To come together and perform as a single unit, a group must share a common understanding of what is a team, and the methods of how they will work together effectively. A team is not simply a team; there is no simple common characteristic that defines a team. Teams function differently from other teams, based on the nature of the work. Can you combine a sailor from a sailing team with a golfer from a golf team, would they share the same understanding of how a team achieves its goals?
Do the members work together, or individually to accomplish the goal? Are the engaged at the same time, place, with the same tools? Is a high degree of mutual awareness of the work of others part of how the team succeeds? Is the plan aligned to support members working with different roles and different expertise, where everyone must meet their responsibilities for the team to succeed? Individuals must have time to learn how they fit in the team model, and how their professional needs will be met through their involvement with the team.
When a group, a precursor to a team, meets for the first time, it is essential to facilitate a discussion on the meaning of teamwork, and the requirements of teamwork for the project at hand. The team must talk through the characteristics that are important to the activities that they will be performing. The team should define at the start a common understanding of cultural values, and group and individual behaviors that are best suited for the project. The team must create performance standards that will lead to a clear understanding of individual and collective accountability. This dialog will start the work of building a team with a deep sense of purpose and shared commitment to success.
The culture of the group is established during its first meeting, and is likely to continue throughout the project life cycle. It is vitally important to thoroughly prepare for the first group meeting. The PM should design and carefully stage a facilitated meeting with appropriate group activities, exercises, guest speakers, presentation content, and handouts that:
- Answer the important questions of why, who, what, purpose, challenges, importance, etc.
- Explicitly state the need for teamwork
- Convey a clear value system for the group to adopt (standards).
- Defines initial structures (norms) for the team to begin their work together with the understanding these may evolve as the team matures.
- Cleary define in context performance expectations that everyone will readily understand as both valuable to their individual goals and the success of the project (accountability).