It is a well documented fact – project managers are the tone setters for their project teams. The mood of a project team will be a direct reflection of the mood the project manager carries while strolling the halls, facilitating meetings and conducting one-on-one sessions with project team members. If you doubt this, try this test: tomorrow morning when you go into your workplace and make your way to your desk – look worried. Be assured, your entire project team will hear of this before midmorning and they will all worry, they won’t know what they are worried about, but they will most certainly worry!
Team building is a critical part of the role a project manager must fulfill to move projects to a successful completion. Many project managers however, view team building as taking the project team to navigate a “ropes course” or other form of intense experience that “bonds” the team. Although this type of experience does have its place in promoting positive team dynamics, most project managers don’t have the finances or the time to take their project team through such an experience. That being said, how does the project manager perform the critical function of team building? The following are a few suggestions for team building activities that can become part of your “everyday team building strategy”:
The Kickoff Meeting – Anytime the project manager has the opportunity to get his/her entire team together is a distinct opportunity to inject team building items into an agenda. The kickoff meeting is the first – and in many ways the most significant – opportunity to boost the morale of your team. Arranging a contest to derive a team name, providing an opportunity for a senior management level sponsor to address and encourage the team or organizing games or other activities that bond the team (or sub-teams) on your project can work wonders for encouraging employees. Chili cook-offs, best dessert contests, or carnival like games (I am personally fond of “Nerf basketball” free throw contests, and marshmallow sculpture competitions) are inexpensive, fun and bring the team together, without risking rope burns!
Weekly Status Meetings – Although many status meetings do not involve the entire project team, status meetings are also great opportunities to boost enthusiasm. Recognition of consecutive periods of “all targets met” status reports, the deft handling of a sensitive customer situation, or a technical idea that moves the project forward can be acknowledged with food, celebratory balloons or flowers, or a small gift certificate. Teams that are consistently meeting goals on a regular basis can be treated to a pizza party or other relatively inexpensive event. Even in cash strapped organizations, many people will still feel a sense of pride when a pizza event is celebrated by a manager allowing the team to meet outside of work and eat pizza they have paid for themselves! The publicity, recognition of a job well done, and the creation of an event that is not part of “everyday office life” are more powerful a motivator than most project managers realize.
Milestone Achievement – When a milestone is achieved – significant or not – the project manager is compelled to recognize the event and single out the individual or team’s accomplishment. Even in cases where the milestone was achieved late or over budget, a respectful acknowledgment of the obstacles overcome and/or the lessons learned can take a team out of the doldrums and into a more productive mode. Many of the small (but significant) celebrations discussed above as part of the weekly status meetings would be applicable here as well. For longer projects, the creation of milestones for the sole purpose of recognizing the team can be instrumental in maintaining morale and momentum for the project. For example, if you are managing an 18,000 task, 20-month project, creating a milestone at the halfway point – after the 9,000th task for instance, provides a catalyst for celebration.
Bringing in a sponsor to sincerely discuss what has been accomplished, discuss the enduring need for project deliverables, thank the team for it’s efforts, and encourage continued performance (along with other team building activities similar to the kickoff meeting) will serve to renew a team’s energy and sense of purpose.
Day-to-day Conversations – The project manager that makes an effort to have one-on-one conversations with project team members on both a business and personal level, can boost the esteem of individuals and the team as a whole. There are two pivotal questions that can be posed to team members to enhance a sense of belonging and purpose: “What does this project mean to our customer?” and “What does this project mean to you?”. A project manager that poses these questions and carefully listens to the answers can accomplish a lot with her/his team members including: a reflection of genuine purpose for the project and the need for the individual to be part of the solution; an affirmation of the appropriate understanding of the customer needs (or an expansion of the PM’s perception of the customers needs!), and a genuine sense of concern for the employee by management. Working to boost the feelings of well being in each employee will increase the probability of creating a high-performance team.
Informal Team Meetings – Project managers that follow the Management By Walking Around (MBWA) approach can engage in conversations with team members and gather folks together to quickly disperse information, collect opinions, and solve small problems. The project manager that works this way can realize many advantages – their team members feel their opinions count, team members get a sense their project manager is available and accessible, and problems can get solved before they start to grind energy out of the team. Often, the information exchanged at an “agenda-less” informal conversation can empower team members and keep the project manager informed in real-time. This helps a team perform well, and performing well boosts team morale.
Final Contribution Summaries – The celebration of delivery and acceptance of the final deliverable can solidify the sense of pride and accomplishment within the team and cause the memories of working on the project to be positive one. This will help the project manager when working with these team members in the future. More important however, a project manager who is diligent about documenting a one or two paragraph summary of the contributions of each team member and sending that to the team members management team will earn a loyal team member for future projects – and bring the project manager a step closer to having a team with high morale before a new project even starts.
So, team building is not about AN event, it is about a series of small instances that are positively exploited by a project manager who is mindful of his/her team. So, when you go into work tomorrow, don’t tie yourself up in knots thinking about the expense of a ropes course, just order a pizza, put a smile on your face and walk the halls. You’ll see a difference in your team very quickly!