Building a team from a group of individuals

PMChampionshipsmlTo build a highly effective and motivated team there are a few basic ground rules that really help create the right environment. I often refer to them as my project behaviour commandments. They’re not orders or commands, but a set of principles or values that the average person would agree are sensible and that everyone can buy in to.

Respect other people’s opinions. You may disagree with their opinion, and they may try to persuade you towards their opinion, but provided they accept your right to disagree and don’t force their opinion on you, then you will gain mutual respect. You will also create an atmosphere where anything can be discussed and any idea proposed without fear of ridicule.

As a leader you may need to make a decision favouring one opinion above another. Provided that decision is made openly, honestly and on a sound basis, that respect will not be broken or abused. That leads to principle number 2.

Trust – allow people to do the right thing. Have the faith in them that they will do the right thing. Coach and mentor them in how to identify what that right thing is. Give them a path to validate or check they are doing the right thing. Make sure it isn’t a means for you to tell them what the right things is, because that is abdicating responsibility rather than taking it. When you trust them to do the right thing, that trust will be mirrored and they will trust you to do the right thing. They will believe our sincerity when you explain why you have chosen someone else’s opinion aver theirs.

Trust is like a bank account without an overdraft facility. You cannot make a withdrawal until you have put something in the bank. You must demonstrate your trust in the team before they will trust you.

Commitment – not only will everyone do what the agree to do, they will do everything they can to deliver what is agreed. This is about going the extra mile. It’s about doing what is right for the project and the team, not just about bare minimum delivery. Read my blog Will it make the boat go faster? To understand about commitment.

Communication – the key part, and most difficult part, of communication is listening. You were born with one mouth and two ears and should use them at least in that proportion. Listen and reflect on what is being said by whom before you respond. It will help you understand whether your own message has been received and understood as you intended. Most arguments occur because neither side has taken the trouble to listen and understand what the other side is really saying.

Remember that we each have our own communication preferences. Some people like and respond to sarcasm. Others hate it, so know and understand your audience’s preferences.

Be careful not to use trigger phrases that often convey the opposite of what they mean literally. For example, when someone opens a sentence with the words “With all due respect….” they often will immediately go on to disrespect your opinion. And remember that your body communicates as well as your mouth, so don’t contradict yourself.

Honesty and openness – you have to create an environment where people can surface issues and bring problems out into the open without fearing they will get blamed for the consequences. Don’t shoot the messenger as it’s often not their fault.

Even if someone has made a mistake, you need to have an environment where they can own up to that mistake and enlist the help and support of the whole team in putting it right. The sooner a mistake is identified the sooner rectifying actions or mitigations can be put in place. Your immediate thought might be that you don’t want to have to clear up someone elses mess. But what if it was your mess? It would be very reassuring to know the team is there for you in your hour of need.

OK, if someone keeps messing up, you need to take action. But so long as that action involves helping them to try and improve rather tha knee jerk firing, then that too will build the team ethic. Yes, decisive action is required for no-hopers, but everyone deserves at least one chance.

Those are my top five principles. With those agreed and in place you can start to leverage the teams capabilities and start to achieve the synergies that all highly effective teams demonstrate.

Amplify and mitigate

There are many things that will happen in and around your project. Some of them will be directly in your control. Some of them you will have some degree of control over but not full control. Others will be completely outside your control.

To maximise the effectiveness of your team you need to identify the key things that will or could influence your project. For those you can control, amplify the positives and negate the negatives. For those you can’t control identify mitigating strategies to minimise the impact of negatives and always be on the look out for positives you can amplify if they occur.

Visualise your success

As a team, try to visualise what success ill look like for your team and your project. Identify some tangible evidence that would make it real. Call centres often display call handling targets and statistics. What could make your project become real? Encourage your team to have a positive mental attitude. It can become a self fulfilling prophecy.

Try and try again

I have a policy of continually trying different approaches. I repeat the ones that work but with tweaks to improve. I encourage my teams to do the same. The only bad idea is one that isn’t shared or aired. Just like the golfer Gary Player who said “the more I practice the luckier I get”, the more I try things in project management, the better my delivery gets.


These are just a few of my tips to help you take your team to the next level. What have done to achieve excellence with your teams?

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One comment on “Building a team from a group of individuals
  1. Cliff G says:

    “…you have to create an environment where people can surface issues and bring problems out into the open without fearing they will get blamed for the consequences.”

    Well said! This is critical to being able to identify and remove roadblocks so the project can keep going smoothly. Focusing on how to remove the roadblock or fix the issue should be the first priority here.

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