In 1999, General Motors entered an agreement with AM General to develop and sell a sport utility vehicle (SUV) inspired by AMG’s Humvee army troop carrier and get in on the market in two years. Named the Hummer H2, this challenge required a highly committed team able to work across two companies. Mike DiGiovanni had overall charge, and headed the team that created the dealer network and handled the marketing. How would Mike identify and build a team able to get such an extraordinary vehicle into the market in such an incredibly short time?
A team is a number of people working together to achieve a common objective, and usually create something that is substantially or entirely new. That requires a different attitude from working in day to day operations, with a focus on reaching goals, solving lots of problems, thinking differently and close cooperation. Every team is a compromise; managers may not release the project manager’s first choice people to work on the project. Then, people can be tempted away by a better offer elsewhere. There is always a range of skills in a project team; planning and estimating has to be based on typical performance. Some projects get so big and are so long that it becomes a job to keep everyone focussed on what the project is for and why it’s important. Similarly, personalities and politics can play a big part; a certain amount of creative tension is a good thing, but not feuds.
Today, project teams in lots of fields involve a core team of people in the organisation owning the project work which extends to include people in organisations that are partners in the project. A project may use contractors who join the project to fill gaps in staffing levels. Advisors may be brought in for expertise in particular areas. People from suppliers may be inside the project team. People can operate in virtual teams thousands of miles apart, using video communication and high capacity data links. Ideally, the project team will include end-users, to make sure that the eventual output meets genuine user needs.
Several tools can be used to help get the right balance of skills and personalities in a team. One of the best known is Belbin team roles which identifies nine team roles and argues that, depending on the task a team is given to perform, the project manager and their team should possess a certain mixture of those roles. The research of Bruce Tuckman (and latterly Mary Jensen) produced a six-stage model of the team life-cycle: forming, storming, norming, sometimes re-forming, performing and adjourning. It assumes that the whole team arrives on day one and sticks together until the end of the project, which is uncommon in projects. And it does not reflect a phenomenon frequently found in teams called punctuated equilibrium where an under-performance crisis suddenly lifts productivity.
A project manager wants to create and maintain a high performing team. Everyone needs to have a common understanding of what the project is for and why it’s important. Members must recognise each other’s skills and work co-operatively. Work demands must be well balanced to get tasks done and build morale. The team’s focus is on solving problems not pursuing power struggles. Differences of opinion should be encouraged as a means to stimulate better ideas. Mistakes in projects are inevitable, and team members should be encouraged to innovate and take risks, even if there is a chance that the first effort will be a failure. All this is underlined by the expectation that in a high performance team, everyone will set their own tough personal standards and act with professionalism. And members will feel a bond and an association with the team which is almost as strong as for the organisation as a whole.
Hamm, J. & DeLorenzo, M. (202). Hummer H2. St. Paul, MN: Motorbooks International. Pinto, J. (2007). Project management – achieving competitive advantage. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
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