Better Project Teams By Steve Macaulay BA DipIA MCIPD Learning Development Executive

Better Project Teams
Steve Macaulay BA DipIA MCIPD
Learning Development Executive
It is important that personal team member and team
performance goals are in some way aligned.
Companies are expanding their use of project teams partly as a
response to competition, and particularly as organisations get larger
and greater investment is involved.
Project teams are a very particular type of team and they are now
engrained as a problem-solving tool in today’s workplace.
Cranfield’s Centre for Customised Executive Development wanted to
explore what makes a successful project team.
A project team can be viewed as a team that is newly formed to
undertake a unique task. This practitioner’s definition of a project
team frames some of the complex challenges that successful project
teams must overcome, such as delivering on unique tasks which are
often higher risk than more mundane operations, forming disparate
participants into an effective team, preserving knowledge as the
team changes over time and once the project team is disbanded.
Dr. James Gazzard, under the guidance of Dr. David Denyer,
investigated how project teams could work better, with the aim of
producing their findings in a readable and accessible form, “From
the beginning we set out to make our work a valuable workplacerelevant resource” said David Denyer.
The report was based on thorough literature research,
systematically analysing recent empirical literature which was
relevant to project teams, looking out for significant themes. Key
themes which soon became clear were the importance of:
Project team leadership
Project team member characteristics
Performance management of project team members
The effects of clarity of goals on project teams.
What were the top five lessons which emerged?
Significant lessons emerged:
The need to involve the project team leader and members early in
the project life cycle,
Freedom to innovate
The need to provide the project team with the necessary freedoms
to innovate without excessive management interference,
Understanding goals and objectives
The critical need for all parties to understand the project goals and
Advanced communication skills
The need for advanced communication skills amongst project team
leaders and members,
Performance management and reward
The need for a team’s performance should be appropriately
appraised and rewarded.
These lessons were encapsulated in a study of successful new
product development teams, which found:
(1) The project team remained on the project from beginning to end
and not just on the project for a short while or single phase, (2) A
clearly assigned team of players for each significant NPD project,
(3) the project teams were accountable for their project’s end
results, (4) Sharing information among the project team members
via a central information system¦ (5) Cross-functional cooperation
on the team.
Project Team Leadership
The communication skills of the project team leader are critical. For
example, a study reported that cooperation levels were higher when
team leaders clearly explain project objectives and team member
One study asked project managers and participants to identify the
threshold and superior competencies of project managers. Another
study found project team leader’s role as a technical expert, team
builder (team cohesiveness, team spirit), gatekeeper (collecting,
interpreting and disseminating information from external sources to
team members) and strategic planner (setting project goals, time
planning, resource allocation, project evaluation etc.), all positively
related to team performance. Project team leaders pushed team
members to overcome obstacles.
Senior management support
The framework that senior management places on project team
leaders is an important area for consideration.
As well as manage their team members the project leader should be
able to manage upwards, as the senior management team will
significantly influence the environment they operate in. The project
leader in conjunction with the upper management must ensure that
clear performance standards are put in place and that the team are
accountable for their own actions. However, unnecessary process
controls should be avoided.
Project Team Member Characteristics
As with project team leaders, the ability to communicate effectively
on the intra-team level is a critical competency for project team
members. Existence of team goals, positive group dynamics and
project member satisfaction were all associated with less
organisational conflict and project team conflict. In addition to
positive attitude, an effective team member should have the ability
to question assumptions. They should have problem solving skills
and the capacity to analyse a range of situations. These skills
should be underpinned by a broad range of technical skills and
business competencies distributed throughout the team.
The empirical studies also point to the importance of recruiting high
quality team members, training them and developing their skills and
retaining those team members with the highest ability levels.
Performance Management of Project Team Members
Appraising project team member performance is an increasingly
vital, yet complex, challenge as the teams are often cross-functional
and self-managing.
It is important that personal team member and team performance
goals are in some way aligned. Accordingly the commitment of the
project team to the task is important for project team success. The
team must be provided with a supportive atmosphere where their
participation and ideas are backed up.
The team must clearly understand the rewards systems made
available to them, but purely financial rewards need not be the
main consideration. In fact, continual referral to financial rewards
can be counterproductive.
Scope to Improve
The potential to improve project teams is broad, whether it be
improving the team leadership skills, team member skills or team
cohesion. Particularly if the project team has clear project
objectives and the freedom from excessive top management
intervention it stands a good chance of performing effectively.
© Cranfield School of Management 08 September 2008