Groups and teamwork
Groups and teamwork

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Groups and teamwork

4.4.2 Relationship-oriented behaviours

Managing and coordinating work

Once the project work begins, the project manager's job is to manage the work, and coordinate the efforts of different team members and different bodies within the organisation, in order to achieve the project's objectives.

Managing change

Few projects, if any, work out exactly as they were initially planned. Problems arise that require changes to plans. These may be short term (e.g. delaying a particular task because a necessary material or resource is not available at the right time). They may also be long term (e.g. the users or clients may learn more about the product they will be receiving at the end of the project, or the regulatory, legislative or financial climate in which the project operates may change during the execution of the project). Unless someone – normally the project manager – institutes a formal way of noting, estimating and carrying out approved changes (change control) the project can deteriorate into chaos.

Managing inter-group relationships

No team operates within a vacuum. Teams inevitably have relations with individuals or groups outside the team. The degree to which teams or groups are dependent on each other for achieving their goals has an impact on the potential for competition and conflict. Occasionally, there is no dependency – e.g. where independent branches or subsidiary companies contribute their results to a central pool – and the likelihood of conflict is quite low. The potential for conflict is higher where there is one-way or 'sequential' dependence. Here, one group is dependent on the output of the group which precedes it; without that output, the group cannot move forward. (This is a form of inter-group dependency which is typically found in production processes.) There is an even greater potential for conflict in situations of 'reciprocal' dependence, where all teams are dependent on the others for successful planning and execution of complex activities. (This is particularly common among management groups and teams.)

Dependence and the potential for conflict in inter-team relationships may well serve to reinforce groupthink, resulting in stereotypes which are stable and resistant to change. Handling such tendencies can be hard for team leaders who, in inter-team situations, find themselves having to manage the interface between their own team and others. As well as all the internal team roles they have to coordinate, they also have to act as external advocate, negotiator and representative. In a sense, they have to look two ways at once – to the interests and concerns of their own team and to those of the other teams. It is not uncommon for team leaders to experience this as a source of role conflict and ambiguity. 'Whose side are you on?' or 'Where do your loyalties really lie?' are the sorts of questions leaders may well encounter in the area of inter-team relationships.

Achieving mutually beneficial and sustainable arrangements between groups often calls for an element of bargaining, compromise or trade-off. To what extent are all the members of our own team obliged to adopt a common front in relationships with other teams? Just as there is a complex pattern of formal and informal relationships and communications within a team, so there are a variety of forms of communication between teams. How do we deal with the fact that the formally-agreed procedures for inter-team working may be at odds with some of the informal relationships between different groups and individuals across team boundaries? Handling such external demands and relationships cannot be divorced from our involvement in internal teambuilding; how we cope with such issues will inevitably impinge on internal team dynamics and processes.

Managing external boundaries

Of course, a team may successfully resolve its own internal conflicts and work in relative harmony with other departmental groups, yet still be frustrated in achieving its objectives due to a wider ethos in the organisation or external environment which militates against teamworking. Even the most lively and enterprising teams will eventually wilt if the soil of the wider organisation does not nourish a teamworking approach through its recruitment, induction, development and reward systems.

A team cannot normally control the culture of its organisation, but there remain two important external boundaries that effective teams can manage. One is the team's sponsor – the person to whom the team is accountable for its output – and the other is the external environment. An example of what can happen if sponsor expectations are ignored is described in Box 3.1.

Box 3.1 Managing sponsor expectations

If a gap emerges between what the sponsor expects and what the team expects, then problems can arise. The gap can appear for a variety of different reasons, such as the desire of the team to go its own way. It may emerge, however, as an accidental by-product of a different set of intentions. In the case of one of our clients, the head office had asked a Project Team to deliver results on an innovative and high profile project, in a very short space of time. In briefing the Project Team, they had also managed to convey to them that they could do pretty much what they liked as long as they produced the results. The Project Team, perhaps alarmed at the seriousness of the directive but also hearing correctly the underlying message about the importance of the project, acted accordingly. It started to borrow resources and spend unauthorised budgets in order to get the job done; both parties ended up bewildered and frustrated. The head office sponsors reacted badly because they claimed that they had never given their express permission for some of the spending and what they saw as the commandeering of resources. With equal indignation the Project Team claimed that it had responded very responsibly by making every effort to ensure that it delivered the end product.

(Chaudhry-Lawton et al., 1992, pp. 290–1)

Chaudhry-Lawton et al. (1992) go on to describe some troubleshooting techniques to avoid problems arising from mismanagement of external boundaries. Team members need to have and use knowledge of changing situations and pressures both inside and outside the team. These may be related to social, environmental, financial or business changes that directly or indirectly affect the team's area of work. This might require the naturally curious 'resource investigators' on the team to be encouraged to scan the environment on behalf of the team. Key skills here are questioning, networking, connecting seemingly unrelated data, political sensitivity and the ability to interpret the strategic intention of your own and other organisations. In many respects the skills required for managing external boundaries are those of analysis and judgement rather than practical performance. Team development depends on successfully spotting straws in the wind which may signal major shifts and new trends. There is an important role for a judicious mixture of opportunism and informed hunches. Your value to your team will not just rest on your rational capabilities and the sensitivity of your practice; it will be enhanced by an ability to 'read the situation', look afresh at routine information and make creative use of internal and external opportunities and potential. Like many facets of the management role, really effective teambuilding – even the analysis of external trends – is more of an art than a science.

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