Have You Established a Culture for Your Project-​Based Team?

BY Kathy Crosett
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Today’s business challenges require leaders to assemble project-​based teams. To successfully build your next product, you may need a few engineers, an expert in accounting practices, a tech writer and a marketing professional. You want to put your best people on this project. But, one of your engineers doesn’t work well with your marketing manager. What do you do?

There’s nothing new about employee conflict. To ensure project success, team leaders must redirect negative energy. Focus on creating a culture where every member’s energy is directed to the task at hand. If you don’t establish the proper culture, your team may form ‘fault lines’ as described by Beverly Alimo-​Metcalfe and Juliette Alban-​Metcalfe in their Personnel Today article. The professors’ research shows that team members may align themselves with others according to gender, age or past conflict. To ensure that your team members remain committed to the goal, you’ll need to establish a few ground rules.

In their research, the professors describe how a poorly functioning team negatively impacts clinical errors made in a health care setting. Similarly, we can all imagine what happens to a dysfunctional team that’s engaged against an enemy on the battlefield. Your everyday work setting may not include life or death scenarios for patients or civilians, but you are engaged in a battle for the future success of the company. When you make the struggle against competitors clear to your team members, you are defining what unites them. That definition is a step toward improved team culture.

At the start of the project, announce the specific roles and responsibilities of each member. This step is best done in a meeting with all members present. Encourage people to ask questions. Each person needs a clear understanding of where their responsibilities begin and end.

Once your team understands the urgency of the task they’re working on and their roles, give them agency. Prompt each team member to let the others know how and when they work best. If they need quiet time to think or review what team members have done, build that requirement into the project schedule.

As you think about who should comprise your next project-​based team and who should lead it, be prepared to go reach further. The researchers noted that “team leadership did not directly predict team outcomes, but the impact of the leader on the culture within the team did.” To ensure success, encourage your team leader to focus on culture as well as workflow.