Project management and team development – together2. December 2021 - By Magnus Ramdén, Senior Consultant at Mannaz Share
No one goes to work with the intention: ‘Today, I’m going to perform my tasks really poorly.’ Yet it happens all the time. We make efforts at team-building that eventually raise the question: are we going to develop the team or are we going to get something done? The important thing is to develop the team to get something done. Let’s examine the interplay between the strength of the project management delivery and team development.
There are strings of words and lists to help us remember what to do in different situations. In my work educating, training and guiding project managers, steering groups and project teams, I have applied: Clarity – Transparency – Trust.
I suggest these keywords are used with whatever project management method is being deployed, and in combination with Susan Wheelan’s model for developing teams, the IMGD (Integrated Model of Group Development) model.
Wheelan’s research-based model is perhaps the most established to describe human behaviour when working together. From the first phase, with its search for belonging and security (and relatively low effectiveness) to the fourth phase’s productive work.
When we enter into a new collaboration and start with Wheelan’s Belonging and Security phase, we ask: What does this mean? Belonging to … security … about what?
We interpret the group’s task in different ways, and have different ideas about how best to approach the work – and each other. What’s obvious to one is unclear to another. So begin the discussions. At some point the most impatient group member says: ‘Yes, yes, but we need to get started!’. In my experience, the rest of the group needs a few more tweaks to avoid running in the wrong direction. This is where addressing the critical questions of the project workflow can be of great help, especially when clarifying why the group was formed. When we all interpret both the task and each other’s roles in the same way, we can move forward with a constructive dialogue using the IMGD model.
We interpret the group’s task in different ways, and have different ideas about how best to approach the work – and each other.
People often have preconceived ideas about the project workflow. At best, we think it’s linear, structured, predictable and fun. But in the worst case, it’s administrative, formalised, uncalled for and unclear. The toolbox for project work often contains numerous templates and checklists on an internal website. Although these play an essential role, they are very detailed, and there is a risk of getting into too much detail too early, in many cases at the expense of the big picture. Micromanagement becomes imminent, which risks harming the development of the group.
I have dealt with and trained many teams who, aided by the project management structure, maintained the early focus on the big picture and the overall framework. This means that we need to be clear about and agree on the direction needed to become a more effective group. In other words, group members are in agreement when we answer the classic project questions:
- Why should we work on this?
- What do we want to achieve?
- Who is going to do what and when?
- Who is affected, and who will be affected?
- Who is authorised to make specific decisions?
Once we have found answers to the questions together, we have created the conditions to modify the answers. We will need to make changes as we go along, but that’s not easy without a clear starting point. Once we’ve set a clear goal, we can change our sights. If we have defined a clear role, we can adjust it. If we have started a questionable project, we can pause it. Otherwise, there’s a risk that we will talk past each other and get stuck in the second phase of Wheelan’s IMGD model, Opposition and Conflict.
Teams get unstuck
In this second phase, disagreements need to be brought to the table. This is where teams often come unstuck. Moving forward requires transparency on goals, roles and responsibilities – all the things we agreed upon together, and maintained clarity about in the previous phase.
Transparency requires openness, visualisation, accessibility and specificity, to keep the focus of the constructive dialogue on route to the impending third phase which has the enticing title of Trust and Structure.
Trust does not come automatically. It cannot be decided or mandated. We need to build a sense of security in the group by:
- getting to know each other,
- having inclusive leadership where everyone is heard, and
- giving and receiving genuinely developmental feedback.
Besides a starting point with clarity about why we formed as a team with an objective, trust can be established through a transparent path navigating differences of opinion. The structure has then been supported by the project toolkit, and the group can develop into an effective team; a team that might even feel the irresistible tug of the fourth phase of the IMGD model, Work and Productivity.