Suggestions for Handling the Newly Formed Team

A major problem faced by many project leaders is managing the anxiety that usually develops when a new team is formed. The anxiety experienced by team members is normal and predictable. It is a barrier, however, to getting the team quickly focused on the task. In other words, if team members are suffering from anxiety, their attention will be consciously or subconsciously focused on resolution of their own anxieties rather than the needs of the project.

This anxiety may come from several sources. For example, if the team members have never worked with the project leader, they may be concerned about his

Barrier

Differing outlooks, priorities, interests, and judgments of team members

Role conflicts

Project objectives/outcomes not clear

Dynamic project environments

Competition over team leadership

Lack of team definition and structure

Suggestions for Effectively Managing Barriers (How to Minimize or Eliminate Barriers)

Make effort early in the project life cycle to discover these conflicting differences. Fully explain the scope of the project and the rewards that may be forthcoming on successful project completion. Sell "team" concept and explain responsibilities. Try to blend individual interests with the overall project objectives.

As early in a project as feasible, ask team members where they see themselves fitting into the project. Determine how the overall project can best be divided into subsystems and subtasks (e.g., the work breakdown structure). Assign/negotiate roles. Conduct regular status review meetings to keep team informed on progress and watch for unanticipated role conflicts over the project's life.

Assure that all parties understand the overall and interdisciplinary project objectives. Clear and frequent communication with senior management and the client becomes critically important. Status review meetings can be used for feedback. Finally, a proper team name can help to reinforce the project objectives.

The major challenge is to stabilize external influences. First, key project personnel must work out an agreement on the principal project direction and "sell" this direction to the total team. Also educate senior management and the customer on the detrimental consequences of unwarranted change. It is critically important to forecast the "environment" within which the project will be developed. Develop contingency plans.

Senior management must help establish the project manager's leadership role. On the other hand, the project manager needs to fulfill the leadership expectations of team members. Clear role and responsibility definition often minimizes competition over leadership.

Project leaders need to sell the team concept to senior management as well as to their team members. Regular meetings with the team will reinforce the team notion as will clearly defined tasks, roles, and responsibilities. Also, visibility in memos and other forms of written media as well as senior management and client participation can unify the team.

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Suggestions for Effectively Managing Barriers

Barrier (How to Minimize or Eliminate Barriers)

Project personnel selection Attempt to negotiate the project assignments with potential team members. Clearly discuss with potential team members the importance of the project, their role in it, what rewards might result on completion, and the general "rules of the road" of project management. Finally, if team members remain uninterested in the project, then replacement should be considered.

Credibility of project leader Credibility of the project leader among team members is crucial. It grows with the image of a sound decision-maker in both general management and relevant technical expertise. Credibility can be enhanced by the project leader's relationship to other key managers who support the team's efforts.

Try to determine lack of team member commitment early in the life of the project and attempt to change possible negative views toward the project. Often, insecurity is a major reason for the lack of commitment; try to determine why insecurity exists, then work on reducing the team members' fears. Conflicts with other team members may be another reason for lack of commitment. It is important for the project leader to intervene and mediate the conflict quickly. Finally, if a team member's professional interests lie elsewhere, the project leader should examine ways to satisfy part of the team member's interests or consider replacement.

Communication problems The project leader should devote considerable time communicating with individual team members about their needs and concerns. In addition, the leader should provide a vehicle for timely sessions to encourage communications among the individual team contributors. Tools for enhancing communications are status meetings, reviews schedules, reporting system, and colocation. Similarly, the project leader should establish regular and thorough communications with the client and senior management. Emphasis is placed on written and oral communications with key issues and agreements in writing.

Lack of team member commitment

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Barrier

Suggestions for Effectively Managing Barriers (How to Minimize or Eliminate Barriers)

Lack of senior management support

Senior management support is an absolute necessity for dealing effectively with interface groups and proper resource commitment. Therefore, a major goal for project leaders is to maintain the continued interest and commitment of senior management in their projects. We suggest that senior management become an integral part of project reviews. Equally important, it is critical for senior management to provide the proper environment for the project to function effectively. Here the project leader needs to tell management at the onset of the program what resources are needed. The project manager's relationship with senior management and ability to develop senior management support is critically affected by his own credibility and the visibility and priority of his project.

leadership style and its effect on them. In a different vein, some team members may be concerned about the nature of the project and whether it will match their professional interests and capabilities. Other team members may be concerned about whether the project will help or hinder their career aspirations. Further, team members can be highly anxious about life-style/work-style disruptions that the project may bring. As one project manager remarked, "Moving a team member's desk from one side of the room to the other can sometimes be just about as traumatic as moving someone from Chicago to Manila." As the quote suggests, seemingly minor changes can cause unanticipated anxiety among team members.

Another common concern among newly formed teams is whether there will be an equitable distribution of the workload among team members and whether each member is capable of pulling his own weight. In some newly formed teams, members not only must do their own work, but also must train other team members. Within reason this is bearable, necessary, and often expected. However, when it becomes excessive, anxiety increases, and morale can fall.

Certain steps taken early in the life of a team can be effective in terms of handling the above problems. First, we recommend that the project leader at the start of the project talk with each team member on a one-to-one basis about the following:

1. What the objectives are for the project.

2. Who will be involved and why.

3. The importance of the project to the overall organization or work unit.

4. Why the team member was selected and assigned to the project. What role he will perform.

5. What rewards might be forthcoming if the project is successfully completed.

6. What problems and constraints are likely to be encountered.

7. The rules of the road that will be followed in managing the project (e.g., regular status review meetings).

8. What suggestions the team member has for achieving success.

9. What the professional interests of the team member are.

10. What challenge the project will present to individual members and the entire team.

11. Why the team concept is so important to project management success and how it should work.

A frank, open discussion of the above questions with each team member is likely to reduce his initial anxiety. Consequently, the team member is likely to be more attentive to the needs of the project. Of course, the opposite reaction is possible, too. A frank discussion, for example, may actually increase a team member's anxiety level. Often, however, the source of the anxiety can be identified and dealt with in a timely manner.

Dealing with these anxieties and helping team members feel that they are an integral part of the team can yield rich dividends. First, as noted in Figure 5-8, the more effective the project leader is in developing a feeling of team membership, the higher the quality of the information that is likely to be contributed by team members. Team members will openly share their ideas and approaches. By contrast, when a team member does not feel part of the team and does not trust others in team deliberations, information will not be shared willingly or openly. One project leadership emphasized this point:

There's nothing worse than being on a team when no one trusts anyone else. . . . Such situations lead to gamesmanship and a lot of watching what you say because you don't want your own words to bounce back in your face.

Second, the greater the feeling of team membership and the better the information exchange among team members, the more likely it is that the team will be able to develop effective decision-making processes. The reason is that team members feel committed to the project, and they feel free to share their information and develop effective problem-solving approaches. Third, the team is likely to develop more effective project control procedures. Project control procedures can be divided into two basic types. The first type is the quantitative control procedures traditionally used to monitor project performance (PERT/CPM, networking, work breakdown structures, etc.). The second is represented by the willingness and ability of project team members to give feedback to each other regarding performance. Again, trust among the project team members makes the feedback process easier and more effective. Without a high level of trust, project personnel are often reluctant to give constructive feedback to fellow team members.

Figure 5-8. Team -building outcomes.
Project Management Made Easy

Project Management Made Easy

What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.

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