Accelerating Team Performance

Knowing that all teams need to go through each stage from forming to storming before getting to norming and performing, a question I ask in the classroom and in seminars is, how do you accelerate the process? Consider these facets:

1. Based on your own experience, which do you think works better–competition or collaboration? Why?
2. What role do personal, team, and organizational values and vision play in team development?
3. How do incentives and rewards affect the process?
4. How can virtual teams be effective as they operate across time and space?

Here are some of my thoughts on these questions. In the project environment, I personally favor collaboration over competition. The competitive spirit is present in most of us but can be destructive when trying to get people to communicate and work together. A piece of advice I remember hearing from an HP manager was to compete aggressively against other companies outside our own and to collaborate within the company and on our projects.

It is extremely helpful when executives articulate organizational values, in areas such as integrity, dealing with competitors, and customer satisfaction. Project managers are wise, when initiating projects, to specify in a project charter or business plan how the project supports those organizational values. Also set expectations for team behaviors. During project start-up activities, verify that personal values are in alignment with team and organizational values. Put time on the agenda to share and discuss these topics. This will be time well spent to develop alignment and ward off possible conflicts. Also develop a shared vision about a desired future state when the project is completed. Use vivid language and a compelling description, unique to the project. Diversity in how to implement the project is okay, but strong disagreement may warrant replacing certain team members.

There’s a not too subtle distinction between incentives and rewards.  An incentive is announced in advance that something will be offered as a reward if a goal is met.  Rewards are presented after an achievement is met.  Rewards may either be known in advance or may come as a delightful surprise.

The problem with incentives is, if conditions such as economic downturns occur that make it no longer feasible to fund a reward or if circumstances beyond a team’s control make it unable to meet the goal, people may be demotivated if the promised incentive is not fulfilled.

My suggestion is to focus on rewards, make them appropriate to the people and the context, and be weary of incentives.

A suggestion for virtual teams is to put extra effort into the personal touch. Get people to share aspirations, interests, goals, and preferred ways of communicating. Encourage storytelling to demonstrate points of view. Stories about customer interactions or needs help immensely when deciding on features in new product development.

Time to work together

One of the key elements that I have found that accelerates team development from forming to performing is to listen to each other. When observing team members participating in project simulations, many people, especially the aggressive types, tended to pick answers quickly and move on. The quiet types who were still contemplating the scenarios did not have the opportunity to speak up. Mistakes were made before people realized they should take more time for discussions, hear or draw everybody out, and only proceed when consensus is reached.

Randy Englund, Englund Project Management Consultancy,

Co-author, The Complete Project Manager: Integrating People, Organizational, and Technical Skills and The Complete Project Manager’s Toolkit




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