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Team Building for Projects


The primary purpose of this document is to help you make effective decisions regarding the use of team building and the selection of a team building consultant. Also, the document is meant to increase your understanding regarding the nature of effective project teams and effective team building. We hope after reading this document you will agree with our thinking and consider us for helping you with future team building efforts. While this document focuses on team building for project teams, we also do team building for leadership teams or other on-going organizational teams. Most of what is said below applies to this type of team building.

What is an effective team?

The key characteristics of an effective team are listed below:

  1. An effective team focuses on performance, striving to accomplish significant, often stretch objectives.
  2. Effective teams are highly committed to their purpose, goals and approach, which are supported by all team members, key customers and stakeholders.
  3. They translate broad goals into specific and measurable smaller goals and action plans.
  4. They frequently and honestly assess their own progress against goals.
  5. Effective teams involve customers and stakeholders in assessing progress
  6. In the face of obstacles, an effective team pulls together and finds ways to overcome the obstacles and achieve their goals. The team holds itself mutually accountable to achieve its goals.
  7. There is a high degree of personal commitment to one another on an effective team. That is, team members fulfill their commitments to one another even if it means significant sacrifice and they help team members in trouble succeed. Relationships are strong.
  8. An effective team has a complementary mix of skills and knowledge relevant to the task at hand.

Why Team Building?

Team Building is an intervention to help a group of people quickly become an effective team and remain effective. It is highly recommended that team building be used on all projects where most of the following are true:

  1. Significant issues of trust need to be dealt with by team members before they can become an effective team. Project teams often have a number of members who are either strangers or little known to one another at the outset. Some members may carry baggage from old working relationships.
  2. The Front End of a project is critical to its success. A large portion of dollar and schedule savings are made in the Front End. Therefore, getting off to a quick start as a project team is very important. However, this is hard to do when trust relationships have not been built yet and would naturally take quite a bit of time to evolve.
  3. Different perspectives of team members from different organizations: business units, contractors, suppliers and joint venture partners make it difficult to envision and agree on a common purpose and stretch objectives. Considerable facilitation skill is often required to help the team come to agreement on a common purpose and stretch objectives.
  4. The complexity, size and interdependence involved with the project means the team will inevitably suffer breakdowns in its quest to achieve its purpose and stretch goals. These breakdowns can be opportunities for improvement or the beginnings of deteriorating relationships. Effective team building is a key to turning these breakdowns into opportunities.
  5. Roles and responsibilities are inevitably unclear in a new undertaking of significant magnitude. Yet clear understanding of roles and responsibilities are critical to effective team performance. Effective team building will help clarify roles and responsibilities and encourage leaders to address this issue regularly.
  6. Cultural differences often add significant communication challenges to becoming an effective team.

What is effective Team Building?

The most important aspect of an effective team building effort is that it focus on achieving project results and stretch objectives. Relationships will jell around a common quest. We should always remember it is quite possible and frequently happens that teams can have a fine rapport and accomplish very little. This is most likely to happen when there is little external measurement of their results and weak pressure for performance.

A second important aspect of effective team building is data collection. Data needs to be collected by whoever is going to do the team building regarding the context of the project and the key issues it is facing. Data also needs to be gathered on the performance of the project team to date and key relationship issues amongst team members and with its customers and stakeholders. Based on this data gathering, a proposed contract, which outlines the approach to the team building for this particular project, should be developed. Beware of potential consultants who are willing to skip data collection and provide a canned program. Your chances for success will diminish greatly. The team building consultant could not possibly give the level of support you would expect if they had not heard about issues directly from team members, customers and stakeholders.

The proposal the consultant develops after data gathering should clearly comprehend the change structure and the process for doing the project. It should link all major stakeholders together and encourage team work and effective communication across all closely associated with the project.

Effective team building should include periodic major offsite meetings to:

  1. Develop a common purpose, stretch objectives, and alignment and build commitment to the same.
  2. Develop action plans and agree on accountabilities.
  3. Review progress and recognize successes.
  4. Plan how to overcome barriers to achieving goals.
  5. Educate/train team members on important issues, skills etc.

Effective team building establishes a work climate that:

  1. Helps team members learn and grow. This includes helping the team wean itself from the consultant.
  2. Builds true commitment to purpose and stretch goals.
  3. Encourages accountability of individuals and the team
  4. Encourages open and honest communication with all hands and recognition of success and effort.
  5. Encourages the team to measure its own performance, focusing on both its own processes and products and how its customers and stakeholders are perceiving its performance.
  6. Encourages continuous improvement on the project team.
  7. Spawns ad hoc improvement teams to solve significant problems faced by the project.

Last, effective team building provides the opportunity for ongoing consultation with project sponsors and the coaching of key players regarding their own effectiveness and how to make the team more effective.

Criteria to use in selecting a consultant

The most important criteria is their experience and track record in working with major project teams. Enough is at stake in major a project that this should be a go/no go criteria. The second most important criteria is the degree their proposal reflects a good understanding of what an effective team is and what effective team building is on a capital project, as stated above. Equally important to the above is the quality of the actual consultant doing the job. Be careful of bait and switch tactics used by some consulting firms. That is, selling you the project with experienced consultants and then sending inexperienced ones to do most of the work. The nature of team building consulting assignments requires experienced and high quality consultants.

Another important criteria is the personal chemistry between the actual consultant doing the job and the key clients. The key clients are going to be obtaining on-going advice from the consultant. If they are predisposed to not listen to the consultant because of a chemistry problem, the consultant will not be effective. Therefore, the selection decision should not be delegated to lower level team members. Where appropriate the consultant's cross cultural sensitivity can be an important factor in selection.

Finally, consider the consultant's ability to effectively support the project. Will they have enough time to support it? This includes effectively planning activities and following up on issues.

Copyright © 2008 Richard M. DiGeorgio & Associates. All Rights Reserved.


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