Monday, July 29, 2013

Aligning the team in practice

Photo credit:Manojk (via Commons)
For the success of a project/program team alignment is critical.  If the team is newly created, there is a pressing need to make it effective soon. For complex projects,  the team dynamics are even more challenging, as the team is never stable. New team members get added as the workload reaches peak and team members leave as per  change in workload or due to other effects like attrition. Bigger teams require  better processes for communication/ coordination for effectiveness.  In this blog post, I share few theories and  practices that benefit the project/program.

According to B.W. Tuchman's theory   teams evolve through forming, storming,norming, performing and adjourning stages.  This has implication for Project Mangers to apply appropriate  leadership styles as per the team evolution stage. According to Connie Gersick's punctuated equilibrium model the initial behaviors and norms have a lasting impact, till they are shaken by a critical event which moves the team  to  reach another level of performance by modifying their behavior and norms. In this model,  Project Manager has to play a critical role, as he or she has a critical role in  shaping initial interactions.

For an effective team, the team needs to be clear about the objectives, roles, processes and relationships.   Project artifacts/events   help a lot, if the team members take active part in their preparation/review.  Let's review couple of key documents below.

Project Kickoff: Usually projects are kicked off by convening the initial  meting with the project stakeholders.  The scope of the project is discussed and clarified. The expectations from different teams  are discussed with respect to a rough timeline.

Project Plan: This  has several sections related to  various aspects which help team alignment. The project purpose, scope and deliverables are described. The various roles and responsibilities are identified. CTQs, Project Schedule, process for review, metrics, shared expectations  are  documented.The document is base lined after review by all team members.

What can't be usually captured in  project artifacts  is how well the project team understands all of the above and acts in accordance with them. The team's  interpersonal relationships play a key role in actual practice.

I realized this when the team that I led  went for an off-site team building session. We reached the venue by evening  and the activities were planned for the next day morning. The agenda was  communicated to all in advance.   When it was  time to start the activities for the day, the facilitator and I were surprised when only part of the team was present at the scheduled start time and others were joining in for close to ten minutes. The facilitator, being from a military background,  became angry at us and threatened  to cancel the sessions as he felt that the workshop will never be productive with this kind of behavior.  We felt sad.  After a bit of self reflection, the activity was  rescheduled after the facilitator impressed upon everybody about the need for meeting discipline.  The meeting discipline was improved as the team developed the meeting norms during the initial team building session and put them to practice.

The office atmosphere does not give much scope to build interpersonal relationships. It is important to assess the team alignment several times during the course of the  project.  This is usually done  by administering a team alignment survey with the help of HR member of the project. In this the team is asked to reflect and rate their agreement level on few statements about the project and team characteristics on a scale of  Strongly agree, Agree, Disagree and Strongly Disagree. As an example,  a survey statement may check the response on the team's understanding of and agreement  with project purpose and the desired results(vision).  Project manager's view  is compared  with the views of the team members. The findings in general as well as where the team's opinion differs from the PM are shared.  This can serve as a trigger to initiate specific actions to address the gaps.

In one instance the assessment revealed that there is a good understanding on project purpose, scope, goals but poor understanding of strategic road map and review mechanism.  The project manager  took an action to present the road map and review process in the next team meeting and the subsequent discussion helped improve clarity. 

The outbound helped everyone to know more about other team members, their  strengths, perspectives at a personal level through team building  games, which typically try to bring the elements of the project into focus in a short time. These  helped a lot in improving  interpersonal relationships which improved the team performance subsequently.

What has been your experience with team alignment? Are outbound sessions helpful for team building? Please discuss/share your views.

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