Ensuring Team Quality and Performance: An Analysis
Prepared by: Majed Abdeen
Regardless that modern principles such as Agile focus on people rather than processes and tools, I believe that motivation comes from individuals (self-motivated) first, then from agile practices. Even if key stakeholders in an organisation have an agile mindset, or they have ideal leaders, being able to motivate each team member in the group is not an easy task. What motivates one, is not necessarily what will motivate another, and unfortunately, some simply cannot be motivated. As leaders, we are responsible for inspiring our team, developing team skills and competencies while retaining and improving team satisfaction and motivation (PMI, 2017a, p. 309), but true motivation comes from within, whether leaders make an effort, or whatever approach leaders use.
I like this quote, "A group becomes a team when each member is sure enough of himself and his contribution to praise the skills of others." – Norman Shidle
Teamwork is essential to success, yet it constitutes challenges for Project Managers. Project teams are frequently composed of individuals with varied backgrounds and expertise and are often temporary (Savelsbergh, et al., 2015, p. 406). With globalisation, teams have widely different cultures and expectations, methods of communication, or are virtual. Project Managers must ensure the team functions well, motivating them to ensure the task is completed successfully.
Characteristics of a Good Team
Research indicates high functioning teams have specific characteristics: shared vision and goals (Levi & Slem, 1995, p. 31); shared commitment; understanding of group roles, responsibilities, and values; supportive environment for sharing opinions and disagreements (Savelsbergh, et al., 2015, p. 416), mutual trust and interdependency; strong communications; shared decision making; defined roles (Nancarrow, et al., 2013, p. 9; Brooks, 2009, p. 132; Erhardt, 2011, p. 89). Other researchers identify Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Emotional Stability as desirable characteristics for individuals in forming high functioning teams (Morgeson, et al., 2005, pp. 585-589); Soft skills are critical, especially communication skills, and behavioural adaptability (Morgeson, et al., 2005, p. 585), as is good leadership and team management (Levi & Slem, 1995, p. 31), cross functionality and interdependence (Savelsbergh, et al., 2015, p. 406) and team learning (Erhardt, 2011, p. 107; Savelsbergh, et al., 2015, pp. 406-407).
While much research indicates the above characteristics are important, they are not unilateral; one size does not fit all. (Erhardt, 2011, p. 90) notes that team characteristics vary based on project type; innovative projects require different characteristics than less innovative projects.
Ensuring Team members operate as a Team
Best practice indicates Project Managers must consider and evaluate Experience, Knowledge, Skills, Attitudes, and International Factors when selecting team members; attitude is critical as it indicates the team member's ability to work with others (PMI, 2017a, p. 332). Efficient teams require diversity, with members possessing different strengths and perspectives, the ability to form friendly relationships and maintain open discussions allowing for amicable disagreements (Brooks, 2009, pp. 131-132).
Project Managers must employ team learning, allowing teams to understand interpersonal dynamics, improving together (Savelsbergh, et al., 2015, pp. 407,408).
Where possible, ensuring high team stability enables mutual knowledge and understanding, improving knowledge and skill sharing and communication, contributing to team function, since this process takes time (Savelsbergh, et al., 2015, p. 409). Project Managers must also consider individuals' personality fit, their preferred roles within groups, and encourage transition from individualist to supportive roles (Brooks, 2009, p. 128).
Leadership is critical for success (Nixon, et al., 2012, p. 208) as it affects team member behaviour and team cohesiveness, with people-oriented leadership being effective for team development (Savelsbergh, et al., 2015, p. 408). Project Managers must be able to create a team identity and develop shared visions: team members functioning together depends on the Project Manager's personal qualities (Nixon, et al., 2012, p. 209).
While some researchers highlight the role of the leader and importance of careful selection procedures, often circumstances can affect team formation, with teams forming naturally (Brooks, 2009, p. 131).
In some organisations, Functional Managers are responsible for sourcing the team thus the Project Manager may have no authority to do so (PMI, 2017a, p. 329). Thus, the Project Manager may be a highly skilled leader, but being unable to source the team correctly, his/her leadership skills may not be enough to ensure that team members work together well as a team.
Motivation for Performance
To ensure motivation, individuals must feel they are valued, through receipt of rewards, either tangible (payment) or intangible (growth opportunities and appreciation) (PMI, 2017a, p. 342). By using a motivated team, providing them with a supportive environment, a Project Manager will be able to trust they will complete the work successfully (PMI, 2017b, p. 9). The study of leadership demonstrates that the right leadership motivates individuals (Nixon, et al., 2012, pp. 208,211); leaders should be person-oriented (Savelsbergh, et al., 2015, p. 413), showing consideration for team members' welfare, support, showing respect and guidance, which acts to motivate individuals, improving team performance (Savelsbergh, et al., 2015, p. 408). Project Managers should use charisma, creating a strong team identity and shared vision, which encourages and motivates individuals to commit to the project (Nixon, et al., 2012, p. 209). Knowledgeable leaders use failures as learning experiences for the team, challenging and motivating team members to use their skills to surmount the problem (Nixon, et al., 2012, p. 211). Project Managers must recognise individuals' expectations and values and use these to motivate their team, recognising individuals' differences and needs (Brooks, 2009, pp. 83,86). Project Managers can use Maslow's hierarchy of needs in motivating their team, specifically intrinsic rewards and content factors such as recognition, responsibility, and advancement (Brooks, 2009, p. 93).
While Project Managers may possess the necessary leadership skills and knowledge of best practices, they may still face significant challenges in being able to motivate their teams. Enterprise Environmental Factors such as practices and policies often negatively affect team members' motivation (Brooks, 2009, p. 96) despite the Project Manager's best efforts.
In summary, to ensure a good team, with good teamwork and motivated members, Project Managers must possess excellent leadership skills with which they can circumvent challenges to the productivity of their teams. Project Managers must remain adaptable, as not all projects are the same; skills required for one team/project may differ for other teams/projects. Thus, Project Managers should always seek to learn and improve their knowledge and abilities.
Brooks, I., 2009. Organisational behaviour: individuals, groups and organisation. 4th ed. England: Pearson Education Limited.
Erhardt, N., 2011. Is it all about teamwork? Understanding processes in team-based knowledge work. Management Learning, 42(1), p. 87–112.
Levi, D. & Slem, C., 1995. Team work in research and development organizations: The characteristics of successful teams. International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics, 16(1), pp. 29-42.
Morgeson, F. P., Reider, M. H. & Campion, M. A., 2005. Selecting individuals in team settings: the importance of social skills, personality characteristics, and teamwork knowledge. Personnel Psychology, 58(1), p. 583–611.
Nancarrow, S. A. et al., 2013. Ten principles of good interdisciplinary team work. [Online]
Available at: https://human-resources-health.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1478-4491-11-19 [Accessed August 2019].
Nixon, P., Harrington, M. & Parker, D., 2012. Leadership performance is significant to project success or failure: a critical analysis. International Journal of Productivity and Performance Management, 61(2), p. 204–216.
PMI, 2017a. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge. 6th ed. Pennsylvania: Project Management Institute, Inc.
PMI, 2017b. Agile Practice Guide. 1st ed. Pennsylvania: Project Management Institute, Inc.
Savelsbergh, C. M., Poell, R. F. & Heijden, B. I. v. d., 2015. Does team stability mediate the relationship between leadership and team learning? An empirical study among Dutch project teams. International Journal of Project Management, 33(2), p. 406–418.