The thought of "team building" often creates very diverse reactions from project team members. Many people enjoy the potential for increased camaraderie and getting to know more about their peers.The astute project manager can prevent such negative reactions by NOT holding team building sessions. Rather than a team building session, the effective project manager takes advantage of every opportunity the team gets together to develop team synergy - a "stealth" approach to team building.
The problem with team building sessions, and their sometimes well deserved bad reputation, is the artificial scenarios that are created to try and bring team members closer together. These artificial scenarios often work temporarily, but is usually so far removed from the issues facing the average project team that any goodwill falls by the wayside when the real project issues "hit the fan." Effective team building comes when a project team is given the opportunity to understand each member's style, approaches and capabilities in the work scenarios the project team faces on a day-to-day basis.
The kick-off meeting is the first and arguably the most important opportunity for team building. Many project managers who add specific team building activities to the agenda find many key stakeholders running for the hills when the time comes to execute those items. These opponents of team building may find or purposefully schedule meetings that overlap the team building portions of the kick-off.
One way to combat this problem is to schedule a "problem solving session" as part of the kick-off meeting and have a facilitator manage that agenda item. The facilitator can present an issue to be resolved or a significant risk to be avoided, and then manage the meeting in such a way that each stakeholder gets to present their approach to solving the problem. This allows the team members to get to see, first hand, each others style, experiences and approaches. This knowledge - packaged as experience in solving real-world project problems - can be significant in helping a team to work together more effectively.
Building communication norms
Another straightforward way to realise team building without holding a team-building session is to collect as a project team and discuss communication norms. Each individual on the team is likely to have slightly different communication habits. Some will check e-mail frequently while checking voicemail only once a day. Some will do just the opposite. Others still will have a very different approach, going to great pains to make face-to-face contact to avoid voicemail and e-mail altogether.
Project managers can gain significant efficiencies when decision-making processes - especially with senior leaders - are discussed and documented early in the project life cycle. Similar team-building benefits are gained as discussed above in the derivation of communication norms. The additional knowledge gained as stakeholders express their desired decision making approaches can lead to significant leaps in building an effective and efficient project team. The senior leaders' approach to sharing problem and resolution information with others (i.e. their desire to be part of a discussion to examine options for solving an issue or reviewing a solution that you have selected from a myriad of options) can give a team significant insight as to the methods and expectations of sponsors and other key stakeholders.
Requirements gathering and prioritisation session
Effective project teams not only work well amongst themselves, but they have a positive and interactive relationship with the customer communities they serve. Including critical customer personnel in the communication and decision making meetings discussed above will enhance the project team's ability to respond to customer needs, and give them insights to the customer's issues that the project teams' deliverable can relieve. In addition to this, including interactive meetings as part of the requirements gathering, prioritisation and validation processes can be extraordinarily valuable. In addition, it can provide significant understanding of the business issues driving the requirements. So, rather than just engaging in an exchange of requirements documents, make the requirements collection process more interactive.
Informal project reviews