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Creating high-performance contexts for teams


According to Charles J. Pellerin high-performance contexts for teams have the following characteristics:

  • Mutual respect, people feel valued
  • Reality-based optimism, commitment
  • People feel included, trustworthy
  • Clear organization, accountability

In his book How NASA Builds Teams: Mission Critical Soft Skills for Scientists, Engineers, and Project Teams. (2009, published by John Wiley:  Hoboken, NJ) Pellerin describes the underlying structure of this context.  Alas, where his book falls short is explaining how to create the right environment for teams to prosper, especially in a project environment.

It is great to work in performing teams.  It is indeed a wonderful experience when you see how team synergy effects help the team achieve extremely high level of productivity, quality and results AND have fun at the same time.  It is magic.  However, it takes more than the insight of the key characteristics of high-performance contexts for teams.  The following 5 principles help as a guidance to project success:

(1) You and your team have to build and follow a common project vision.  It drives the whole team.  It may be ambitious but feasible. It certainly motivates the whole team to commit all its energies to achieve it.

(2) A clear organization is a cornerstone of a functioning team.  It is a structure.  The juice is collaboration itself.  Hence, you have to nurture collaboration.  Actively involve the team to define the various roles and responsibilities, collaboration rules, align expectations, share motivations and drivers.  Give each team member to chance to buy in his or her own role as well as all the other roles in the team.  This defines accountability of the individual and the group.

(3) Promote performance on the individual and team level.  Creating the right environment for performance is great.  At the end of the day you and your team have to perform and deliver.

(4) Project environments change, as much and as often as project requirements.  Hence, cultivate reflection and learning in your team.  Don’t pretend that you can plan everything in its very detail.  You can’t.  Adapt and move ahead, keeping the project vision in mind, follow through.

(5) Last but not least, the best high-performance context for team is worthless if the team doesn’t deliver.  There is more to project success than results.  Still, results are what other people outside a project can and want to see.  Hence, ensure ongoing delivery of results.  Don’t wait until the end.  Instead, build in interim checkpoints, deliver results throughout the project.  Not only do you give the outside world a sign that you are making progress you also strengthen the morale of your team and hence the context for team performance.  This helps secure project success.

Posted in: Empowerment, Leadership, NASA PM Challenge 2011, Project Management

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