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There's no 'I' in Team

It’s a funny old game, football. Two teams of 11 players try to guide a ball into an opposing team’s net. Two teams. Although it’s a team sport, it is plagued with individualism; the Ballon D’or is an award ceremony wherein the grand prize is the announcement of the world’s ‘best’ footballer and not the team of the year! The great debate of the last five years or so, was in relation to the world’s best player: Messi or Ronaldo? In turn, this superseded the question of the previous five years: who’s the best coach: Mourinho or Guardiola? Which superseded Lampard or Gerrard? Pele or Maradona? If football is a team sport, why is there less debate about the greatest team of all time?

 

“A team is a group of people working together in collaboration or cooperation towards a common goal.”
APM BoK, p118.

 

The theory is clear; a cohesive unit can achieve more together than they would as a group of disparate individuals. In project management however, team cohesion is not an automatic right. Projects use temporary organisational structures with staff who might not have worked together previously or have a limited understanding of the skills or working practices of their colleagues. Within the PMI’s Project Management Professional® certification, Project Managers can counter this by understanding the theory behind Tuckman’s Team Development Model (PMBOK Guide Seventh Edition, 2020) so that they may recognise the phases emerging teams pass through in order to better enable team growth. The PMI also encourage the use of Team Agreements, which define the working practices and behaviours by which the team wish to abide. By defining these agreements at the beginning of a project, its members already have a stake in the team’s cohesion, to which they have actively contributed.

 

From the perspective of the APM’s Project Management Qualification, a keen focus is placed on the impact of leadership on team performance and motivation by referencing classic motivational theory such as Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ and Herzberg’s ‘Two Factor Theory’. Whilst the uncertainty of project achievement can been seen as a threat to project cohesion, these models could instead leverage this uncertainty and encourage team cohesion by fulfilling the needs Maslow defined as ‘Social’ (belonging to a group with a common cause), ‘Self-esteem’ (the recognition the team will receive by delivering a unique outcome that doesn’t already exist within the organisation) and ‘Self-actualisation’ (project management is great for the team’s career development).

 

Within the APMG’s Agile Project Management certification, teamwork is a central theme of two of the subject’s principles (‘Collaborate’ and ‘Communicate continuously and clearly’) but it’s also an Instrumental Success Factor; in order for a team to be at its most effective, it should be empowered (trusted by the Project Manager to deliver the right solution), stable (swapping out team members can disrupt the unity and work rate of the team) and of a suitable size (between 5-9 people). The Agile Project Manager certification also preaches self-management; by regulating and managing their own performance, the PM has one less duty about which to worry.

 

Other benefits of cohesive teams include:

  • Acting as a creative catalyst by bouncing ideas off one another to find innovative solutions to problems
  • Unified teams support and encourage each other, which allows for a greater understanding of the risks being taken and encourages the exploration of new avenues
  • Working environments that are pleasant and free from abrasive personalities create lower turnover rates and recruitment costs
  • This in turn enhances the competence level of an organisation and assists in the retention of organisational knowledge.

 

In addition to this, cohesive project teams exhibit greater levels of productivity. In other words, they are more likely to deliver success. So, to conclude in footballing terms, a metric of cohesion could be trophies won; this would mean Real Madrid are the greatest in terms of European cups or Manchester United are the greatest English League champions of all time. However, as this is my article, the correct answer is Liverpool Football Club. 

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