April 21, 2014
Biz Books

Keys to building a project management team

"A Team of Leaders: Empowering Every Member to Take Ownership, Demonstrate Initiative, and Deliver Results" by Paul Gustavson and Stewart Liff (AMACOM, $26.95).

If you've ever managed a project team, you know that a breakdown in teamwork causes delays and affects results. The authors' "Five-Stage Team Development Model" shows a manager, as coach, how to meld team members disparate skills into a self-managed team of leaders, and how the coaching role changes as the team evolves from stage to stage.

Stage 1: When the team forms, initial communication focuses on manager-to-member. The manager establishes objectives and establishes what, when and how. He/she asks for feedback to ensure understanding. At this foundational stage, the coach owns the results.

Stage 2: Employees begin to interact as they establish team processes and understand their various roles in them. With processes and roles OK'd by the coach, individuals begin taking responsibility for actions and results. They communicate with each other to ensure their action plans synch. The coach uses his/her experience as a guiding hand that helps connect team members to a sense of common purpose.

Stage 3: The coach encourages individuals to "step up" and take ownership of what, when and how within the context of process improvement. As they get to know each other's skills and perspectives, team members become teammates. They identify those who can assist with various tasks.

Stage 4: When teammates see colleagues stepping up, they step up, too. At team meetings, all share knowledge — which increases team effectiveness. They review the team's performance internally. When issues arise, they see them as team issues — and deal with them on that basis. Teammates develop a broader skill base. The coach's role becomes more "encourager" and less "hands on."

Stage 5: The team sets s-t-r-e-t-c-h performance goals as it seeks to optimize results. It integrates best practices with continuous improvement. The team shares knowledge with other teams. The coach focuses on developing resources to support the team.

The five-stage model benefits team members and the firm as they move to other teams because their involvement in a high-functioning team will: 1. Get them to step up early on; and 2. Help their new team launch and learn quickly.

• • •

"Moments of Impact: How to Design Strategic Conversations that Accelerate Change" by Chris Ertel and Lisa Kay Solomon (Simon and Schuster, $28).

"At the corporate level, company leaders tend to set broad direction and then expect to deal with shifting menu issues of issues…." Dealing with those issues (i.e. strategy and tactics execution) in a business world changing in dog-years means "making more decisions under uncertain conditions and with limited guidance."

The authors' solution: Quickly engage the right people with divergent perspectives in the strategy-creation process. They're not talking about a typical meeting where people present their "conclusion-driven" presentations. They want a meeting where provocative questions tee up a serious discussion of opportunities, obstacles and options. The back-and-forth discussion doesn't tolerate "Yes, but…" comments. "Yes, and…" propels discussion because it gets people really thinking about why and how.

The authors have distilled the real-business examples they cite into a 60-page, "Moments of Impact Starter Kit" that can be used to prepare the management team for asking and answering the tough, strategic questions. It can also be used as a framework for teams at various levels to design better processes. It frames discussion context around five questions: "What is our winning aspiration?" "What customers will we serve?" "How will we deliver a unique value proposition to the market?" "What capabilities must be in place." "What management systems are required?'

The bottom line: "Today, more than ever, strategy is the conversation."n

Jim Pawlak is a nationally syndicated book reviewer.

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