Avoiding Common Pitfalls of High Performance Project Teams
Previously in one of my earlier articles, I discussed the key qualities required for a project manager to be effective in building a high performance project team. Believe it or not, though high performance project teams can produce incredible outcomes, there still remain some serious pitfalls that project managers need to be aware of in order not to fall victims in their trap. This post talks about those pitfalls in detail and presents techniques to reduce their probability of occurrence.
A dedicated project team in a Projectized Organization represents a solid and cohesive team of workers from different functional areas within the organization who are solely committed into completing the project. However this commitment can sometimes reflect back in a negative way, a phenomenon commonly referred as projectitis.
An antagonistic relationship usually evolves between the project team and the parent organization due to the hubristic we-they attitude that is adopted by the team, and the special attention given to the team’s hard endeavors. Jim Carlton, in his book “Apple: The Inside Story of Intrigue, Egomania, and Business Blunders“, explains the projectitis phenomenon with Apple’s Mac development team whose project manager at that time was Steve Jobs. Jobs perked up his elite team with first class plane tickets, a Bösendorfer piano, and desk massage sessions. This special treatment created discord with Apple II division team which greatly inflicted Apple’s performance during the 1980s.
The term groupthink refers to a state through which the project team achieves total harmony and cohesiveness among its members, reduces conflicts to the bare minimum, isolates itself from external influences, and makes decisions without critically evaluating possible alternatives. This phenomenon would eventually lead to unexpected project failures. Symptoms of groupthink include:
- Illusion of invulnerability. The feeling of invincibility, faith, esprit de corps, and optimism entrenched within the team which makes it proud of the quality of its decisions.
- Absence of critical thinking. The team tends to discuss only a few solutions when tackling a problem without considering alternatives and without inspecting the consequences of their actions.
- Negative “out-group” stereotypes. The team stereotypes outsiders as incompetent, bad, or unworthy for decision making.
- Pressure against dissenters. Whenever someone within the team tries to question or argue the agreed direction that the team is heading into, the dissenter gets pressurized to refute his argument to forcibly agree with the team.
3. Bureaucratic bypass syndrome
Project teams sometimes manage to get work done without having to pass through the organization’s red tape or the normal bureaucratic process channels. Yet if bypassing these channels becomes habitual, then bureaucrats will get alienated by this behavior and will try by any means to prevent the project team from breaking the normal organizational procedures and protocols.
4. Team infatuation
It is clear that the team infatuation resulting from the excitement, personal satisfaction, happy moments, love, preoccupation, and the challenge created within the high performance project team to bring the project into a success can leave behind plenty of afflicted professional connections, burnouts, and bewilderment upon project completion.
5. Going native
The term ‘going native’ means to acquire the cultural traits or characteristics of the people around you, usually used to reference those who travel to foreign countries and get native into their traditions, customs, and values while forgetting their own. This can be witnessed in a project team which co-locates and attaches itself with the customer to the extent that it goes so far by putting preference to customer’s interests and by defying the organization’s interests, which would eventually lead to scope creeps.
Dealing with those pitfalls
Steps to deal with these pitfalls include the following:
- Becoming aware of them
- Taking necessary actions to reduce their probability of occurrence
- Maintaining professional and social ties with the organization
- Creating connections outside the project team
- Working on multiple projects
- Peer-reviewing work
- Encouraging functional conflict by bringing in the devil’s advocate
- Using the nominal group technique for problem solving
- Involving external specialists in a timely manner
- Lengthening discussions, introducing second solutions, and allowing more time for decision making
- Conducting team-building sessions to tackle weaknesses and streamline focus on project objectives
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