Five must have habits of effective project teams

Tony Llewellyn

For construction to move forward it needs to embrace behavioural change. Behavioural  coach Tony Llewellyn reveals why some project teams click and others don't, as explored at a recent event put on by specialist risk management and collaboration consultant ResoLex.

These are the habits project teams need to build on to be more effective:

1. Realism

Consider “slowing down to speed up”. This translates as planning well in the early phases of the project to ensure a fast and successful delivery. Make a conscious effort to assess the project environment including the procurement method, team familiarity, client experience, organisational culture and project complexity. This includes finding out whether team members have worked together beforehand and already have established working relationships, and whether the team has delivered a project of this nature before.

2. Set up for collaborative behaviours

Establish a collaborative environment from the outset by clearly defining the vision/purpose of the project, roles and responsibilities and rules of engagement. The vision will dictate a clear understanding as to what is to be achieved and why, and ensure clarity around who in the team is responsible for doing what. This will ensure every person feels included in decision making and is fully engaged with the project. Another key task in project set up is to evaluate your stakeholder management plan to ensure you engage with all those individuals or groups who have an interest in the project.

3. Crucial conversations 

As in leadership expert Stephen R Covey’s words: ‘First seek to understand, then be understood’. 

Ask insightful questions and actually listen to the responses. The forum of this engagement is also important. For instance, monthly team meetings are not always the most appropriate arena to create a safe space for individuals to raise concerns about the direction of the project. A confidential, structured listening mechanism to capture the data on a regular basis may prove useful in this situation. For example, an anonymous online questionnaire system such as ResoLex’s RADAR allows team members to open up about their experiences on the project without judgement. This then acts as an effective horizon scanning tool to ensure any difficult issues are documented and can be tackled quickly.

4. Build resilience

Building team resilience starts with managing pressures across the board and ensuring we have mechanisms for dealing with conflict resolution.  This involves scanning the horizon so as that there are no surprises: Are we looking to see what is going on around us? Do you know the strengths and weaknesses on your project? Resilience on projects is aided by asking the questions and getting the answers before it is too late.

5. Continuous learning

Adopt a learning cycle of plan-action-review-reflect. Traditionally, the construction industry has been known to skip the planning and reflecting phases and instead only focus on a brief action and review. Without planning or reflecting, a blame culture can develop where poor actions/results are attributed to a singled out individual in the team. It is important to reflect on what other factors (ie lack of communication in the team) may have triggered an outcome, so we can learn from our mistakes and improve for the future.  A tool such as RADAR allows for this continuous learning cycle by providing the crucial feedback information needed to make the relevant improvements that will achieve successful project delivery.

Project management models matter too. Transactional relationships are of short term benefit, with a low level of trust and low recognition of relationships, whilst collaborative relationships operate on a high recognition of relationships and are prepared to trust others. Totally transactional can lead to a dysfunctional working groups which ignores ambiguity and uncertainly, whereas a completely collaborative team leads to a high performance team that is comfortable with issues that may arise and can look for solutions.

It is apparent that a paradigm shift is required to coach teams to move from a ‘transactional’ to a ‘collaborative’ approach of team working, particularly in the construction industry. To effect change, client leadership is required. There is not enough time spent on educating clients in creating ownership and developing commitment of individuals. Too often there is a ‘conspiracy of optimism’ where projects plunge ahead with everybody believing ‘it will be fine’. However, poor planning and such a transactional mindframe will cost money, time and your sanity! Horizon scanning tools such as RADAR promote a collaborative environment where all voices are heard, and is an easy way to find out what is coming over the horizon at your project, before issues escalate.


Tony Llewllyn is a former quantity surveyor turned behvoural coach and author of soon to be published book "Performance coaching on complex projects". He was speaking at a roundtable put on by specialist consultant in risk management and collaboration ResoLex. www.resolex.com