How to Build High Performing Project Team

Paul Naybour

What is a high performing project team and how does it differ from a regular team? All managers recognize a high performing team when they see one. They are the people who can take a project and run with it, requiring little intervention from superiors before bringing the project to a successful conclusion. Unlike typical teams, the high performance team resolves its own conflicts through effective interpersonal communication. The high performing team is also centered on its purpose; individual members subordinate themselves to the task at hand. While the high performing team has a chair, every team member assumes shared responsibility for the successful completion of each project. Such a team is not dependent upon a single strong personality to pull the team along.
Developing a high performing team requires deep understanding of individual employee strengths and weaknesses. Each role on the team must be cast with a person well suited to the role, just as a movie producer must cast the right actors and a coach must have the right athletes in each position. It can be helpful to have an outside consultant help with the initial building of teams. An outsider may see things that managers miss in the daily grind. For example, a consultant may discover hidden treasures in employees who have been “flying under the radar” or anticipate problems with certain combinations of people before mistakes are made.
What are the advantages of taking extra time and effort to develop high performing project teams? Once superstar teams are in place, they are an enduring asset to the company—a form of intellectual capital. Well-chosen teams will improve with time and experience, with each team developing expertise with particular types of projects. Having several high performing teams in a firm means there is always a place to send the next big project. From the perspective of the individual employee, there is increased job satisfaction from being part of a successful team. Employees who have been cast in a role that uses their individual creative talents and temperamental strengths are in a position to improve their individual performance as well as that of their teams.
One disadvantage of creating high performing teams is the danger of assembling a team so autonomous it might lose touch and diverge from the larger company vision. Managers must be sure to stay in touch with the teams in their areas of responsibility. While high performing teams probably do not need much direct help with projects, they do need to know why the project is important to the company and how their projects fit into the firm’s overall mission. This disadvantage is largely avoidable and should not dissuade anyone from creating a high performing project team.

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