Let’s all applaud the corporate “leadership team.” There they stand on the stage at the annual stockholders’ meeting. Sharp-looking (almost all) men, accomplished, highly paid, tough, smart . . . and back at the shop knifing each other between the shoulder blades at every opportunity.
Okay, you don’t think they’re really a team.
How about this: The United States creates a Department of Homeland Security to coordinate the anti-terrorism work of the FBI, the Defense Intelligence Agency and all those other intelligence organizations – national, state and local – including the CIA. Teamwork intention on a grand, and very noticeable, scale.
The CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) itself had been formed decades before to overcome the very obvious and costly dis-collaboration among our spycatchers. It quickly became only one more part of the problem. “Central Intelligence Agency” – get it? Get everybody together? When?
Homeland Security pretty much seems to follow the same pattern.
The facts surfacing about the Boston Marathon bombing tell us that important information in some U.S. hands never got into other U.S. hands, those of people who could have done something about it. The mega-team envisioned by the creators of Homeland Security didn’t exist. Never had.
Not really a team, not at all a team.
This huge institutional failure in our national government is mirrored in many of our corporate organizations, large and small, business and commerce, all the way to the local, personal level. It’s the bane of volunteer groups. It’s embedded in the culture.
We’re here to talk about teamwork in Project Management. If ever an enterprise needed disparate parties to subordinate their top intentions to a common good, it’s Project Management.
Take a look at teamwork. What it is, what it isn’t, and why all the mythology gets in the way, too often, of properly setting things up to get results. We don’t understand what it takes to set it up, how it functions -- or even how much we need.
How much we need? How much? Teamwork is teamwork . . . isn’t it?
Yes and no.
Yes, teamwork is a very particular kind of working partnership, and its fundamental nature is always the same.
No, it is never much like the fuzzy generality we mouth so glibly. And each of its iterations, successful or not, is unique in important ways.
How a team is organized and developed differs with each pair/group of people. So do what is intended and the nature and circumstances in which it is to be practiced.
When it works, it can be astounding to witness and deeply gratifying for its participants, pulling off the unbelievable and uplifting everyone and enhancing their organization.
When it fails or falls short, which is often, it’s basically a waste of time and an alienating disappointment.
It can inspire organizations, but most of what you see is some kind of fictional arrangement that doesn’t do anything but impede and irritate everyone. A drag, not a boost at all.
Is it Teamwork?
Doing it right starts with analysis of the work, the situation and the available talent. It’s an essential leadership responsibility that too often is shorted in a task-driven rush to action.
Analyze the challenge and the requirement: A lot of jobs are best done by individuals working alone or in some limited relationship with others. Don’t impose “teamwork” on this task of coordination. It’s best to establish an efficient process for assigning the work, monitoring progress in the separate tracks and collating the results.
The work is completed without joint activity. The rest of the process is managerial, not collaborative. Sometimes one suspects that weak managers impose a phony teamwork requirement to cover their own shortcomings, bothering the professionals and diminishing the value of their achievement.
When is teamwork the right choice?
First, the analysis. What will it take to get this thing done right? We’ve already determined we don’t have anyone with all the necessary skills, or there’s too much of it for one person. Now we match the clearly defined needs with the specified requirements.
If we don’t have what it will take, we don’t just tell the delegatees to suck it up and find a way. They may or may not suck it up, but they won’t find a way. There’s been too much of that project management failure. Don’t keep demanding the impossible from top performers who have been doing their best.
When you take one for the team, you don’t want to do it just because your managers were looking for cover after they didn’t provide the resources required to meet the need.
Shortfalls in the fundamental management obligation to provide resources can be overcome by extraordinary efforts from team champions, but the price is unsustainable. Better to have good management, not manufactured “teamwork.”
Now that’s Teamwork
So teamwork has been designated the most appropriate solution to a particular challenge, and you’ve been honored with the halo and wings. You’re the project manager. What do you do now, if you are to derive the greatest possible benefit from the overly brief honeymoon you get?
As the absolute first priority, you devote time, effort and skill to setting clear and mutually committed understandings with the organization’s authorities, the people who can order requirements and resources into the project, and determine the quality of its progress.
You work with them to obtain full freedom to order up the necessary resources. Then you properly make as your next priority installing the key members of the project team. Fight your task orientation. The work is the most definable factor to think about, but the people are the most important factor. They’ll do a lot of the planning, and most of the work, for you.
Talk to them. Listen to them. This is vital. They must know the practical issues, challenges and possibilities of this project. They also must know you are both totally passionate about reaching that high goal and fully capable of doing your job. You are the competent manager and compelling leader.
They also must be convinced that you care about them and believe in them as much as you need them.
All this is at the heart of true teamwork. You first established reliable collaboration with the sources of your authority and resources. Now you create a strong fabric of assurance between you and your main drivers within the project team.
This is a flat-out persuasion job. You convince these professionals to open up to you and each other, and to commit to a common outcome that may not be fully what any of them want. They, with your guidance, work through to an agreement none would have freely joined before, but which now presents them with a reward they are willing to work relentlessly for.
Here’s What You Do
You make it happen by understanding and committing to the goal so thoroughly that you become a passionate, articulate advocate. You employ skills of relationship and communication to build a coalition of partners just as committed to this effort as you are.
You make the payoff of the effort vividly rewarding. You help make the demands as concrete and do-able as possible. You are there for them and you convince them to be there for you. When things are going well, the progress is impressive. When things go awry – a common occurrence in project management – the teamwork can perform beyond belief.
You never drop your task orientation and its overriding character of excellence. At the same time, you maintain your focus on people, the quality team nucleus you have worked to develop. Everyone pitches in with vigor and practical actions that move things forward. You pick each other up, fix whatever isn’t working, and keep it moving.
Teamwork isn’t just what you talk about, or even what you have. It’s what you do.
When the action starts, and especially when it hits the rapids, teamwork is purely behavioral.
If you’ve ever seen this, or even better have experienced it, you know the exhilaration of a real team in action. There’s nothing like it. If you’ve never seen it, you need to know it’s possible enough that it’s worth all the work to set it up.