Team Excellence and Project Success: A Toolkit

Anca Metiu, Professor of Management and Vice-Dean of the ESSEC PhD programme, draws on Parts 1 and 2 of her research article into team and project performance: an at-a-glance toolkit for project managers and team members.

From the research paper Task Bubbles, Artifacts, Shared Emotion, and Mutual Focus of Attention: A Comparative Study of the Micro-processes of Group Engagement by Anca Metiu and Nancy P. Rothbard.  

1. Macro-level factors for team and project success:

  • The necessary knowledge and skills for a team to do its job
  • Performance strategies that may include incentives or KPIs
  • Individual effort and motivation through: a shared vision, compelling sense of direction, effective coordination, specific goals, managing conflict, monitoring team progress.

2. Providing your team with project meaning, vision and ambition is essential:

It is the primer to help enhance mutual focus of attention, inspire and motivate people to work. It gives a team a collective goal that enables team members to proactively reach out to each other willingly and spontaneously in coordinated ways to solve problems.

3. Focusing on the team’s overall assignment does not necessarily ensure project success.

Also lend focus to the micro-level: the team’s capacity to solve problems related to the task at hand.

4. Project Managers tend to make two assumptions when beginning a project:

  • That team members are mutually focused on the task at hand
  • That the team will remain unchanged from beginning to end project.

Be aware that a) individual commitment may vary b) the likelihood that team members will be allocated to other projects and leave the team is strong.

5. Be aware that:

Work gets done by the team naturally splitting into temporary sub-groups that rapidly emerge and re-form according to the specific task/problem at hand.

6. Only people deeply involved in their individual tasks – liking what they do – can then start contributing to interacting.

7. Successful human interaction is characterized by:

Shared emotion, shared focus of attention, bodily presence and proximity, and the building of certain barriers to others outside the group who could potentially weaken this attention and emotion.

8. Fostering trust is an important factor in paving the way for solutions:

Project teams interacting with other experts within the same company will grant more trust than teams who are interacting and working with sub-contractors or external consultants.

9. Encourage sub-groups to work intensely together and frequently:

You have a greater chance of solving tasks/problems leading to successful project completion than whole teams having less frequent formal project team meetings. Formal meetings tend to discourage informal, frank and spontaneous dialogue.

10. Group interactions in which team members develop high levels of mutual focus of attention are characterised by three factors:

Task bubbles, use of task-related artefacts, and shared emotion (see below).

11. Encourage the use of “Task bubbles’:

Allow pairs or small sub-groups to work together to tackle problems and tasks in mutually focused attention. Allow them to ‘shut out the world’ while keeping the bubble semi-permeable in order to let additional, task-relevant team members enter the bubble to help. This helps to enhance and sustain mutual focus of attention.

12. Be aware that:

Task-related artefacts (tools and objects) encourage higher degrees of understanding and focus regardless of whether team members are working in physical proximity or remotely via Videocon. These ‘artefacts’ may include pens, marker pens, flip charts, pop-up messaging, shared computer screens, computer mouse, etc. In face-to-face situations, for example, interaction is encouraged by taking the object from one’s co-worker, rising to explain at the board; and in virtual working sessions using the cursor to point to something, or swapping suggestions using pop-up messaging. This creates a physical synchronicity of movement, as opposed to the outside world.

13. Sharing emotions encourages:

  • Finding solutions to a task
  • Creating a bond which makes it easier to trigger interaction in the future and sustain the mutual focus of attention during this interaction.

14. Share emotions and celebrate victories:

This boosts energy levels and enables continued effort. Sharing positive emotions in short bursts in an atmosphere of hard work enables others to feed off of them – carried by individuals to other encounters through a process of emotional contagion.

Additional learning content:

Watch Prof. Anca Metiu’s video: How to Manage a Virtual Team

Food for thought, matter for discussion

  • Think about past experience: which projects went askew and why? Which projects met with success and why?
  • If you are about to embark upon a project, what is the concrete aim of it? What wider purpose does it serve? What tangible milestones will the team be expected to achieve on the way to final completion and delivery?
  • What motivating “image” or metaphor can you give the project?
  • What is your team mix? What age, gender mix and skills mix? Are you working with internal team members or external consultants?
  • If the project involves external consultants, how can you foster trust?
  • How are project updates handled in your organisation? Can this be improved?
  • How can you ensure that team members have the possibility to form “task bubbles” on a regular basis?
  • Where and in what environments will the team be working? To what extent can you create dedicated “task bubble” areas? Where, ideally, would these be? What environment do you think would be beneficial to create maximum mutual focus of attention?
  • What “task artefacts” are required for your team members?
  • What “ice-breaking” initiatives can you set up?
  • What victories will you celebrate? How will you celebrate these? What “reward” will you give your team members (praise, remuneration, visibility, recognition, etc.)?
  • How can you visually ensure that milestones are achieved and victories celebrated (ex: wall-chart, blog, project website, posters, etc.)?

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