30.09.2015 : Bruce Marks

Putting together a high performance team

Your high performance project team is the key to overcoming those unforeseen problems that every project will encounter at some stage.

All projects face challenges.

The answer to overcoming these unforeseen challenges lies in the performance of the team, which starts with putting an appropriately skilled team together at day one.

In looking at the dynamics of the team, the project manager needs to know the strengths and weaknesses of the individual candidates.

  • Who is going to drive the team and push the boundaries to meet the objectives?
  • Who is going to pay attention to the detail?
  • Who is the communicator that is the glue to keep the team aligned?
  • Who is the motivator to maintain the enthusiasm and keep the team delivering?
  • Who is going to check that the technical integrity and quality meets the objectives?

There are proven methodologies to help understand an individual character such as Myers Briggs or Life Styles Inventory (LSI), but the methodology to understand the makeup of the individuals that constitute the team is not as important as having a consistent overview of the attributes of the team.

On a large new grassroots petrochemical project on Jurong island in Singapore, the leadership team consisted of people from Holland, Germany, the United Kingdom, Australia, Singapore, Japan, and was led by a New Zealander. In order to get the team to perform, it was vital that each individual recognised the characteristics of the different cultures and different individuals to accommodate and capture their strengths.

For example, decisions in a northern European context are normally made by agreeing on a strategic direction and then working out the detail. Decisions in an Asian context are made by reviewing the detail and then building to a strategic direction. It is not that one methodology is better than the other, but it is important to understand the differences if you want to effectively implement decisions.

Team building is essentially about identifying and understanding these differences in personal characteristics and cultures and utilizing these differences in building high performance in the team.

The second step is to keep the team aligned and motivated.

Continuous motivation through recognition and feedback is critical and needs to be planned.

A bonus at the end of a project generally has little motivating effect. An effective goal for a team needs to be no more than four to six weeks ahead. People can focus for this duration and it is important to recognise and celebrate achievements along the way.

On a large desalination project in Melbourne, (a design team of around 400 people), we had a monthly programme of recognising the unsung heroes, e.g. the document controller that worked late into the night to load documents into the documents management system so the deliverables would get out on the planned date. These contributions were publically recognised at the monthly feedback sessions and individuals received gift vouchers. The public recognition was the most valued element.

Each month the best performing discipline team was awarded the “golden brick”. This was simply a construction brick painted gold and had no value apart from the public recognition for the team and was chosen for making the most significant contribution to progress. The concept came from the idea of each day putting another brick in the wall.

Continuous communication is also key to keeping the team aligned. Simple techniques, such as weekly or fortnightly morning teas, are a good means to provide feedback to the whole team. It is good to see all the secondary discussions that take place after the feedback session while the morning tea is consumed. These opportunities for alignment and capturing collective wisdom cannot be underestimated. Other means such as weekly bulletins from the management team are also valuable particularly when there are distributed teams working on different areas of a large project in different locations.

All these things seem pretty obvious, but team selection, communication and motivation are not often undertaken in a structured manner.

Just remember, it is the team that will overcome the challenges not foreseen at the start of the project, so choose your team with careful thought and keep them aligned and motivated.

About the Author

Bruce Marks

Chief Engineer - Industrial Project Delivery

Bruce is a highly experienced and skilled project director who has delivered tremendous value for clients, particularly on large projects. As Chief Engineer – Industrial Project Delivery, he has successfully led complex, fast-track projects of over US$500m in value.

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