Effective Team Project Planning
Effective Team Project Planning
In whatever project we attempt, effective planning profoundly increases the likelihood of successful completion of that project. This holds true for professional or school environments. It is a major factor in both independent and team projects. Because the bulk of planning for a group project traditionally falls on the shoulders of the group leader's guidance, I will be focusing this article on the team leader's perspective, organization, and effectiveness.
Teams are most successful when all members of the team understand the basic concepts that make a team successful. According to the article, Calling a Team a Team Doesn't Mean That It Is, (Temme, & Katzel,1995), some of these proven strategies include setting goals and objectives, empowering all team members, building trust, and positive team leadership. All too often, companies or organizations use buzzwords like teamwork without employing the necessary strategies to make those teams a success. Labeling a group of co-workers or students a team, does not insure that the team will be successful or productive.
We will take a look at five important components that are vital to the successful completion of a group project. These components are:
- Team members' styles
- Delegation of responsibilities
- Time management strategies
- Creating equity within the team
Understanding the value of these components will help an effective team leader stay organized, and keep a functional team productive. These five components are key in creating a well-organized plan, gaining the collaboration and cooperation of your team members, and staying focused and on schedule. .All of these factors will help stimulate a successful outcome of the project goals.
Most important to the success of any group or project is positive and frequent team communication. Without this component, all other strategies will pale, and fail to take flight to the team's fullest potential.
Start with clearly defined goal, broken down into the detailed objectives necessary to reach that goal. The members must have a common purpose in order to have direction. "A team is not a team unless the members have a common purpose. Goals are the glue that hold a team together." (Temme & Katzel, 1995)
In their list of Tips for Effective Teams, co-authors of Teams in the Workplace, (DeJanasz-Dowd-Schneider, 2001)offer the following tips for positive team communication:
- Be focused
- Communicate openly and positively
- Monitor what's going on with the team
- Take time to establish operating guidelines and clarify expectations
- Be willing and dedicated to working towards a common purpose
- Practice giving and receiving effective feedback
- Be supportive of your team members
Encouraging input from each team member will also foster a more collaborative and productive team. Asking opinions and giving positive feedback will fuel team members' initiative and as a result, the team member will be more committed to the successful outcome of the project.
Team Members' Styles
Before tasks and responsibilities can be delegated, it is important to evaluate and identify each team members' strengths and weaknesses. One test that can help in this area is the Multiple Intelligence Test. It only takes a few moments, and it can be interesting, fun, and enlightening.
In 1983, Harvard professor Howard Gardner identified eight different intelligences that influence the way people think, learn, and problem-solve. Gardner believes that, "...every person has developed some intelligences more fully than others." (Carter, Bishop, & Kravits, 2007) These eight intelligences are: Verbal-Linguistic, Logical-Mathematic, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Visual-Spatial, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, Musical, and Naturalistic. The result of Gardner's Multiple Intelligence Test can help to identify each team member's different abilities.
There are numerous personality tests out there to be found on the Internet as well. One is the Personality Spectrum, which is based on the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory and combines the 16 personality types into four temperaments, the Thinker, the Organizer, the Giver, and the Adventurer. (Carter, Bishop, & Kravits, 2007) I have yet to find this specific test on-line without having to navigate through a plethora of advertisements, but there are many personality tests on-line that might suit your needs. Understanding each team member's temperament and personality style can help to identify strengths and weaknesses.
This information can be invaluable to project managers in assigning various jobs or roles to different team members. For example, a team member scoring high in verbal-linguistic would be better suited to do an oral presentation, while a member with high visual-spatial scores would enjoy doing artwork or graphic layout. The thinker may be skilled at doing Internet research, while the adventurer would prefer to do research out in the field.
Using this test to learn about your teammates intelligences and personalities can be made into a fun activity, and can also serve as an icebreaker for newly formed teams. Team members may learn a little bit about themselves in the process.
After developing a clear picture of team member's skills and strengths, it will be much easier to match tasks and responsibilities with the team member best suited. It is important at this stage of the process to encourage team feedback and input about job assignments or preferences.
If members are assigned tasks without their input or agreement, it can cause dissention or poor work performance within the group. Conversely, if team members are delegated responsibilities that best suit their personality, strengths, and interests, they will most likely be more enthusiastic about their assignments and more invested in the team's goals. As a result, there is a greater probability that they will be more productive and do a better job.
- A happy team member is a productive team member.
Another important factor in the delegation of responsibilities is the creation of carefully thought out and fairly distributed workloads and time commitments. This will reduce the possibility of role overload, which can occur when the group leader's expectations exceed a team member's abilities, (Kreitner-Kinicki, 2003). It is also important for the team leader to clearly outline and document the roles of each team member. This can reduce the likelihood of role ambiguity, which occurs when the expectations for each member are unclear or unknown.
Failure of a team leader to adequately consider and provide for these factors can also result in role conflict. Dissention in a team will invariably occur when team members have inconsistent or conflicting expectations. "Specifically, role conflict and role ambiguity were associated with job dissatisfaction, tension and anxiety, lack of organizational commitment, intentions to quit, and, to a lesser extent, poor job performance." (Kreitner-Kinicki, 2003)
A clearly laid out timeline with goals and objectives is vital to the success of a project. Each team member should have a copy of all relevant deadlines and expectations to stay on schedule. Target dates should be included so that the entire team understands the expectations and each member can be held accountable for their part of the project.
Schedules should allow for unforeseen obstacles and complications. Having a little extra time built into your schedule will reduce the stress level of the team members, and the flexibility to adjust projected timetables and deadlines will aid in a smoother facilitation of the project.
It is also important to exercise time management skills during teem meetings. Advance planning and a clear agenda will help the team to stay on track. Allowing specific timeframes for members to share findings, discuss relevant topics, or review progress will help facilitate a timely and productive meeting.
It is also important to find the proper balance between too many meetings and not enough meetings. Consider alternate means of communication when meetings of the entire team may be unnecessary. Avoid the pitfalls of meetings running too long or nothing productive happening at meetings. It is the role of the team leader to keep meetings on track and on schedule whenever possible. Appointing a timekeeper can be helpful as well.
It is important to encourage all members of the team to participate and contribute equally. Fostering initiative in team members is vital. Equity in participation and initiative are important ingredients to any successful team project. When team members feel that not all of their teammates are "pulling their weight", emotions can rise, grumbling ensues, and conflict within the group will follow.
Team members must be willing to be creative and take risks. According to Temme and Katzel, "Risk taking plays a major role in the creative process." (1995) They also stress the importance of empowerment and trust. The theory is that in a true team, all members have valid input and ideas. A good team leader is willing to share the power, and members must be willing to share responsibility. In this way, trust can be established.
Understanding group dynamics, offering positive leadership, and laying out a clear and concise plan will greatly increase the probability of the successful and timely completion of a project, and hopefully make it a constructive and positive experience for all involved. Positive leadership is vital to the success of the group. An article in Plant Engineering (Temme & Katzel , Sept.1995, p.112) aptly describes the role of a good leader this way:
Leadership, as it applies to a team in today's work environment, is related to effective coaching and counseling. Coaching means providing direction and assistance to team members so they can succeed. Counseling means careful listening to members' ideas, concerns, and needs; and helping them take responsibility to meet their own needs. Leadership means truly helping team members accomplish team goals and grow and prosper in the process. It is directly related to empowering and challenging employees to be the best they can be.
A good team leader leads by example, and by tapping in to each member's strengths. When teammates are encouraged to take risks and try new things, positive results are achieved. With supportive models of leadership in place, teams can grow and thrive.
For further reading on this subject, please see the excellent references listed below that I found to be very useful.
Temme, J., & Katzel, J. (Jan 9, 1995). Calling a team a team doesn't mean that it is: successful teamwork must be a way of life. Plant Engineering, 49, n1. p.112(2). Retrieved April 21, 2008, from General OneFile via Gale
DeJanasz-Dowd-Schneider (2001) Interpersonal Skills in Organization, Teams in the Workplace, Chapter 15, 309-329, McGraw-Hill
Carter, C., Bishop, J., & Kravits, S. (2007) Keys to College Studying: Becoming an Active Thinker. Learning Styles, Majors, & Careers: Knowing Your Talents & Finding Your Direction.
Kreitner-Kinicki (2003) Organizational Behavior (6th edition) Group Dynamics, Chapter 12, 408-443.
Multiple Intelligence Test
- Multiple Intelligence Test
To take this test, you can access this site: