itmWEB Research

An itmWEB Classic Whitepaper

Critical Factors for Teamwork Success

Focus Area: Project Management for Systems Development

Author: Russ Finney

Year: 2001

Attitudes, goals, and teamwork can make a significant difference in the eventual success of a long, complex project. In many cases, a project team literally decides to succeed. Not through a genuine desire on the part of the team to be successful (all teams have this), but through the evolution of a shared attitude among the team members that the project will succeed no matter what. This attitude is both powerful and sustaining. Mary Kay Ash, founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics, stresses that "if you think you can, you can. And if you think you can't, you're right". Those teams that think they can, by actually visualizing the project at a successful state of completion, have created the frame of mind necessary to get them through the inevitable technical and business obstacles which crop up during every complex development effort. Those teams that think they can't, will be stopped dead by a seemingly nonpassable hurdle every time. This is simply the difference between doing difficult, creative thinking when it is necessary, or just conceding defeat because the solution will require too much effort.

In many other cases, a project team literally decides to fail. In their book Peopleware, Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister coined the term "teamacide" to describe this situation. The group literally makes a conscience decision (without really discussing it in the open) to cause the project to fail. It may be because of personal conflicts, or technical frustrations, or a lack of business client support. Whatever the source, the team undergoes an attitude shift, for the worse. This can be devastating to a project. Roger Allen Raby points out that "a bad attitude is the worst thing that can happen to a group of people. It's infectious." Once one person has developed a negative attitude, the other team members can also be exposed, and before long, one by one, everyone on the team catches varying degrees of the condition. The only truly effective antidote is the attitude of the team leader. He or she must remain disciplined and see the team through these dips in morale.

Setting Team Goals

The overriding goal of the team must be to achieve the underlying business purpose of the system. But getting to a successful completion can mean achieving numerous milestone goals along the way. The team must have a clear vision of each of these short-term milestone goals as well as their impact on the long term technical project business goal.

Edwin C. Bliss, in his book Doing it Now, reflects on the fact that "people who are really goal conscious don't spin their wheels. Their purpose is not to look and feel busy, but to achieve". This is a primary objective for the development manager to take to heart. Sometimes the best thing a project manager can do is to facilitation the setting of team goals and then just get out of the way! In order to accomplish this, the team as a whole must commit to objectives within the following four goal categories:

  • Time Goals
  • Quality Goals
  • Approach Goals
  • Technical Goals

Long Term Sustaining Power

Can a team work together over a long period consisting of months or even years and still remain energized and enthusiastic? Part of making this process successful is the way the team is able to move through the project team formation life-cycle:

Project Team Formation Lifecycle

Stage 1: Individual Identities

During the initial phases of the project, each team member must:

  • Discover individual and team goals
  • Understand accepted individual behavior
  • Establish a personal role on the team
  • Determine personal level of responsibility and accountability

Stage 2: Cluster Identities

During this next phase of the project, each team member concentrates on:

  • Forming alliances with other team members
  • Establishing lines of power and authority
  • Challenging assignment approach and validity
  • Maintaining decision making independence
  • Increasing/decreasing responsibility

Stage 3: Group Identities

During the next phase, the members of the team begin to:

  • Define acceptable group behavior
  • Create group standards
  • Set and support group goals
  • Form conflict resolution approaches
  • Compete with other groups
  • Share opinions and confidences
  • Move from individual successes to group successes

Stage 4: Team Identity

During this last phase (if the team can get this far), the real magic takes hold:

  • Individual identity fuses with team identity
  • Individuals strive to achieve team goals
  • The team follows optimal problem solving and decision making approaches
  • Team clusters move from inner-group competitiveness to full team cooperation
  • Everyone moves from individual and group successes to team success

The job of the team leader is to get the team members to successfully evolve through each successive phase of this lifecycle. This means that a sharp awareness of the state of the team must be maintained. In addition, the milestone and long term goals must be continuously be reviewed with the team as a whole. Progress must become the property of the group.