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Teamwork is how a group of people come together to collaborate and co-operate in achieving common objectives. The goals of teamwork are to:
- create a team from a collection of individuals;
- develop and maintain the performance of the team.
Teams exist in all walks of life from working teams to sporting teams. The difference between a team and a group of individuals is the team’s collective commitment to agreed objectives. All teams are made up of individuals and regardless of the context of the team, human nature means that they go through similar stages of development and suffer from the same problems.
The main distinguishing factor of project, programme and portfolio teams is their temporary nature. A P3 manager needs to build a team as quickly as possible and maintain its performance against the backdrop of impending demobilisation. It helps considerably if the individuals who make up the team are comfortable with, or actively enjoy, the dynamic environment of projects, programmes and portfolios. Familiarity with the nature of projects, programmes and portfolios throughout an organisation is something that naturally arises from the development of higher levels of capability maturity and functions like communities of practice in particular.
Models of teamwork tend to address two aspects. Firstly, the nature of the individuals who make up the team and, secondly, the developmental stages of the team as a whole.
Belbin and Margerison-McCann illustrate how different personalities work together to create a working team. Each personality has its strengths and weaknesses. Ideally, within the team, one person’s strengths will balance other peoples’ weaknesses. Individuals will perform better in a team context if they are given a role that plays to their strengths.
P3 managers are rarely in the position of the manager of a sports team who can select in-form players from a squad to suit the demands of the next game. The make-up of a P3 management team is more typically made up of people who are available at the time. Such teams are unlikely to form an ideal combination of Belbin team roles and the manager must work with individuals to develop behaviours that may not be their natural style.
Once assembled, teams do not become high-performing simply because they have been given a common objective. They typically go through a series of development stages as illustrated by Tuckman or Katzenbach & Smith. P3 managers must be aware of where a team is in the development cycle and adjust their leadership style to suit.
The team cycle and the project or programme life cycle are related. At the simplest level (i.e. one team working on one project) Thamhain and Wilemon showed how varying levels of conflict in the project life cycle follow a similar pattern to varying levels of conflict in a team cycle such as Tuckman’s. Awareness of models such as this help P3 manager’s understand how their leadership and conflict management skills need to be applied, for example, in the definition phase of the life cycle with a team that is going through its ‘storming’ phase.
Once established, a P3 manager is responsible for the continued cohesion of the team. They should strive to keep individuals motivated and support them in their personal and career development aspirations. In a matrix organisation this means the P3 manager must have a good working relationship with the team member’s line manager.
A common focus on well-defined objectives is an important tool for developing a team but, in the P3 context it can also be a weakness. The objectives of projects, programmes and portfolios are susceptible to change. Sometimes this is due to unavoidable external factors, but often it will be due to changing requirements from stakeholders. If a team is focused and committed to well-defined objectives, frequent and uncontrolled change can be demotivating.
In environments where change is common, or requirements need to be flexible, P3 managers may choose an agile approach. This requires a team with a different mind-set as agile teams are often self-organising and may use techniques such as timeboxes and MoSCoW prioritisation.
In many contexts the P3 manager faces the additional challenge of maintain a sense of teamwork among members who are not physically co-located. In the digital age virtual teams may not just be spread across different offices but across different continents and time zones.
Projects, programmes and portfolios
Within the P3 environment there will be a hierarchy of different teams. The obvious example is a project management team within a programme, a programme management team within a portfolio and the overall portfolio management team.
Projects are where the most close-knit teams will be found. In a traditional project the objectives are well defined and often broken down into a series of well-specified products providing a clear focus for the team’s efforts. The project manager will communicate the objectives, explain how they will be achieved so that team members understand their role. While functions such as scope management, planning and communication are presented as core P3 management functions, they are also, in effect, team development functions.
As projects become more complex and develop into programmes, the P3 manager will delegate portions of the work to team managers or sub-project managers. By implication, the P3 manager is delegating responsibility for team development as well as delivery, but must retain an overview of performance.
In programmes there will be a number of sub-teams that the manager needs to develop as well as the central management team. These could include, for example, a ‘team’ of project managers or a ‘team’ of business change managers. While each member of these teams have their own objectives they need to work together to achieve the overall vision. The team working approach can also be applied to groups who do not typically regard themselves as a team but who could benefit from an element of team culture, for example ‘teams’ of suppliers or stakeholders.
All sub-teams will need to be developed concurrently to support the achievement of the programme’s vision and component benefits. The levels of responsibility of the team members may mean that a collaborative working group approach is more relevant. While individual managers will take responsibility for the development of their own teams, the programme manager must create a team ethos for the programme as a whole. Inevitably there will be a significant turnover rate within programme teams as projects are instigated and closed or as business-as-usual units deliver changes to their way of working.
The principles of team working are not as visible in the portfolio context. Other than in the core portfolio management team, the levels of interaction associated with team working are not present. Wider groups of individuals with responsibility to deliver different parts of the portfolio are, in effect, a collaborative team but that is not immediately obvious to those involved.
It is in the interest of the portfolio that the appropriate type of team working is encouraged and exploited at all levels to maximise portfolio effectiveness. Collaborative and co-operative working within the portfolio with a shared vision of the strategic objectives should be encouraged.
Maintaining a team ethos across these broad, diverse and changing communities will require excellent communication and leadership skills on the part of the P3 manager, closely supported by the sponsor.