IPMA International Project Management Association
30 May 2016 / 7:19

Forming project teams – the right mix is key to success

It is well known, that teamwork is essential for projects. Many research papers, books and standards (like the IPMA ICB) highlight this fact. Bruce Tuckman´s stages of team development – forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning – are well known in the community and explained in nearly all project management trainings. However, little attention has been paid so far to the team composition. Whilst observing teams in real life we often recognise that they are basically formed with people from the functional department being available at the moment of the request. It would be merely  coincidence that those people fit together. The project manager may form them throughout the project lifecycle to a performing team. Nevertheless, it is more likely that they underperform or stall.

Another problem is, that project managers often do not know which people they need for their project. A team is a social system, which builds on a “good” match of motivation, competences and interactions of its constituents parts, like an orchestra. If one person does not fit, the whole team will most likely underperform. Thus, the project manager needs to analyse the project tasks and derive key requirements for all team members. It does not necessarily need to be a “perfect” team, all three, the motivation, competences and interactions could be developed along the project lifecycle. This is the main leadership task of a project manager, but also the team itself can help individual members and the interactions between them to grow. It is the self-organisation of the team that helps to overcome some deficiencies of the original team composition. However, if the basic requirements of the team members are not fulfilled, the “healing forces” of self-organisation and leadership might not be enough for a successful completion of the project.

How to reach the right mix of a project team? This is a joint effort of three parties involved: 1. the project manager, analysing the project with its requirements regarding people and developing the team systematically along Tuckman´s five stages. 2. the project sponsor, ensuring the deployment of the “right” team members from the functional departments in order to help the project to succeed, and 3. the project team members themselves, performing assigned tasks in the best possible way through motivation, competences and interaction. The right mixture of people can be seen from various perspectives, one could be the mixture of competences available, e.g. in an investment project the mix of technical, commercial, legal and  / or social competences to realize the investment in the best possible way. Or it could be a team mixture of people with high motivation that keep the team spirit up, some others being selected due to specific competences needed to perform the project and finally, some people that are instrumental for the interactions in the team or from the team towards other parties. Additionally, a good mixture of people may also build on other criteria, such as age, gender, cultural background, personalities and disciplines. There is enough evidence through research that diversity of the team helps to be more innovative and to overcome challenging situations in projects. Thus, the focus of the project manager (together with the sponsor) should be on forming project teams with a mixture that allows the team to dynamically grow throughout the project lifecycle and successfully achieve what is expected from them.     


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Author of this post

Dr. Reinhard Wagner has been active for more than 35 years in the field of project-related leadership, in such diverse sectors as Automotive, Engineering, and Consultancy, as well as various not-for-profit organizations. As Managing Director of Tiba Managementberatung GmbH, a leading PM Consultancy in Munich/Germany, he supports executives of industrial clients in transforming their companies towards a project-oriented, adaptive and sustainably successful organization. He has published more than 40 books as well as several hundred articles and blog posts in the field of project management. In more than 20 years of voluntary engagement he served the German Project Management Association (GPM) as well as the IPMA in various roles and was granted for his international commitment with the Honorary Fellowship of IPMA and several of its member associations. He received his doctorate in the field of projectification of society and continues to be active in it through his research and lectures.