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FMI Quarterly/March 2014/March 1, 2014

Leverage Individuals to Maximize Team Performance

workingplans18_imageAs you assemble your teams for projects and internal company initiatives, take the time to think of the unique traits and skills of each individual team member.

It is 7:00 a.m. A project manager sits at her desk contemplating the status of two of her larger construction projects. One of the projects is ahead of schedule and under budget. The subcontractors are engaged partners, the client is a raving fan, and her team is working seamlessly day in and day out, achieving great things under challenging circumstances.

The other project has become the bane of her existence. The project is four weeks behind schedule, and the latest cost to complete indicates she is $212,000 over budget. The client is constantly emailing and calling her and riding the field team. Her team is turning on her and each other instead of focusing on the clients’ needs and developing and implementing solutions. The subcontractors are unresponsive and question everything they are told.

This is not the first time this project manager has struggled to keep her projects on track. Project management is a science and an art. Even the best project managers, who carefully plan, organize and control their projects, can find themselves leading a poorly performing team. So why does this happen, and what can be done to get a derailed team back on track or keep a team from ever getting off track? In this article, we will explore why teams are important, the challenges with managing teams and the significance of understanding individuals. We will also explore some tools and approaches to help leverage individuals to maximize team success.

DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION ARE A TEAM SPORT

More than ever, designing and constructing 21st century infrastructure and buildings are a team sport. With multiple disciplines involved in the planning, permitting, design, construction, start-up, commissioning and servicing of infrastructure and buildings, it takes hundreds, if not thousands, of people working together to turn a concept into a reality.

More and more projects involve forming joint ventures among two or more firms. The strength and functionality of the relationships between the joint venture partners and their combined team of professionals is paramount in achieving project success. Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) is another delivery method for completing design and construction projects, involving multiple stakeholders including the owner. Realizing the benefits of IPD is hugely dependent on the ability to maintain a high-performing team throughout the project life cycle.

No matter the size of the project or the delivery method, executives and managers need to be flexible and able to assemble and lead teams of people with diverse skills, backgrounds, values, work styles, etc. Often teams comprising “People Like Us” (PLUs), meaning a homogenous group with little to no variation, frequently struggle to understand a problem broadly and develop creative solutions. Homogenous groups tend to have less conflict and fewer differences of opinion, which sometimes allows them to come to a decision and complete tasks faster. However, conflict and differences of opinion can be good when you are trying to be innovative and creative in solving problems. The management “magic” is in getting the most out of everyone on your team.

Bruce Tuckman (Tuckman, 1965) introduced his “Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing” model of group development (see Exhibit 1). In the forming phase, the team forms and establishes roles, responsibilities and processes. In the second phase, storming, the team is challenged to determine how decisions are made, establish the priorities of the group and solidify intrateam relationships. In phase three, norming, the team has clear roles and responsibilities, is committed to accomplishing the goals set and starts to work well together. Finally, in the performing phase, the team is performing well with little to no oversight.

It all sounds so easy; however, we know from experience, getting your team, no matter how small or large, from ‘forming’ to ‘performing’ at a high level takes a lot of finesse and skill.

2014q1_leverage_individuals_ex1

CHALLENGES WITH TEAMS

During the past 60 years, FMI Corporation has worked with the leadership and management of thousands of engineering and construction companies to help them work effectively as teams. In addition, we have worked with project teams on partnering engagements for major infrastructure and building projects throughout the United States. Through our experience to build effective teams, we have observed the following recurring challenges.

No clear leader. Especially in the forming stage, it is important for teams to have a clear leader. Without leadership early to set the foundation for success, teams struggle.

No clear mission or goals. Even with an effective leader, a team needs to understand its mission and goals. With knowledge of what the team is setting out to achieve come great power and results.

No clear structure or roles. Every member of the team needs to understand his or her specific role and responsibilities to complete the goals and achieve the mission of the project. In fact, team members should understand the overall team structure and everyone’s role on the project so that they can understand how they need to interrelate throughout the project life cycle.

No work plan, schedule or budget. Just as the playbook is important to a football team, a work plan, schedule and budget are essential to project teams. Without a work plan, schedule and budget, how do our team members identify tasks to complete and keep track and keep score of how they and the team are proceeding?

Poor communication. Actually, poor communication is the root of all evil. Time and time again, this is the biggest fatal flaw with failing teams. What? Why? When? How? and To Whom? are important considerations in communicating. Good team leaders communicate the right things at the right time in the right way to the right people to keep team morale high and the team on track.

No contact with the client or stakeholders. Without regular contact with the client and other project stakeholders, it is possible to lose focus on their needs and expectations. Always consider the clients as an integral part of your team and keep them in the loop.

Blind to intergenerational dynamics. Many companies today have three, sometimes four, generations of employees on the job. Baby boomers do not think, work or communicate the same way as Millennials. In assembling and leading teams, intergenerational dynamics must be considered and respected in order to maintain communication and harmony among the team.

Poor conflict management/resolution. Conflict happens on every job and within every company. How people deal with conflict and resolve the issues is what matters. Unrecognized and unresolved conflict can be a cancer to a team.

At the root of all of the challenges listed above are people, each with his or her unique characteristics, attitudes, behaviors, skills, etc. Effective teams embrace the uniqueness of each person and create a force-multiplier by leveraging the distinctive skills and characteristics of individuals to maximize team performance.

THERE IS NO ‘I’ IN TEAM, BUT THERE IS AN ‘I’ IN INDIVIDUAL

We have all heard “there is no ‘I’ in team” from coaches or team leaders at some point in our lives. This saying rings true. There is no place for selfishness and overpowering egos on a successful team. Team leaders and team members need to work together toward a common goal to achieve results. Understanding the individuals who comprise a team and working to put people in positions where they can grow and succeed are paramount in creating a team dynamic that is productive, enjoyable and maintainable.

The following are some of the individual factors to which managers must be sensitive as they assemble and lead teams.

Worldview. Worldview is the fundamental way in which we view the world and create order in our lives. Each individual’s worldview informs our values and attitudes, which in turn influence our behaviors and skills. Our worldview is at the core of who we are and how we interrelate as leaders and members of teams.

Technical and job skills. Each of us brings our own set of technical and job skills to our organizations and to teams. Typically, these areas are better-known and recognized in our companies; however, it starts with self-awareness. Are we honest with ourselves about the areas in which we excel and those with which we struggle?

Natural abilities. Extensive research has concluded that each human being is born with a range of unique abilities. These natural abilities form the foundation for the skills we will develop in life and bring to the workplace. Understanding what we are naturally good at and what areas may present challenges for us is an important part of self-awareness in our lives and careers.

Emotional Intelligence (EI). Generally, emotional intelligence is a person’s ability to identify, assess and control the emotions of oneself, of others and of groups. Daniel Goleman’s EI model comprises five areas of skills: self-awareness, self-regulation, social skill, empathy and motivation.1 People with midto high-EI have been shown to be more adept at leading teams, embracing the uniqueness of team members and knowing what to do to make teams of diverse people work effectively together.

Personality types. There has been much research, and there are many different assessment tools (discussed later in this article) for evaluating and categorizing people’s personalities. Most of them look at combinations of how an individual interacts with others, makes decisions, reacts under stress, prefers to learn, etc. It is useful to understand the personality types of the people with whom you work. Armed with an understanding of the personality types of your team members, you can tailor the way you communicate with and present information to them to ensure they understand.

With a grasp of the innate skills a person brings to the team and what makes each individual tick, team leaders and participants have a higher likelihood of success achieving their shared goals. The important thing is to use these insights to improve communication, increase clarity and understanding of roles and responsibilities, and maximize the effectiveness of the team working toward accomplishing the task(s) at hand.

ASSESSMENT TOOLS — UNDERSTAND INDIVIDUALS TO FOSTER HIGH-PERFORMING TEAMS

Most of us who have applied for positions in new companies or even made lateral or advanced movements in our current organizations have been asked to take some type of personality test. Companies have been using screening surveys for a number of years to narrow the pool of applicants to a select few who fit the position applied for or even the culture of the company. Many have heard of assessments such as DiSC and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), but the field of personality and skill profiling has grown to hundreds of tools that are used in small, medium and large organizations across the world.

The idea of using the information in these assessments to manage and lead, and even to create teams, has been less commonplace. The traditional and newer assessment vendors are now seeing the opportunity to capitalize on the informal use of personality profiles in managing teams by creating offerings specifically for team management. The DiSC profile offers the Team Dimensions Profile, which identifies how team members fit into the “Five Roles of a Team: Creators, Advancers, Refiners, Executors and Flexors.” The MBTI offers a workshop format for leading teams as well as frameworks for coaching and its own flavor of reports to support team management and development. Newer and perhaps lesser-known tools, such as Personalysis and the Hogan Assessment, have their own deliverables for getting the most out of your team by understanding how the individuals in a team interact with and react to the other personalities in the team.

FMI Corporation has used many of these tools over the years, and recently began using an assessment called the ProScan survey and the associated TeamScan reports to support training, executive coaching and consulting engagements. It makes sense that greater understanding of the participants in a class or involved in a consulting engagement allows us to uncover and meet more unique needs.

Individual ProScan and comprehensive TeamScan reports, coupled with industry understanding, enable personalized support for client-specific initiatives, such as succession planning, organizational development or employee retention.

ProScan is a nonthreatening, quick, easy and reliable survey tool that measures combinations of specific traits, ultimately providing a snapshot of what makes a person tick. The tool measures the Basic/Natural Self (who a person is with no pressures or stresses), the Priority Environments (the environments that may be causing pressure and stress) and the Outward Self (who a person is portraying him or herself as to others). Working from these strengths, as identified through the survey, the results identify motivators and show how environmental factors affect stress, energy and satisfaction levels.

The core metrics of the survey tool measure four cornerstone behavioral traits: dominance, extroversion, pace and conformity. It also measures the individual’s decision-making style, levels of energy and stress measurements. The benefits of the ProScan data are two-fold: enabling an individual to better understand oneself as well as providing an understanding of the people around him or her and how they are wired, their current levels of energy and stress, and what things will (or will not) motivate them. Team members not only see how remarkably the results align with their perceptions of themselves, but also begin to understand the effect those results may have on how they interact with their bosses, their peers and those who report directly to them.

Based on the information taken from ProScan surveys, TeamScan allows a manager to quickly and effectively understand the people on his or her team or work group and manage them based on the needs of the organization and the capabilities of the individuals. A battery of TeamScan reports can support the supervisor of a team as well as the members of teams themselves to understand each other better, leading to improved ability to communicate, cooperate and collaborate. TeamScan measures and defines the team’s culture, while strengthening interpersonal understanding and appreciation. In the context of managing a team for success, the TeamScan offers a multitude of suggestions and discussion topics that specifically address the participants of that team.

CONCLUSION — MAXIMIZING TEAM PERFORMANCE

Around 8:00 a.m., our project manager heads to her boss’s office to discuss why she thinks her underperforming team is struggling and to present her action plan for “righting the ship.” In discussing the situation with her boss, she realizes the root of the problem. The project manager inherited this project when another project manager was terminated. She never took the time like she had on her other highly successful projects to get to know the members of her team and allow them to know her. She had not revisited the overall mission and goals of the project with the team or effectively communicated how the team would work together (with its subcontractors and the client) to meet the quality, schedule and budget requirements of the project. She had not evaluated whether the roles and responsibilities of the team members aligned with each of their skills sets. She had launched into managing — planning, organizing and controlling — instead of leading, setting direction, understanding and aligning resources, and motivating and inspiring her team.

The action plan she and her boss developed included:

  • Reviewing the individual assessments on file for each key member of her team and evaluating them as a team.
  • Meeting individually with all 20 key members to get to know them better, discuss their roles and responsibilities on the project and get their input on how to get things back on track.
  • Scheduling a team reset meeting to communicate clearly the recovery plan for the project, including revised schedule, labor plan and budget.
  • Holding regular team-building events during the remaining 14 months of the project duration.
  • Communicating more frequently and openly with the client and subcontractors.
  • Conducting weekly visits to the field, including attending the daily huddle, to ensure the project is on track and to illustrate to the team her level of engagement.

Teamwork is how we deliver design and construction projects to our clients. As you assemble your teams for projects and internal company initiatives, take the time to think of the unique traits and skills of each individual team member and how to leverage those unique elements to ensure that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.


Matt Marshall is a business developer director at FMI Corporation. He can be reached at 303.398.7289 or via email at mmarshall@fminet.com. Shirley Ramos is a training consultant at FMI. She can be reached at 303.398.7213 or via email at sramos@fminet.com.

1 Goleman, D. (1998.) What Makes A Leader? Harvard Business Review.

 

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