Establishing a project team culture in a top down company can be difficult. This is certainly true if executives believe it is solely the project manager’s duty to develop the team using skills that work well with a top down, directive leadership style.

The reality is that teams don’t operate this way. They require group behavior norms and group process skills that lead to collaborative problem solving and planning that require more leadership skills than top-down direction.

How a Project Team Culture Works 

A project team culture requires interdependence that shows up as collaboration and cooperation on the team. Team members also operate with autonomy on the project tasks they perform.

Different team competencies are also involved. These systems include:

  • Project communications;
  • Team planning;
  • Conflict management;
  • Complex decision-making and problem solving;
  • Execution; and,
  • Expert facilitation skills on the part of the Project Manager.

It is a shift in leadership skills from top-down directives to a collaborative team culture framework.

For example, if behavior norms are not discussed and developed as a team, this affects the accountability and commitment of the team.  It also means the project team leader lacks the guiding commitments that keep human performance constructive and supportive during execution.

What conflict means to project team culture.

It is an unfortunate reality that many project teams do not make it through the predictable phase of team development that comes with conflict.  Why? In short, the team has not been given the chance to make team behavior norms and other agreements their own. When asked about the conflict project managers encounter from top down companies, Dianne Crampton emphasizes that,

“The skills required by Operational Project Managers often exist in tension between the traditional culture and the team culture. This is why group norm behavior building during the planning process and the forming stage of team development is so important.  It is critical for avoiding procedural conflict that can quickly flame into more difficult conflict that causes the project to fail.”

In short, creating and enforcing project team culture behavioral norms is directly linked to project success and the satisfaction of team members producing the work.  The absence of them results in sustained conflict or a higher probability of project failure.

If you find your company struggling with accountability and project execution, here are four additional insights on how to create a high performance project team culture.

Develop trust for a positive project team culture.

Above all else, encourage and build a project team culture of trust. This means involving everyone in planning decisions. Two people can draft planning documents but make sure the team weighs in and refines the documents. This way, team members make the decisions their own.

By building trust in one another, you reinforce the integrity of both the team and the individual. Without it, people do not feel safe to bring problems to light and do not believe they can rely on the people around them.

For example, the knowledge that a teammate or a leader will follow through on what they say they will do and strive to be consistent encourages others to place their confidence in them. This is a crucial first step towards creating a project team culture where employees work harmoniously and seamlessly together.

Clarify team beliefs and assumptions when building a positive project team culture.

Conflict begins when behaviors are assumed and not spoken. When team members begin unconsciously making assumptions or judgments about other’s behavior or intentions, teams fall apart and team members turn against each other.

Gather your team together and work on clarifying everyone’s expectations, viewpoints, and tasks. Not only does this provide a common starting point, but it also supports a healthy team culture for project success.

Support genuineness and transparency in building a positive project team culture.

On failing project teams, members live in fear of the unknown. Negative questions begin to haunt their thoughts.

  • Are team members happy with my work?
  • Are there changes I need to know about so my tasks are successful?
  • If I see something that could derail the project, who do I talk to about this and what is required of me to prove my case?
  • If there is a delay on the task ahead of me, what happens to my task schedule?
  • Will my direct supervisor free me up to work on the project team?
  • Will my work load double?

These are all questions that arise when transparency is absent. On project teams, it is deadly.

A project team culture that places a high value on genuineness eliminates these fears and replaces it with openness, sincerity, and respectfully frank and forthright communication. The unspoken attitude of every man for himself evaporates and instead brings to life a flourishing project team culture. 

Invest in team member project team culture training.

A project team consists of members who are unified in working toward a common goal. Everyone is involved from start to finish. This means team members are aware of the interdependence they share with one another.

If one person is off schedule, then everyone is off schedule. By making this critical point, team members realize they are empowered in their positions and that their actions directly correlate to the overall performance of the entire group.

Developing a thriving project team culture in a top down company is becoming more prevalent because of the efficiency and agility that smaller teams offer.  Dianne Crampton notes that,

“It isn’t uncommon now for organizations that have a more traditional, top down culture to develop project teams for complex problem-solving or innovation.”

As top down companies notice the positive impact effective project teams have on their business, more companies are joining this workplace revolution. Will yours be next?

Want more tips on how to create a project team culture in your top down company?

Check out the links below.

Copyright TIGERS Success Series, Inc. by staff writer, Izabela Zagorski
Project Team Culture

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