7 Habits of Effective Project Teams

Grace Windsor
By | Updated August 21, 2019 | 8 min read
Habits of Effective Project Teams

Team collaboration is part and parcel of work. According to a study in the Harvard Business Review, the time spent by managers and employees in collaborative activities has risen by over 50% in the past two decades.


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Studies show people working in teams are often more productive, are happier at work, and likely to achieve better results. Collaboration can drive competitiveness and business advantage.

Building a team that can successfully collaborate is not without challenges. It’s not enough to put a group of people together, call them a team, and hope for the best. You need to cultivate the right skills and habits to support collaboration.

Great teams are characterized by some common habits. Below are seven to develop when building your next project team.


7 Habits of Effective Project Teams

1. Clear Goals

Well-defined goals that are measurable, challenging, clearly communicated, and agreed by each member are key to success.

Goals help team members connect their work to the big picture, and can act as a beacon when an issue arises on the project. Teams who are motivated to complete a common goal often perform 5 times better than their counterparts.

To reach group consensus on the goal, host a workshop to discuss objectives, measures of success, and individual responsibilities.

Use a collaborative project management site and team meetings to continually reinforce the importance of the goal and how the team is progressing towards your destination. Understanding the positive impact of individual contributions can increase collaboration and communication.

In addition to setting a goal, commitment to your objective is also critical.

This is a team, not a committee with individual priorities and agendas. You need everyone to collaborate on time to make progress. Help team members to identify both their own goals for the coming months and how these goals link to the objectives of the project to increase motivation and commitment.

In this video, BrightWork CSA, Scott Footlik explains how to create a one-page plan to improve project team performance. The plan includes goals, tasks, and metrics of success in one easy-to-access file.



2. Psychological Safety

Wondering why some teams performed better than others, a research team at Google studied over 180 teams to figure out what made them tick. Psychological safety, a ‘‘shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking’’, emerged as a strong factor.

We all make mistakes or want to try something different from time-to-time, but if failure is viewed as a mistake, we will never try anything new. We need to embrace risks and mistakes to fall upward and become more resilient, as individuals and a team.

Some suggestions for developing psychological safety include feedback sessions, a focus on continual learning and improvement, and problem-solving.

Psychological safety also removes our ‘work face’ – the tendency to act like someone else at work – in favor of human interactions and honesty.

Empathy, sensitivity, emotion, active listening, complicated conversations; these expressions help to build trust and should not be neglected in a data-driven business environment.  Make time for small talk and off-site team lunches – it could make all the difference.


3. Roles and Responsibilities

Another finding from Google’s research is the value of clear roles and responsibilities. This is not just about getting stuff done; roles help to define how the team works together and ensures individual skills are fully utilized.

It’s also important to make sure everyone is sticking to their defined role; otherwise, you may have three people working on a similar task whilst another important activity is neglected.

Defining roles and responsibilities early on increases transparency and accountability as work progresses. No one should be thinking, ‘why is this person on the team?’ or ‘who is doing that task?’. The team knows they can rely on each other to get the work done.

A RACI matrix is a useful way to document roles and responsibilities with your team. RACI refers to:

  • Responsible –  the person will who complete the task.
  • Accountable – the individual who makes sure the work is completed.
  • Consulted – subject matter experts who provide the advice needed to complete the work.
  • Informed – anyone who needs to be kept up-to-date about the project.


RACI Matrix

Sample RACI Matrix


Other useful tools include the Project Team Wheel, Circle Dot Chart, and the Global Teams Map.

In her study of collective intelligence, Dr. Anita Williams Woolley recommends hiring a balanced team with neither very strong nor very weak performers to set egalitarian norms. She argues this approach will distribute work more equally so everyone feels engaged and involved.


4. Strong Leadership

Leadership is required at every stage of project management. To drive collaboration and performance, the project manager will need to:

  • Establish team norms
  • Create and share a compelling vision for the project
  • Decide goals
  • Delegate task to suitable team members
  • Communicate!
  • Manage conflict
  • Remove blockers
  • Celebrate success
  • Provide relevant training.



5. Communication

We all know that communication is the key to project success.

Let’s think about communication from another angle – who is talking.

Studies have shown that ‘equal conversational taking’ is a key habit of good teams. Even if the amount of conversation varies during the day, as long as everyone gets a chance to talk, teams tend to perform well.

Look for strong communicators and create a communication plan to support regular interaction via meetings, emails, feedback sessions, reports, and presentations. This advice also applies to virtual teams.

Dominant personalities and a fear of conflict can inhibit communication. If your team is silent or having one-sided conversations, you need to do something about it!

Consider the different communication styles of each team member to make communications more inclusive and establish meeting practices to give everyone a voice.


6. Team Emotional Intelligence

When looking at what makes teams successful, we tend to focus on individual attributes rather than how the team works together. However, organizations often find putting the best people on a team does not yield the desired outcomes, as the individuals simply can’t work together.

Emotional intelligence is a useful predictor of individual and team performance. Emotional intelligence refers to an individual’s ability to recognize their emotions and understand how these emotions impact on others.

Team emotional intelligence is the ability of a group to manage and harness emotions for positive outcomes.

In his 1998 book, Working with Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman noted that each of us only has part of the skills and knowledge we need to do our jobs. We have to collaborate with others to deliver results, which creates the need for emotionally intelligent teams.

These teams are defined by empathy, cooperation, strong relationships with other teams, and the ability to achieve ‘flow’.

Working on the emotional intelligence of the team leads to increased collaboration, problem-solving, confidence, and flexibility.


7.  Processes and Templates

Over time, effective teams identify best practices and approaches, leading to repeated and repeatable success. Processes and templates are a useful way to reach this point.

Firstly, they help your team deliver in an agreed way, which is understood by everyone. Secondly, having these elements in place means work can continue if someone leaves or joins the team. Finally, processes and templates increase the accountability of individual team members by creating a transparent approach to your project.

A collaborative project site is an ideal way to implement consistent processes and templates across your teams. With a tool such as BrightWork, team members can also track and report on their work, use forums to solve problems and build a knowledge base for future projects.



What to Do Next

Not sure if you need to consider working on these habits? Below are some common identifiers of dysfunctional teams. Is your team is falling into any of these traps?

  • Unclear goals or purpose.
  • Poor or unclear communication, for example, too much jargon.
  • Overly dominant personalities.
  • Fear of speaking up or challenging an idea.
  • People working on the same tasks, whilst other tasks are delayed.
  • Success is based on a mammoth, last-minute effort.
  • No reporting or progress reviews.
  • Low levels of engagement and interaction.


If you are wondering where to start with the advice in this article, begin with goals. Goals provide a clear purpose to your team, shaping the project, and individual roles and responsibility.  Providing this clarity to your team will elevate their performance.



Additional Resource

To help your team develop these effective habits, you need to pick the right team members and guide them through the five stages of team formation and cultivate effective team habits. Check out the below SlideShare for more tips and insights.



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Grace Windsor
Grace Windsor

Grace is a content creator within the marketing team at BrightWork. She loves creating actionable content in different formats to help others achieve more project success. Grace spent far too long at university studying English literature, which instilled a life-long love of learning and upskilling. In her free time, she enjoys a challenging session at the gym, tucking into a good book, and walking the beautiful Galway coastline with her dog.

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