5 Attributes of Great Project Teams

Every now and then project managers create teams that just work. A team that is unique, has energy, motivation and the determination to get the job done. It’s something to be cherished, nurtured, celebrated and shared, because it doesn’t happen often enough and lack of collaboration amongst team members is a key contributor to project failure.

No two teams are the same, even if you have the same people from project to project, because no two projects are the same. They each have different outcomes, challenges and approaches, which means that simply repeating what was done before won’t work.

The key to continual team-building success is to recognise what makes a team great, then to work hard to build it before the next project starts. Before. Not during or ‘in a crisis’, but before you get started.

Only then does everyone get a say on what they’ve seen work well. On how they’ll keep each other and the stakeholders informed and on the behaviours required to ensure that everyone can be the best version of themselves.

You know these teams. You’ve been on one. You may have even created one.

So here are my five attributes of great project teams:

1. There’s harmony at the start

It’s incredible to think that according to one survey, almost 75% of a project team thinks their project is doomed from the start and believe those who commission the project are out of sync with those charged with delivering it.

Great teams don’t think that way, there’s optimism from the start. There’s a sense of purpose, a forged vision of a better future post-project and a determination to act. They don’t rush blindly into delivery mode. They take the time to understand each other, share how they like to work and share a little about their interests. Once they’ve done that they talk, think, then act and ensure that the stakeholders are involved in the initiation process.

2. They hold each other to account

Great teams understand that in order to be able to maintain harmony in times of change, there needs to be an agreed expectation of how they’ll behave. An understanding that they’re all human beings and that by demonstrating anger and aggression they are undermining their ability to deliver.

They challenge each other in a positive way, setting stretch goals but never falling outside their behavioural expectations of each other.

Should anyone step outside of the agreement they’ve made, they hold each other to account and won’t wait for the project manager or sponsor to do it for them.

3. They keep it simple

In his book The Game Changer, Dr Jason Fox says ‘if the concept is complicated, no-one will understand what it takes to change’ and projects are often hotbeds of complexity. From acronym project names to theorists telling you why their method is the best. Is it any wonder that there’s so much stakeholder disengagement?

Great teams don’t do this. They do brevity really really well. They don’t hide behind big words or over complicate conversations. They are high in empathy and speak in a way that brings the stakeholders closer to the work. Even in highly complex projects, they understand that by breaking down work and communication into easy-to-digest, simple pieces, they are much more likely to deliver to expectations.

4. They do collaboration without talking about it

Great teams always collaborate on how they’ll collaborate, before they start collaborating. They’ll agree when something should be run as a workshop, meeting, stand up or one on one. They’ll agree the principles of how they’ll work together and the tools they’ll use. They commit to a culture of continuous feedback to ensure that the collaboration doesn’t suffer. They call those responsible for the work ‘people’ not ‘resources’ because they know that only through great people can you get the job done.

They’ll create workspaces that work for their personalities and provide visual guides for those passing by. There’s laughter, music and a sense that they take their work very seriously, but not themselves.

5. They fail fast, then go again

Most organisations are really bad at failing fast, because leaders lack the courage to stop a project mid-flight and think it will reflect badly on them as an individual.

Great teams understand that the opposite is true and when there’s a tough decision to be made, then that’s the one they’ll recommend. They are solution-focused but know instinctively when something should be stopped. They make their recommendations early in order to maintain momentum and will stand by their decision.

Of course, as a project manager, you are the enabler for great teams, but you don’t own them. It’s your job to create the right kind of environment in which they can flourish, then get out of their way so they can get the job done. You take all of the blame and none of the credit and give yourself a pat on the back privately for a job well done.

What are you doing to create great project teams?