The Project Team

Project success is often based on choosing the right people for the project team and obtaining the necessary level of commitment from them. The work breakdown structure can be used to identify the work to be done, after which you will have a reasonable idea of the work activities that need to be carried out, the number of staff needed to undertake the work, and the specialist skills and knowledge required. Assuming you have a choice, choose the best people available. This does not simply mean that you are looking for people with the required skills and expertise. You should also be looking for people with a good track record for getting the job done, and who are known to work well as part of a team. Your ideal candidates will also be prepared to work to a tight schedule when the need arises, and not be afraid of putting in some overtime if necessary. Depending on the organisational structure within which you will be working, you may have to recruit staff from a number of functional areas, and may well be involved in negotiations with functional managers concerning the allocation of staff to the project. In a worst case scenario, you may have a team imposed upon you.

In most cases, the staff required for the project will be available in-house. If there is a skills gap, you may need to consider either providing existing staff with the requisite training or recruiting additional staff with the requisite skills. The team should ideally be composed of individuals that can work well together from the outset, although this is rarely possible to judge in advance, especially if they come from a number of different departments and have not worked together before. Try if possible to keep the size of the team reasonably small (no more than a dozen people, ideally). The larger the team is, the more difficult it is to keep track of what each individual is doing, and the channels of communication between team members increase in number and complexity. If the project team is selected by senior management on the basis of availability rather than suitability for the role, you will simply have to do the best you can with the personnel available. There is a chance that no-one else will be particularly happy with the choices made either, including the individuals concerned and their departmental managers.

Whatever the circumstances, the team should become committed to the project and motivated to work with the project manager and each other to achieve the objectives of the project. This may involve giving individual team members ownership of their own part of the project. It will certainly involve making sure that everyone clearly understands the project's goals, and the impact that the project will have on the organisation as a whole. Each individual within the team should develop a sense that what is being accomplished is both necessary and worthwhile. Bear in mind also that the achievement of project milestones will often depend on the willingness of project team members to pull out all the stops from time to time in order to get the work done on time. It is therefore vital to involve the people responsible for carrying out a particular task in the planning process, rather than simply impose an arbitrary deadline upon them.

In order for a group of people to develop into a team, it is important to provide somewhere that the team can regard as its base of operations. Assuming that the project team are all based in one geographical location most of the time, this implies a physical space in which the team will work, or at least gather frequently to exchange information and ideas, hold meetings, or chat. The home environment should provide adequate space, and the amenities required to ensure that it is a pleasant area in which to work. The team should also be provided with the necessary technological support to enable them to function efficiently. The facilities needed will probably include personal computers, notebook computers or PDAs with appropriate software installed. In a modern business environment, access to the Internet, e-mail and a shared network file space are pretty much essential too, as is a telephone. The ability to communicate and share information in a timely fashion is essential, especially if project team members are located in different places or frequently on the move.

Creating a team identity

One of the most widely cited models of team development and behaviour is still that formulated by Bruce Tuckman 1965. The original model involves four stages, and explains how relationships within the team, and between the team and the team leader, change and mature. The four stages of the original Tuckman model are briefly described below.

Managing human resources

Unfortunately, many project teams never reach the performing stage and will require a certain amount of guidance. The management of human resources will often figure prominently among the project manager's duties, particularly if there is a significant turnover in project staff. Team members may leave the organisation to take up a more favourable post with another company, be recalled to their normal duties by their functional manager, or simply be unavailable due to illness or for some other reason. Finding a replacement for a team member will become more difficult as the project progresses, simply because there will be less time available to integrate a new team member and because the work undertaken to date will be at a more advanced stage, and will therefore take more time to assimilate. This can have a negative impact on the project overall, especially if the individual leaving the team performs a critical role. In extreme cases, the project schedule and budget may be affected significantly, and may have to be renegotiated with the project client.

Another problem faced by project managers is that of one or more team members under-performing. This is more likely to occur where the selection of the project team has been arbitrarily made by senior management, with little or no input from the project manager. In some cases the problem can be turned around, especially if the problem is discovered early in the lifetime of the project, by the provision of appropriate training or mentoring. Alternatives include re-assigning the individual concerned to a task more appropriate to their skills, or replacing them with someone more capable. If none of these options are practical, the only other course of action available is to attempt to minimise the negative impact on the project by working around the team member concerned as far as is possible.

One of the oldest dilemmas faced by project managers is that of if and when to bring in extra help when a project runs into difficulties such as falling behind schedule. Usually, there is a law of diminishing returns that comes into effect when allocating additional manpower to a project. This law can be quantified in various ways, but essentially it states that whereas adding a small number of additional staff may bring dividends in terms of bringing a project back on track, adding too many people to the mix will actually slow things down even further as the logistics of coordinating the efforts of all the additional personnel becomes unwieldy and inefficient. The same kind of problem occurs when considering whether or not to incur overtime. Whilst it may be necessary on occasion, it is really only effective when used as a short-term remedy. There is a real danger that overtime working can become the norm, especially where it is seen as a way of supplementing income. For salaried staff this is not an issue, but they should still be assured that putting in all the hours under the sun is the exception and not the rule. Otherwise, even the most dedicated and loyal team member may start to feel that their efforts are being taken for granted. It is also imperative to acknowledge the efforts of staff who have "gone the extra Mile".

Belbin's team roles

Work carried out by Dr. Meredith Belbin over a period of nine years at Henly Management College has identified a number of team roles (a summary of Belbin's team roles is given in the table below). Belbin defines a role as:

"A tendency to behave, contribute and interrelate with others in a particular way."

Belbin's Team Roles
Action oriented:ImplementerAn implementer can take other people's ideas and
put them into practice. They tend to be well organised,
self-disciplined, efficient, and loyal to the team. On the
down side, they can be resistant to change may be
seen as too conservative.
ShaperShapers are energetic and dynamic extroverts who
'shape' the team by encouraging others to improve,
and by urging the team onwards. They are good at
finding solutions to problems (which they see as
challenges) and encourage others to consider all
possible approaches. On the negative side, they can
be argumentative and insensitive to the feelings of
others. Having more than one shaper in a group can
lead to conflict.
Completer-finisherThe completer-finisher tends to be a perfectionist who
pays attention to detail and who will go out of their way
to ensure that work is done thoroughly, accurately, and
on time. Their weaknesses include a tendency to worry
too much about details and a reluctance to delegate
tasks to others.
People oriented:CoordinatorThe coordinator is an effective leader who can see the
‘big picture' and help others to focus on a task. They
tend to be confident and mature, and have an ability to
recognise strengths and weaknesses in others. This
ability allows them to select the right person for a
particular job, and they are happy to delegate work. On
the down side, they are sometimes perceived as
manipulative, and may delegate too much of the work.
Team workerTeam workers use their negotiating skills and a natural
flair for diplomacy to settle disputes and get people to
work together. Team workers are good listeners and
tend to be popular. Although very capable in their own
right, they put the interests of the team as a whole
ahead of their own. Weaknesses include a tendency to
be indecisive due to their reluctance to take sides.
Resource investigatorThe resource investigator is often an extrovert and is
focused on people and opportunities outside the team.
They are good at exploring available options and
negotiating for resources. They bring enthusiasm to the
team process and like to work with external stakeholders
to ensure that the team achieves a successful outcome.
On the negative side, they can run out of steam in the
closing stages of a project and have a tendency to
overlook details.
Thought oriented:PlantDespite a tendency to be introverted and work alone, the
plant is creative, can generate new ideas and
approaches, and is good at solving difficult problems.
Weaknesses include poor communication skills, an
aversion to criticism, and a tendency to ignore details.
Monitor-evaluatorMonitor-evaluators have an ability to see things
objectively and take all relevant factors into account
before making a decision. Their chief strength lies in
being able to analyse and evaluate the ideas generated
by others and come to an informed (and usually correct)
decision. Their detached and unemotional nature is also
their weakness, as they are not particularly good at
motivating others and can sometimes be over-critical.
SpecialistThe specialist is an expert in (and usually very
passionate about) his or her particular discipline, and
can be relied upon to solve problems related to it.
Although very good at what they do, their contribution to
the team is likely to be very narrowly focused, and they
will be uninterested in other aspects of the project.

It can be seen from the above that each of Belbin's team roles has certain strengths and weaknesses. Most people do not fall neatly into one of the team roles described here, but tend instead to exhibit characteristics found in three or four of them. At any given time in their career however, and within a particular setting, most people tend to lean towards one particular team role. This is said to be their primary role. A successful team tends to consist of a mix of team roles, where each team member is aware of their primary role within the team, can work to their strengths, and is able to manage their weaknesses. Belbin suggests that a team is more likely to achieve a successful outcome if it consists of a balanced mix of team roles. The implications are that a prevalence of any one weakness amongst the team members (for example, a reluctance to make difficult decisions) could result in a manifestation of that weakness in the team as a whole. On the other hand, the predominance of a particular strength could also be counter-productive. We have already mentioned, for example, the fact that having more than one shaper in the team can lead to conflict. The list below can be used as a guide to putting together a balanced team.

Use the model as a guide to assess whether or not you have a balanced team, but bear in mind that there are other models and theories that are arguably just as valid. Any findings you come up with should be viewed with a critical eye. You should apply common sense and judgement to your own particular situation and not rely too heavily on theoretical models. If you would like to know more about the work of Dr. Meredith Belbin, the following link is a good starting point.