Here’s something that many IT organizations do when implementing projects: They prioritize a bunch of goals for the year, kick off a slew of projects and then form teams who perform (at extremely high levels) to deliver the project. After the project is completed, the teams are often dispersed to join different projects due to priority, skills and career development.
This situation illustrates the importance of teamwork, and how imperative it is to have effective teamwork skills—especially when a group of people are working together for the first time. If you’ve ever been part of a high performing project team—whether for just one project or over time—then you know there are important components that make up a powerful team.
Here are 7 signs of a powerful team:
1. The team understands the goal.
It’s important that team members understand the goal they’re working toward, so everyone is moving in the same direction. Once, on an HR outsourcing project, some of my co-workers thought it was my job to make sure the vendor met the contractual obligations. In reality, my job was to make the vendor successful so we could deliver the project together. We became successful as a team the moment we articulated and agreed on the common goal.
2. The team is dedicated to pursue the goal with a unified purpose.
It’s one thing to understand the goal but everyone has to be moving in the same direction. It doesn’t help the team when detractors become pessimistic or try to inject doubt into the project. Strong teams stay focused on the goal and find creative ways to achieve it—even when there’s acknowledgment that the current method isn’t working.
3. Problems and changes are anticipated and accepted (without endless complaining).
If you’ve been in project management for any length of time, then you’ll soon realize the sky isn’t always falling. Problems will occur and they need to be handled proactively. Changes will be introduced and you need to find a way to manage then. In my experience, effective teams and leaders find a way to either take on the additional work, or they know how to professionally push back without creating a frenzy of adverse reactions.
No one likes a complainer and the reality is that the work isn’t going to go away. Strong teams recognize this need and find a way to embrace and adjust to the little “surprises.”
4. The team stays focused on the goal even when conflicts occur.
Being part of a strong team doesn’t mean everyone gets along in some type of project Nirvana.
One of my favorite team experiences often had conflicts over priorities, roles and some “positioning” with executive management. In one situation, a male developer had an issue with a female team lead simply because she was a woman. In another situation, a separate manager wanted to lead the next release because of better visibility. In both these examples, the team still functioned well despite the conflicts. The team simply kept its “eye on the prize.”
5. Team members are trusted to deliver their part.
With or without conflict, a powerful team trusts the individuals to deliver their part. For example, there isn’t any whining if Bob leaves at 4:30 p.m. on a Tuesday or has to work from home due to a child care issue. Bob is trusted to deliver the work he said he would. If team members start second-guessing each other and fail to meet commitments, trust will begin to fail, and the project will be next in line.
6. The team understands the major milestones and delivery dates.
Effective team members take the project schedule’s key dates seriously and understand all the impacts of missing those dates. In contrast, a weak team member simply keeps forecasting future dates without understanding (or caring about) the impact to the project. In a strong team, everyone understands the need to launch the next release by a certain date (say, June 5), and that testing needs to be completed by a certain date in May. Then everyone works together to get there instead of falling back on shifting the date.
Yes, this might result in people working a few more hours, but see numbers 1 and 2, above.
7. The team members form relationships.
In a high performing team, you actually care about your team members (even if there’s a bit of friction at times). The friendships and professional associations go beyond roles, responsibilities and the project schedule. In these teams, you know about each other’s interests and talents and you have a desire to work with these team members again. You spend 40-plus hours a week with these people. Get to know them beyond your day-to-day project work!
A few years ago, I was part of a team that met for an annual picnic after the project was completed. The project was done and people dispersed to different areas of the organization and even to new companies, and still the team got together for an annual BBQ. So much of success is about relationships, and powerful teams leverage these relationships to do excellent work.
Teamwork–being a strong player and leader–is essential to so many parts of a project’s success. Strong teamwork improves work experiences, builds trust and delivers better projects. To hone more project management skills, download our eBook, 5 Practical Habits for Today’s Project Manager.