How to develop basic team rules?

Today, we will talk about the subject of how to develop good basic rules for a project team.

At the mention of team rules, most of the people, whether he’s a project manager or a team member, would certainly say: “Who doesn’t know how to develop a team rule? That’s the easiest job of team management!” Well, most of the people who say this kind of message thinks developing team rules as simple as this: develop the rules and the project plan, hold a team meeting and share the rules and plan, let the team know what they ought to do and when to do their project work, that’s it! This may seem very easy to do, but the fact is that it is not that simple as we imagine. In this article, we will share with you how to build effective team basic rules and how to practically execute the rules, through a practical case.


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1. A practical case


Here is the practical case which I have been through.

There was a project, of which the objective is to develop an information management system. There used to be a former project manager. After he resigned from the company, I took over the project and became the new project manager. The project team was consist of members of our company and the client’s company. At the time I was taking over the project, the project status was indeed really bad. The project was originally planned to be finished in six months, which means the project was already 4 months behind schedule and the promised delivery day had already passed. But we had not finished half of the project work.


In fact, just before I took charge of the project, a team member told me this: “You are now in serious trouble. The atmosphere of the entire project team is very bad, and the members from our own company are nearly standing against the ones from the client’s company. ” After half a month, I found that there was almost no trust between members of the two companies. They always blamed each other for almost any problem.


For example, in the signed contract between the two companies, it said the client’s company should assist in developing the test cases. The director of our test department thought that the members of the client’s company should help us develop some of the test cases, but the client’s company had a totally different understanding of the contract: they thought the assistance they should provide merely reviewed the test cases after members of our company develop the cases. There are many more issues like this.


After I found the problems, I went to communicate with the project management office (PMO) of our company regarding the project’s situation. From the PMO I gained more information about the situation and problems. After a detailed analysis, I thought of two main reasons which caused the situation.


First reason: at the beginning of the project, the former project manager merely defined the main responsibilities of the members from two companies, but he did not negotiate with the client’s company in detail regarding the way of collaboration, dealing conflicts, and the decision-making process, and so forth.


Second reason: during the execution of the project, when collaboration problems occurred, the former project manager merely solved the problem from the superficial perspective, but did not develop basic team rules for preventing future problems from happening.

In conclusion, both I and PMO office thought the root cause was that no detailed basic team rules had been developed, which led to the chaos of collaboration, and further led to the serious delay of the project.


2. Solutions


In order to fix the team problems, based on the situation PMO gave me the following suggestions:

  1. Develop the team charter in reference to the contents in PMBOK. In this step, the most important thing is to gain a common agreement of the team charter between our company and the client’s company. Since we are the first party of the contract, developing the charter was not that difficult.

  2. Set myself as an example, especially to the members of the client’s company. Being the project manager of the entire project, both teams of our company and the client’s company would take my actions as reference.

  3. Give formal criticism to the ones who broke the basic rules in the team charter, and give formal praise to the ones who did well following the rules.

  4. Create opportunities for team building activities, in order to increase team cohesiveness.

Back to the case above, let’s see how to resolve the problem in detail.

First, communicate with the internal and external stakeholders about the rules. I purposely invited the subproject manager of the client’s company to join the development of the team charter, considering he was in charge of his subproject team. During the development process, he and I reached a consensus on some team values and team rules.


Second, create an environment of team collaboration. That is to mobilize all team members to follow the team rules listed in the team charter. For this, I especially held a team meeting and invited the senior management of both companies to encourage all members. In the meeting, I read out the team charter to all people and explained to them what would happen if anyone broke the rules in the charter. During the meeting, the senior management of both companies was very supportive.


Third, manage and correct all behaviors which break the rules. If anyone broke the basic rules for the first time, I would just give him a formal verbal warning, and give him a chance to correct the behavior. But if someone broke the rules twice or caused some negative effect on the project, I would criticize him at the project meeting. It requires some skills to criticize team member, firstly as a project manager, I had to criticize myself for the lack of team management or not fully knowing what the team member’s expectation is, then gave suggestions to the rule broker not to do that again and gained consensus from him. Punishment would have to coexist with praise. For those who did well in following the team charter and doing their project work, I also had to give formal recognition in the project meeting, and send an email to the team member’s functional manager to let him know the fact that the member did something well.


In summary, this article gives a practical case of how to develop team charter and basic team rules to improve team collaboration and gives some suggestions based on practical team management experience.

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