We’ve all heard the saying, There’s no ‘I’ in ‘team.’
Everyone always nods when that phrase is uttered. There’s a great deal of emphasis on good teams. When companies have challenging issues to solve, they typically put together cross-functional teams with talented people. When a client hires us, we assemble a talented team and our client assembles a talented team to work with us. But do talented teams always equal success?
In my role at DemandGen, I’ve worked with many top teams across many organizations. And I have seen some of these teams fail, while others seem to succeed with ease. So, why do some teams succeed while others do not?
First, a disclaimer: most of the teams I work with do not really fail, but they also don’t always deliver on time, within budget, or to spec. In some cases, the project stalls until team dynamics are addressed and goal setting is redefined.
So, why do some teams jive while others just don’t work? Is it a matter of the project lead not managing the project appropriately? Is it team dynamics? Is it a lack of clarity?
To answer this, I did a little research. I came across a statistic that said 75% of all cross-functional teams are dysfunctional. If you just did a double take, you’re not alone. I had to read that stat twice because it doesn’t seem like 75% of all projects fail. After pondering this thought a bit, though, I think I may agree.
Dysfunction doesn’t necessarily equate to failure, but it does lead to things such as budget overages, scope creep, unmet expectations, and so on.
The study I mentioned above measured dysfunction as a failure to meet three of the following five areas:
- Finishing within budget
- Keeping to the designated timeline and schedule
- Meeting specifications
- Delivering on customer expectations
- Preserving alignment with corporate goals
As I reflect on the projects I have led or been a part of, it’s pretty easy to identify situations where dysfunction was present based on those criteria.
Going deeper, I wondered, What causes failure within those five areas? Or, a better question for me was, What creates success in these five areas and, in turn, successful teams? What are some of the commonalities among successful project teams?
Based on my experience, project teams that seem to deliver on projects without a hitch have several of the following characteristics:
- Senior-level sponsorship, involvement, and coaching — at the beginning, middle, and end of the project.
We often see teams that have senior sponsorship and an escalation path when it’s needed. It’s also quite common for senior sponsors to be present at project kickoffs and then disappear. It’s a whole different experience, however, when senior sponsors are invested and aligned and participate throughout the project. Successful teams have senior sponsors who are available for coaching, advisement, and decision-making on an ongoing basis.
- A core team of cross-functional leaders with a stake in the project.
In addition to senior-level sponsors, great project teams have a core team of cross-functional leaders who represent each functional area with a stake in the project. The core team has regular meetings and is also responsible for communicating project status to their respective teams, so consistent information is delivered across the organization.
- Properly allocated resources who work well with other team members — and, most importantly, are available.
Team members need to be able to work together, so fit is important. It is also important to assign resources with the appropriate skill set and level, and to shift resources early if a discrepancy is discovered. Lastly, resources must be available during the project. Far too often, schedules slip due to resource constraints because a resource isn’t 100% available when needed.
- Purpose-driven team with clear direction and understanding of defined scope.
All team members need to be clear on their roles and how they contribute to the overall project. They also need to understand the full scope of the project and which tasks they are accountable for. If clear direction is not provided, or confusion over roles or scope exists, then team members may pursue work or solutions that may not be fully aligned with the overall project direction. In other words, in the absence of clear direction, along with a plan and clearly defined tasks, team members will inevitably make assumptions about what needs to be done and by whom, which adds potential risk to project scope and deadlines.
- Consistent and clear communication, delivered early and often.
Teams that achieve results maintain open lines of communication, from the task-level resource to senior leadership. All parties know what is going on with the project, and status updates are regularly delivered to all team members. Project materials are housed in a central location, so if any team members miss a meeting they can easily catch up or follow along with the project.
Project plans are critical and should note if any tasks are added, changed, or stalled. This allows all team members to understand where a project may be at risk and to take action if deadlines are in jeopardy. We often estimate how long a task will take based on work we’ve done in the past, but an estimate is just that. What kills a project team’s momentum and ability to deliver in a timely manner is finding out at the eleventh hour that you can’t move forward until someone else completes a task. True status must be communicated — even if it’s not the status we’d like to see.
I am sure there are many other traits of successful teams that we could talk about, but for me the above ingredients have created some of the best project teams I’ve ever worked with. What’s your recipe for success?
Want to be successful together? Let’s get started!
Shauna Wager As Senior Client Engagement Manager, I work directly with DemandGen’s clients to understand their objectives, needs and challenges, and build and maintain relationships with key stakeholders across the organization. I help guide clients’ projects to successful completion, build client satisfaction and advocacy, identify opportunities among accounts and develop comprehensive account plans.