Archive for the ‘NASA PM Challenge 2011’ Category

According to Charles J. Pellerin high-performance contexts for teams have the following characteristics:

  • Mutual respect, people feel valued
  • Reality-based optimism, commitment
  • People feel included, trustworthy
  • Clear organization, accountability

In his book How NASA Builds Teams: Mission Critical Soft Skills for Scientists, Engineers, and Project Teams. (2009, published by John Wiley:  Hoboken, NJ) Pellerin describes the underlying structure of this context.  Alas, where his book falls short is explaining how to create the right environment for teams to prosper, especially in a project environment.

It is great to work in performing teams.  It is indeed a wonderful experience when you see how team synergy effects help the team achieve extremely high level of productivity, quality and results AND have fun at the same time.  It is magic.  However, it takes more than the insight of the key characteristics of high-performance contexts for teams.  The following 5 principles help as a guidance to project success:

(1) You and your team have to build and follow a common project vision.  It drives the whole team.  It may be ambitious but feasible. It certainly motivates the whole team to commit all its energies to achieve it.

(2) A clear organization is a cornerstone of a functioning team.  It is a structure.  The juice is collaboration itself.  Hence, you have to nurture collaboration.  Actively involve the team to define the various roles and responsibilities, collaboration rules, align expectations, share motivations and drivers.  Give each team member to chance to buy in his or her own role as well as all the other roles in the team.  This defines accountability of the individual and the group.

(3) Promote performance on the individual and team level.  Creating the right environment for performance is great.  At the end of the day you and your team have to perform and deliver.

(4) Project environments change, as much and as often as project requirements.  Hence, cultivate reflection and learning in your team.  Don’t pretend that you can plan everything in its very detail.  You can’t.  Adapt and move ahead, keeping the project vision in mind, follow through.

(5) Last but not least, the best high-performance context for team is worthless if the team doesn’t deliver.  There is more to project success than results.  Still, results are what other people outside a project can and want to see.  Hence, ensure ongoing delivery of results.  Don’t wait until the end.  Instead, build in interim checkpoints, deliver results throughout the project.  Not only do you give the outside world a sign that you are making progress you also strengthen the morale of your team and hence the context for team performance.  This helps secure project success.


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History is in the making when you look to Egypt these days.  It is fascinating and scaring at the same time watching the Egyptian people demonstrating against the Mubarak regime, demanding “their” leader to step down. – This is not the place to comment on this political development as interesting as it is.  Instead I want to gear our attention to Mubarak himself and the lack of true, tranformational leadership he exercises.  AsKatherin Tyler Scott points out in her recent commentary in the Washington Post “President Mubarak has used his position to exercise authority, not leadership. His establishment and maintenance of control over his followers rather than control with them has resulted in an environment of fear and anger ripe for the unbridled expression of rage and violence.”

How often do we experience such “leadership” in project situations?  Way too often, at least this is my observation.  True project leadership is not based external power, force, status.  True leadership is based on the trust of and by the team.  As little or as much as project managers strive for control, the most important foundation of control a project manager can and should seek is the team itself. It is not the single project manager running a project.  The team realizes the project.  The project manager is and should behave and act as a member of the team.  Corollary, if you don’t have a
functioning team you are acting without a foundation of control.Teambuilding helps establish a foundation of control. Hence,effective project leadership always involves teambuilding.  The project manager is nothing without the trust of his or her team.  It  may have the authority to control over its team, but not with its team.  This has nothing to do with leadership, this is the abuse of power.  Project leadership requires a functioning team, it calls for team building to ensure project success.  This starts with the insight that a project manager first and foremost is always a team member, too.

More on this in my upcoming lecture at the 8th NASA Project Management Challenge in Long Beach, CA, USA, Feb 9-10, 2011

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We all need and thrive for successful projects.  But what does it take to get there?  There is no doubt that good project management is a critical success factor.  But is it really sufficient?  I don’t think so.  Instead, effective project management needs to have a solid foundation in project leadership AND team work.  It takes a performing team to run a project successfully.  And it takes effective leadership to empower the team to do so.  This is why team building is a decisive factor for project success.

Based on my own experience I have identified 5 team leadership principles that build a foundation for effective team building.  They include

  1. building a common project vision,
  2. nurturing team collaboration,
  3. cultivating team performance,
  4. promoting team learning,
  5. ensuring team delivery.

These 5 principles encompass the core of effective leadership in a team.

In my upcoming lecture at the 8th NASA Project Management Challenge in Long Beach, CA, USA, Feb 9-10, 2011 I will present these 5 principles of effective project leadership and show how they can help build and manage a performing and winning team.  – See you in Long Beach!

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