Plenty for Everybody – Project Team Success Depends on it

Andrew Cox asked:

Project team success depends on a number of variables, but the one that shows up as most important involves the willingness of team members to collaborate. And collaboration requires a belief that there is plenty for everybody. And it’s tough to spot as the reason a highly qualified, highly resourced, experienced, interdisciplinary team just did not click.

A story to illustrate, followed by eight recommendations for project team selection and success.

A client asked me to work with a team that just didn’t meet expectations. A critical project, lots of resources, clearly defined roles, clearly stated objectives, experienced people that could see the problem from many sides, more than enough time and money resources and top management visibility; this team had it all. And yet, output just didn’t meet what was expected – the team members agreed expectations were high, but achievable.

So what was the problem? In many of these kinds of situations there are any number of factors that can lead to poor performance. But lack of collaboration and sharing is always at or near the top. In this case, it was the single over-arching reason for the lack of performance. In this team of six high achievers were two that had been highly successful as individual contributors, but had little experience – or interest – in working in a collaborative setting. Their input was critical to the team, but they were reluctant to provide much, unless they received credit and recognition for their individual contributions. The other four members of the team were used to sharing, had been successful at it, and assumed all team members shared that value. Wrong. These two highly successful individual contributors saw the others as competitors – competitors for credit, recognition, rewards.

They really didn’t believe there was enough for everybody. And because of that belief, there wasn’t. Every member of the team ended up keeping their cards and self interest close to their vests, and little information and sharing occurred. Little leverage.

It only takes one or two negatively competitive types on any team to really screw it up. That had happened with this team.

I’d like to report that the two “not enough for everybody’s” were turned around.. They weren’t. They were released from the team and replaced by two people with the ability to collaborate and share – and the team ended up meeting expectations.

The belief that there is plenty for everybody is the cornerstone to collaboration and sharing. With the belief that there is plenty for everybody, there will be! Without it, there never can be enough. It’s the difference between a glass half full or half empty. It’s the difference between optimism and pessimism. It’s the difference between sharing and hoarding.

So what to look for in project team members to ensure that collaboration and open communication will occur?

1 – It goes without saying that experience, education, industry experience, technical skills, are all critical – I don’t care how collaborative and sharing someone may be – or how much they may believe there is plenty for everybody – if they aren’t perceived as bringing “chops’ to the table, they can’t contribute, and the seeds of discontent may be sowed among the other members.

2 – Look for people who are successful and collaborative not only in their work, but outside their work as well. Collaboration skills can be learned, but instinctive collaboration and sharing provide a huge head start. There is no better way to build collaboration skills than to work on volunteer committees, boards, church groups, non profit organizations.

3 – Remember there is no “I” in “We.” Look for how accomplishments sre described. Does the person refer only to themself, or are they generous in their recognition of the contributions of others.

4 – In describing accomplishments, spend time getting to the need for sharing and collaboration in their accomplishment. Are they aware of the contribution of others. Do they seek out individual contributor roles or roles requiring group skills and abilities?

5 – Get an example of when they were a good follower – what does that mean to them? How did they perceive their own performance in supporting roles to others? Have they demonstrated the willingness and ability to follow someone else, and be supportive?

6 – Look for people who participate in collaborative and team sports or activities – where the group is dependent upon each othet for success. This does not mean golfers and tennis players and skiers don’t make good collaborative teammates, but basketball, football, baseball and softball team membership provide more chances for supportive and sharing behavior.

7 – Look for “givers” – people who contribute without calculation of immediate reward. An example of this quality is the mentor who gives to others without expecting promotion, publicity or a raise in pay.

8 – And once the selections for the team are made, institute a group recognition and reward structure – give the team credit and recognition. Picking out team members for special recognition is OK if something unique happens, but too much of that behavior can breed competition in the team – and that kind of competition reduces sharing and collaboration.

Look at your own beliefs and the beliefs of your organizations. If you see “me” behaviors – and you will, work to establish the belief that there is plenty for everybody.

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