How to build a high performance team?

Today, we will talk about the subject of how to build a high performance team.

As project managers, the first problem which we have to face is that what kind of human resources we can acquire and how to use them. Besides, we also have to think about how to continuously improve project team’s performance and facilitate the team members to collaborate with each other. In fact, during the process of project, the main job of project manager would be dealing with various people rather than certain matters. Therefore, having a high performance project team is very important for succeeding the project.

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1. How to acquire human resources?

Today, I want to share a practical case which I have been through personally.

In 2015, I accepted a software development project as project manager. At that time the size of our company was relatively small. Although this project was one of the company’s strategic projects, but the resource and budget which can be used in the project was not much. Even worse, many critical resources were actually in public use, and overloaded. Besides, we did not have experience of similar development project. It was under these circumstances that my project was formally initiated.

The first problem which I had to solve was to acquire human resources and assemble a team.

Based on the corresponding project requirements, I categorized the required resources, and defined each category of the resource. After the human resources plan was fully developed, I presented the plan to relevant functional managers, then I encountered a problem. Because at that time many projects all needed a particular resource.

To be clear, when you were planning a new project which its final success remains unknown, the support form functional managers would be very limited. The main reason is that at that time the company was a weak-matrix organization, and in this kind of organization structure, the project managers had no direct control of human resources. The only thing we can do was to negotiate with the functional managers to ask for resources.

I did not give up. I again performed a very thorough analysis on the project, and I discovered that the project would actually be beneficial for each functional department.

First benefit, by performing the project, the deliverables of the project can actually be modularized and used in other similar software projects with little modification.

Second benefit, many newly employed resources of functional departments needed practical development experience. I could suggest a solution of a senior critical resource leading several new developers in my project for the software development. In this way, not only the project can be performed effectively, but also solve the problem of new resources’ career development.

With these two benefits, I again went to negotiate with the functional managers. This time, I’ve got the necessary resources for my project, but also got a bunch of junior resources with little project experience.

2. Some good practices of building a team

The next problem is how to use these resources effectively.

I firstly analyzed what each team member could do and what level of abilities they had. Then, using a similar past project as template, I defined each team member’s explicit responsibility.

In the project, four senior developers led four small teams to do works of four different technical area, respectively. Each team was in charge of a specific technical area. Each member’s character and responsibility was explicitly defined in the resource plan. In this way, every key resource was fully used and every member was doing what they did best in their own specialized technical area. Furthermore, because the usage of resources is nonlinear, we also defined when every member should participate in the project and when they were not needed and they could participate in other projects.

At last, because the project involved with a new technical area, I also invited some relevant technical specialists to train our team members in order to effectively perform the project work.

In the meantime, I hoped every senior developer could help those junior developers when they encounter obstacles and treat them as their own apprentices, in this way the technical ability of those junior developers would be improved significantly. Besides that, I also built a relatively detailed knowledge repository within the project. This repository could help all team members obtain relevant information and lesson learned rapidly and help with their future works.

Except for the things mentioned above, I also obtained a portion of the project budget for motivating the team member at the right moments. For example, when some member reached a milestone in advance of the project plan, I would use that money as bonus for the member; or after a main deliverable was delivered by the team, I would plan a party or a gathering to celebrate the event. In this way, the team was fully motivated and the team performance was constantly at high level.

At the end, the project was finished in time and all deliverables were accepted. The internal atmosphere of the team was specially good. Furthermore, all team members’ abilities were significantly improved by performing the project.

3. Key points of building a high performance team

Based on the upper case, there are several key points regarding building a high performance team.

First, both project manager and relevant functional managers should have a general common understanding of the project.

Project manager should firstly analyze the project requirements to understand what kind of resources is needed. Also, project manager should make the functional managers realize in what ways can the project bring benefits to the their departments and members. In this way, the acquirement of resources from functional departments would be smoother and easier.

Second, we have to allocate the resources as we see fit.

Project manager should allocate all human resources based on the information of organizational process assets, for instance, templates from past projects, and further develop a detailed resources plan as a guild for managing the team members.

Third, evaluate the team performance and motivate the team constantly.

Motivation and recognition for the team is necessary for building a high performance team.

Finally, but most importantly, value the power of knowledge.

If we want the team to improve their own abilities and to grow to be a high performance team,  learning from the past is essential. To achieve that, a detailed and active knowledge repository which can be accessed by all team members is needed.

In summary, this article demonstrates how to assemble a team at the initiation of a project, and how to build it to be high performance in process of the project.

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