Project Practitioners > Creating New Team Connections

Creating New Team Connections

By Jeff Richardson

TerrifiedResist the urge to “get right to work” when bringing new team members together to launch a new project.  As the project manager, you’ve already gotten a head start by working for days, weeks or even months to build the business case and initiate the team’s kickoff.  I’m constantly amazed at how haphazard the process for assigning project team member is at successful tech companies.  So often engineers or support staff showing up at a kickoff session with no information about what’s going on or why they are here.  Individuals coming together during this “forming” stage of team development1 may seem enthusiastic about this new project opportunity (some, maybe not), but inside their brains are trying to figure out a few things that will determine how safe the environment is.  Physical dangers may not exist, but emotional safety is still in doubt.   Despite all the changes that have happened in the past millennium, evolution hasn’t caught up to the human brain. 

There is a struggling going on inside each member’s mind that will determine the success of your project whether or not you realize or acknowledge it.  Key questions have to be answered to maintain a positive mindset and prevent the emotional brain (aka ‘the limbic brain’) from diverting energy away from the thinking brain (aka ‘pre-frontal cortex’) …
  • Can these other people be trusted? All same
  • What’s my role on the team?  
  • How are decisions going to be made?
  • Who’s REALLY in charge?
  • Will my ideas and opinions be valued?

Getting to know the other people in the room puts the brain at ease.  Seeing the strengths and experiences your team members bring will increase optimism that the project can be successful. Finding areas of common interest is one of the primary objectives of this step.  We tend to like people who are ‘like me’, so relationships build faster when we discover shared interests, work style,  history and even hobbies.  I like to start off with a large group activity that makes it fun to meet many of the new faces in the room (or online).  Diving in a bit deeper can be done in pairs where lots of conversations are going on and individuals get comfortable about sharing info in a more intimate arrangement.  Provide time to write down some ideas can also be helpful for the introverts in the room before sharing a summary with the larger group so that everyone gets a chance to share what’s most important with the rest of the members.

HelloBuilding trust in cross-cultural teams is essential, so invest time right up front to get introduced and set the expectation that relationships are important to our project team’s success. This is even more important when you have a distributed team with team members in locations around the globe.  Face to face gatherings may not always be possible, but there is always time and technology solutions to make a personal connection early on.  This will pay dividends of increased participation during meetings early on that come in the form of more creative solution strategies, identification of potential risks and active involvement in resolving conflicts when to start to arise. Continue the getting-to-know-you process throughout the course of the project startup so that key relationships can develop. 

Not all comments are posted. Posted comments are subject to editing for clarity and length.

I can't agree more with the points you have highlighted.

I have first hand experience where a large cross-cultural team whom had worked well together thru multiple hurdles and which almost unraveled entirely. The project went 'red' when the original project manager who was provided another opportunity he could not pass up was replaced with another project manager.
If the 2nd project manager had simply introduced himself to the team,if he became even slightly familiar with the current team members capabilities the project would not have suffered. Since he didn't know the resources, team members did not trust him, they had no idea about his expectations. Team members sought project work else where.
The project went red.
The 2nd project manager had to then scramble to fix resourcing issues and to replace the ones he drove away. This all may have been diverted if he had taken the time to introduce himself to the team and tried to gain trust from the original team members the first day on the project.

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