The Art of Project Management: Expert advice from experienced project managers in Silicon Valley, and around the world

Part 5 of 6 on Teamwork: Pervasive Personal Responsibility, Accountability, and Initiative

One of the things I’ve tried to do in this series is use some “word pictures”: ways of describing things that  hopefully bring an idea or  behavior to life so that it’s easier to apply in the real world.  I love the phrase “victim or vanquisher?” because it evokes for me VERY clear pictures of two different behaviors.    I’ve in the past described my PMness as being a “paranoid PM bulldog”: which for me conjures up the picture of someone continuously on the watch for what could go wrong and highly persistent in dealing with everything that needs dealing with.   Using words like this helps me better paint a picture of adjectives-and-behaviors-in-action to help people (including myself) truly “get” how we need to act differently.

To wrap up my thoughts on teamwork as exhibited by individual team members who are not the project manager (I’ll talk about that person tomorrow), I want to end with another word picture.   

I hope it helps paint the picture of what our teamwork-fostering high-contributing vanquishing team members look like in the real world.    A colleague and I came up with these characterizations as we put together a beyond-the-basics project management workshop to bring out the people side of project performance (my thanks to ICS Group for this excerpt). We positioned it as the first and most important of several principles that are required beyond what normally gets taught as PM Fundamentals: .  The principle is an admonition not just to the project manager but also to  each and every team member:

The Principle:    Cultivate Personal Responsibility, Accountability, and Initiative in every team member.  
To have the greatest possible team results, you need pervasive personal responsibility for team effectiveness and project outcomes, and team-wide personal initiative for handling tough issues.
 What it looks like:

  • Each Individual:  “I  take personal responsibility for this team achieving the desired project outcomes,  exhibit leadership by suggesting actions and raising tough issues, and proactively help the team operate effectively throughout the project.”
  • The team:    A group of committed people working together, each of whom is equally “carrying the load” of achieving a successful project, “showing up” in every team interaction, and holding each other accountable rather than assuming the project manager bears sole responsibility for team discipline, deadlines, conflict resolution, etc.

Why it matters:   The Power of One to affect whether the project meets its goals.  

 The Power of One to affect whether the project meets its goals.

  • A  team is composed of individuals who each has the power to affect the outcome positively or negatively through what they do each day: their work, their decisions, their attitudes, their behaviors. 
  • The members of strong teams are willing to raise and discuss tough issues and even call their peers on performance or behavior issues that are hurting the project.   
  • Strong teams that excel no matter what the project or the issues are teams where individuals take personal responsibility and act daily to help keep the project on track.

The words above call forth for me a strong and unmistakable picture of what the ultimate in teamwork looks like.  Pretty uncompromising set of words.  Very useful to me  –  can’t go soft and fuzzy around the meaning of teamwork with those words in front of me!     

Through these posts I’ve tried to express my view of teamwork, why I believe that strong teams are built one individual at a time, and what it looks like on the ground.  Tomorrow I’ll finish up the week by talking about the project manager’s influence on teamwork: by what they do, what they ask, and how they work with everyone.


About the Author

Cinda Voegtli, Founder, President, and CEO of ProjectConnections, has over 20 years of project management experience in start-ups, rapidly growing companies, and large corporate environments. Her portfolio includes a wide variety of activities: developing products; managing projects; building organizations; and implementing and improving project management, portfolio management, and development processes. Her project experience includes communications and medical systems, IT application and infrastructure, industrial automation, desktop software, facilities construction, biotech drug development, and aerospace/government programs. Cinda has held director and VP-level positions managing budgets of up to $50 million across large portfolios of projects in technology development companies, and has provided senior management consulting to clients such as Hewlett Packard, Lam Research, Pacific Bell, Dow Chemical, NASA, FAA, Nellcor, Aviron/MedImmune, and Mobil Corporation. She is a Past President of the worldwide IEEE Engineering Management Society, an author and speaker on engineering and project management, and co-author of a Fortune 500-targeted book on rapid product development. Her specialties and project loves include projects involving technology development (high tech and IT); applying PM to short iterative web and marketing projects; adjusting PM and development processes to work on everything from simple, small projects up to large messy complex projects. Why she's still in project management : "Because there is nothing more satisfying than getting a bunch of incredibly different people rallied around a business goal to successfully execute a messy uncertain complex project together." Best project advice she has ever received: "Make the process work for the people, not the other way around."
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