A Quick Guide to Project Teams: Types and Benefits
For many, myself included, being part of a team and all that comes with it – collaboration, problem-solving, healthy conflict, help, learning, fun – influence how happy we are at work.
As noted in Collaborative Project Management: A Handbook and other studies, modern work is increasingly more team-based with up to 75% of an employee’s spent communicating with colleagues. Successful organizations invest in teams, putting the optimal mix of people together in the right environment and creating support structures to help them excel.
In this article, I’m going to explore different types of teams, and the advantages and disadvantages of teamwork.
What is a Team?
A team is defined as ‘any group of people organized to work together interdependently and cooperatively to accomplish a purpose or a goal’. Shared responsibility for a common goal defines successful teams.
Teams create a framework to help individuals easily work together, improving decision-making, problem-solving, and organizational agility.
Generally, teams of five to seven people perform well; bigger teams should be divided into smaller sub-teams.
6 Benefits of Teamwork
Projects deliver the innovations groups need to progress and projects are best delivered in a collaborative fashion with the entire team. Below are some benefits associated with successful teamwork.
- Balanced Skillset: A well-balanced team amplifies individual strengths, balances weaknesses, and taps into the varying expertise of each team member. In short, the sum is greater than the parts, helping individuals achieve more collaboratively than they could alone.
- Agility: By focusing on common goals and capitalizing on individual strengths, teams can improve organizational agility and efficiencies. Team members can also be cross-trained in several roles, increasing workplace flexibility.
- Continuous Feedback and Improvement: Individuals who work alone receive less feedback and input from their co-workers, which limits opportunities for growth and improvement.
- Shared Workload: Unexpected absences or departures from the team can quickly derail any project plan. Regular meetings, reports, documentation, and a collaborative project site help to keep everyone in the loop and ready to pick up extra work if needed.
- Engagement: Employee retention and engagement is becoming an increasing challenge for organizations, which in turn, affects project delivery. Team members who are committed to a goal, understand their role in achieving that goal and have a say in how the team works are often more engaged and motivated.
- Different Perspectives: We all need help seeing the world differently from time to time. Teams benefit from healthy conflict and sharing diverse ideas.
4 Pitfalls to Avoid When Working in a Team
As collaborative teams deliver more projects, organizations are encountering some challenges and obstacles. These include:
- Personality type: For some people, such as introverts, working in a team is quite challenging and draining. By contrast, extroverts gain more energy by interacting with others. If a project manager does not take personality types or working styles into account when creating a team, they may find themselves in charge of a dysfunctional group, constantly at loggerheads.
- Impaired Decision-Making: Teams are subject to numerous cognitive biases which impact on effective decision-making. These include groupthink (focusing on harmony and consensus instead of what is best for the team); sharedness bias (relying on the team for all information), and preference bias (privileging the opinions and solutions suggested by the team over other options).
- Time-constraints: Building an effective team takes time and effort, which is not always available to project teams.
- Performance Management: Shared responsibility and collaboration makes it difficult to evaluate individual contributions. This can lead to dissatisfaction amongst team members, who may feel they deserved more recognition for their work. Recent studies indicate collaboration can demotivate top-performers as they feel they are carrying the team and often have to settle for ‘mediocre’ work.
Types of Project Teams
If, like me, you are an accidental project manager, you will probably be part of a core team such as marketing or finance, and join temporary project teams as needed. To help you navigate these experiences, it’s useful to understand different types of teams and their purpose.
4 Types of Project Teams
A project team can take several forms, depending on the required deliverables and organizational structure.
1. Cross-Functional Teams
A cross-functional team comprises of individuals from different departments who are brought together to solve a particular problem in a set timeframe. The team can consist of full-time and part-time team members with different roles and responsibilities. Once the project is completed, the team is disbanded, freeing up resources for other projects.
2. Matrix Teams
If an individual reports to a different manager for different aspects of their work, they are part of a matrix or ‘two-boss’ team. This structure is quite challenging for employees, often leading to conflicting decisions and confusion.
3. Contract Teams
In certain instances, you may need to outsource part of the project work to external vendors. The project manager is responsible for ensuring external vendors deliver as expected.
4. Virtual Teams
Global Workplace Analytics estimates that around 3.7 million employees (2.8% of the workforce) work from home at least half the time, a number likely to rise as more companies introduce flexible working arrangements. Heavily reliant upon online collaboration tools, virtual teams are characterized by:
- When people work, for example, different shifts or time zones.
- Where people work, including at home or shared working spaces.
- How people work, which depends on cultural, political, social, and economic factors.
Other Types of Teams
Functional/Cross Department Teams
A functional team is a permanent team formed from individuals within the same work area or department. The team carries out routine work throughout the year, for example, human resource management, customer analysis, and continuous improvement, and typically report to one manager.
The work conducted by functional teams supports other teams within the organization; they also work with other departments on projects as needed.
Growing in popularity, self-managing teams have no manager or hierarchal structure. Instead, the team create their own norms and decide how to achieve agreed goals together. Whilst some research shows self-managing teams experience higher levels of engagement and job satisfaction, there is no evidence that they are more productive or effective.
Consisting of managers from differing departments, leadership teams play a key role in guiding strategic business decisions.
These teams are formed by employees with common interests such as implementing energy-saving initiatives.
Building an Effective Project Team
Project managers are often responsible for creating their own teams. Here are a few questions you may find helpful when building your next all-star team!
- What is the goal of the project?
- How many people do you need?
- What key skills and competencies do you need on the team?
- Is there a formal resource allocation process in place for requesting new team members?
- Will you need to recruit any external team members on either a temporary or permanent basis?
- Can team members work remotely?