Sure, individuals make high quality decisions everyday in business but the truth of the matter is, the tasks related to these individual decisions are relatively simple1. The more complex the tasks, the greater the need for a team. With the potential of hundreds of thousands of dollars at stake in AV system projects, isn't it worth it to consider building a solid project management team?
Having a solid team allows the team leader to draw from a diverse area of experts, it opens up alternative suggestions that may not have been thought of before and allows for a systematic process of achieving specific goals. It should be noted, however, that just because a 'team' is assembled doesn't necessarily guarantee effective results. Often the result of 'throwing together' a team is the much maligned management by committee.
In order to gain a broader perspective of team processes we can consider four main aspects2 that have a considerable effect on team effectiveness.
1. Have a Rigorous Decision-Making Process - At the heart of any team is a solid decision making process. Without a systematic way of arriving at the best possible solution, the success of a team is dubious at best. Having a solid decision-making process also helps to avoid certain pitfalls that may side track a team. One common pitfall is the solution trap. It is human nature to want to provide an immediate solution to the problem at hand. Often times the first solution seems so reasonable that it gains favor with group members but this only exacerbates the situation and may lead to the team not considering better alternatives.
There are many wonderful decision making models that can cure the solution trap and they all minimally rely on problem identification, generating solutions (as in more than one), refining solutions and implementing solutions. One of my favorites is the PrOACT Approach as detailed in Smart Choices: A Practical Guide to Making Better Decisions.3
2. Observe and Analyze Participation - Who participates in the group? To what extent do they participate? Is it the same people every time? The goal here is to level the playing field of team member participation. This is easier said than done as cultural and gender differences can affect participation.4 How do we level the playing field? The first step is to observe your team and understanding how individuals in the group contribute. For example, one person may be assertive and direct while another reserved but detailed. The next step is to determine how wide the participation gaps are. There will always be some level of disparity but glaring discrepancies should tell you that you have some work to do. Finally, if needed, we can narrow the gaps by implementing a number of strategies. For example, the team leader may act as a mediator, so-to-speak, in order to make sure that all points of view are taken into account. Another idea is to provide a framework, such as Six Thinking Hats, that relies on input from a number of perspectives. If you have a pessimist on your team, great! give 'em the black hat of looking at a solution cautiously and defensively.
3. Influence - Participation relates to the level at which team members offer input, and influence describes the ability of team members to capture and engage fellow team members. While influence certainly is welcome we must not allow it to circumvent the process. In other words, consider the 'influencer's' opinion but don't allow it to exclude other opinions. One way to avoid over-influencing is to purposely comment on opinions that are being overlooked. This not only sends a message to the group that there is an even playing field but also allows all alternatives to be considered. As world chess champion Emanuel Lasker once said "when you see a good move, look for a better one."
4. Conflict Management - “A good manager doesn't try to eliminate conflict; he tries to keep it from wasting the energies of his people..." - Robert Townsend.
In order to build a cohesive team we must learn how to manage conflict. There are a number of excellent conflict management models available but you should choose one that leads to productive conflict 5. For more information see previous blog on Conflict Management Models
The goal of any project is to arrive at the best possible outcomes for a wide variety of decisions that have to be made. Considering these four concepts as it pertains to your team should provide the framework needed to reach these solutions.
1. David L. Bradford, "Building High-Performance Teams," The Portable MBA in Management. Allen R. Cohen (ed.), New York: Wiley. 1993: 38-70
2. The four concepts presented here are an adpatation based on Four Aspects of Team Process That Have a Profound Influence on Team Effectiveness as outlined in Harvard Business School: Organizational Behavior Cases, "A Note on Team Process," Effective Team Process, The McGraw-Hill Companies, October 4, 2001
3. John S. Hammond, Ralph L. Keeney, Howard Raiffa, "Eight Keys to Effective Decision Making, "Smart Choices: A Practical Guide to Making Better Decisions", Boston MA.: 1999: 6-7
4. Participation as outlined in Harvard Business School: Organizational Behavior Cases, "A Note on Team Process," Effective Team Process, The McGraw-Hill Companies, October 4, 2001
5. Folger, Poole & Stutman, Working Through Conflict - Strategies for Relationships, Groups and Organizations; 2005