Behavioral science: Building real (functioning) project teams

Behavioral science: Building real (functioning) project teams

No project can succeed without the efforts of a project team. In today’s competitive environment, projects require a number of participants from different areas of an organization. Parties from external agencies will also likely be involved, whether they are consultants or vendors. Regardless of who is on a project team and how many members it has, the project will not meet deliverables and deadlines unless the group acts as a high-functioning team.
Determining the “right” set of behaviors to support productive teamwork is never easy, as team dynamics are intricate and difficult. Defining a set of behaviors to best support teamwork must be articulated in a universal language, because these behaviors need to be owned by the entire organization, not just upper management.
To successfully define team behaviors, create a set of expected behaviors that use simple language, apply to organizational culture, and can be easily understood and practiced. No matter how large or small the organization, all expected behaviors must be clear and comprehensible to all staff, regardless of position or title.
Team dynamics
Organizations are more likely to realize results if they establish straightforward behaviors directly related to improving team dynamics. Create measurable behaviors so that staff can easily be held accountable. Behaviors must align with your company’s culture to work. In addition to the most basic professional behavior (treat others with dignity and respect), here is what Expected Behaviors may look like in your organization:
• Support and promote intra- and inter-departmental teamwork.
• Understand and consider the needs and impacts of your own work on others.
• Demonstrate an ability to problem-solve and make timely decisions.
• Actively seek and receive feedback for improvement.
• Consistently share knowledge and information.
Once behaviors are defined, it is important to construct a comprehensive communications plan to implement the behaviors across the organization and to promote their adoption. The primary goal of the communications plan is to publicly promote Expected Behaviors to all staff, so all employees had a general understanding of the behaviors and heightened awareness of same during team interactions. Credible endorsement relies upon sincere actions; believable actions can occur only if senior leaders live the behaviors. This is often easier said than done.
Communicate Expected Behaviors with simple messaging: You do much of your work through groups; groups tend to be complex challenges from a management and communications point of view; and if you come up with some ways to improve group dynamics, you can enhance group performance.
In recognition of the value of cross-functional teamwork, organizations can reinforce a set of Expected Behaviors to guide “how” teams operate and achieve results. The goal is to create an infrastructure for both the awareness and accountability for expected behaviors that is adopted and practiced throughout the organization, resulting in improved decisions, efficiency, and business results.
Make it real to work. During annual performance cycles, give staff the opportunity to give and receive feedback relative to your organization’s Expected Behaviors. On a scale of 1 to 5, project team members should be rated by their peers, supervisors, and teammates on each of the Expected Behaviors. It is a good way to build staff awareness of their behaviors and identify areas of strengths and weaknesses for each behavior. The feedback should be used to develop staff performance plans.
Forming feedback
A feedback form may look something like this:
Expected Behaviors: Based on your observation of this employee, use the scale below to rate the use of each Expected Behavior and provide specific behavioral examples:
Rating Scale – Models the Use of Expected Behaviors
0 – Unknown
1 – Strongly Disagree
2 – Disagree
3 – Neither Disagree nor Agree
4 – Agree
5 – Strongly Agree

Expected Behavior 0 1 2 3 4 5

Treat others with respect and dignity
Comments/ Examples of behavior:
Support and promote intra- and inter-departmental teamwork
Comments/ Examples of behavior:
Understand and consider needs and impacts of own work on others
Comments/ Examples of behavior:
Solve problems and make timely decisions
Comments/ Examples of behavior:
Actively seek and receive feedback for improvement
Comments/ Examples of behavior:
Consistently share knowledge and information
Comments/ Examples of behavior:

Project team members should be evaluated within 30 days of project closure. This process allows project teams to evaluate one another, in real time, rather than wait until the end of the calendar year.
This provides project-related feedback while the experience is still fresh. Project team members are now evaluated on both project delivery and Expected Behaviors. The idea is to present performance feedback to project team members before they are assigned to their next project. The goal is to give staff the opportunity to take the feedback to heart before their next project experience, so opportunities for improvement are realistically set.
Feedback loop
Giving and receiving feedback is not a comfortable practice for most people. Feedback is often submitted anonymously, and frequently does not have documentation to support the ratings. Without specific examples, the receiver of the information is at a disadvantage — real examples provide information that is actionable. HPHC has found that practice makes better; the more often the feedback process occurs, the more comfortable staff become in both giving and receiving feedback. Based upon this observation, I strongly encourage the exchange of feedback on a more frequent basis. A mid-year check is highly recommended; quarterly review of performance plans, including expected behavior feedback, is strongly encouraged.
Soliciting feedback does not need to be complex. In fact, the simpler, the better. People are busy with their own work and daily stresses; asking them to take the time to provide feedback on their co-workers takes some cajoling. The incentive appeals to people’s self-interest: if you want feedback on yourself, be willing to provide it for others.

Lisa DiTullio is the principal of Lisa DiTullio & Associates, dedicated to the set-up and management of project management office (PMO) models. She is the editor of ProjectBestPractices, a quarterly newsletter from ProjectWorld, and a contributor to PM Network Magazine. She’s also the author of Simple Solutions: How “Enterprise Project Management” Supported Harvard Pilgrim Health Care from Near Collapse to #1.”
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