to conflict and you may end up losing a vital team member at the worst possible time.

Secondly, the line manager is still responsible for the staff member's annual appraisal and they will actively welcome your detailed input to this process when they are not in a position get the information themselves.

You may want to discuss with all employees how each person's individual objectives can be met through their project involvement and ensure your feedback to their line manager achieves this. For example, permanent members of staff can be motivated to act 'beyond the call of duty' if they are told that this will be recognized in their annual appraisals or will count towards promotion.

In this way, you will be able to influence the recognition that each team member receives. You should also make sure that your written and verbal communications within the project team itself and to the senior management give recognition of each team member's performance and contribution whenever this is appropriate.

As discussed earlier, the freelance contractors are likely to place a high value on continuity of employment and would consider being recommended for other projects within your organization as a reward. If the organization is using the same contractors on an ongoing basis then offering them training opportunities can also work well for both parties. An extra place on an in-house training course costs very little, and provided that the training increases the contractor's marketability it can be seen as a substantial reward.

Other Issues
Managing the DBA will be one of your biggest challenges in this project due to the fact that you only have part of their time. Meeting with them and asking the best way to keep them informed of progress and what sort of notice periods they require will gain their respect and commitment to your project. It also enables you to assess them as an individual, so that you can determine how much 'management' they will require. Demonstrating to them that you are sensitive to their responsibilities outside of your project will go a long way to gaining their respect and commitment.

Most contractors are self-motivated professionals and will work best when given clear direction and support to allow them to do their job. Familiarize yourself with their contract terms so that you avoid any potential areas of conflict. For example:

  • What will happen if they need to work more hours than the contracts stipulate in order to complete the project on time?
  • Are they entitled to take any personal holiday time during the duration of the project?
  • If they have a serious illness can you terminate the contract and get a replacement?

Getting as many senior people as possible on your side is vital because you will continually be competing for resources in this matrix management environment. Discovering which senior executives are champions of the web-based systems and their reasons why will help you overcome any resource problems you may face.

Furnished with this knowledge you will understand whom you need to keep informed of progress and any potential problems, as well as the best ways to communicate with these stakeholders. For example:

  • Online water quality data will become a legal requirement in eighteen months. This means that the Finance Director has an interest in the project because of heavy fines if this requirement is not met.
  • 40% of customers are in remote areas where the water quality is highly variable. This means that the Customer Services Director has an interest because of the ongoing impact on the business.
  • Collection of water quality data is ad hoc and no formal standards exist. This means that the Operations Director has an interest because of the practical issues of collating this data at reduced cost.

Their view of you as a team leader will also be influenced by how quickly you are able to overcome obstacles to progress.

Your experts from the water department, whilst they are responsible to you on a day-to-day basis, may still feel part of the water department, and as such may have conflicts of interests throughout the duration of the project. At the commencement of the project you will need to ensure that they feel their expertise is valued and can make a real contribution to the design of the system. You should take the time to understand the issues associated with these remote areas and what information is needed to properly assess the water quality.

It often helps to establish a rapport with such experts by asking them how aspects of data collection could change in the future especially with regard to legislation. This will enable the system to be designed with an element of adaptability built into it so that the organization can more easily respond to future needs.

In a team like this one where some individuals have much greater technical knowledge than others, you will need to encourage them to communicate in everyday language whenever possible. Some technical terms can't be avoided, but project members must be prepared to explain terms to others in the team as needed.

Your own behavior in offering explanations for IT and industry terms will encourage an exchange of terminology as the analysts work with the expert users to define and design the system. It is important that you encourage the analysts to be honest in their definitions of how well the system can meet users' needs, as compromises from the business and IT aspects may be required in order to write the system specification.

You may also be interested in:
Team Building in the Workplace | Team Building Principles | Different Types of Teams | Support Team Example | Steering Team Example.

Key Points

  • The project manager is not an expert in all of the technical aspects of the project (database design, interface design, programming, and testing) but is still expected to coordinate the team's efforts.
  • You are expected to ensure that the expensive human resources are utilized as effectively as possible and to produce a final deliverable within the allocated time and budget.
  • Utilize the principles of team building as appropriate for the matrix management environment.
  • Be aware of areas where a conflict of issue can arise within the team, e.g. seconded and part-time members.
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