The Dynamics of Project Team Management: Practical Guidelines For Success

11. 22. 2019

The goal of this paper is to take a broad look at the conceptual and practical dimensions of team management within the larger context of project integration management. The author’s burden is to enlighten (with a view to arousing the interest of) both project team managers and their team members, on the need for the development of team management skills - as being one of the essential project management competencies.

This presentation is necessitated by the fact that consistent observations and the literature has shown that there are yawning gaps among practitioners, in both the awareness of effective project management standards, and the possession of and the application of essential competencies, including, of course, project team management skills, among practitioners globally, resulting in project failures or abandonments at all conceivable levels.

According to the Project Management Institute (PMI, 2000), “Project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques, to project activities to meet the project requirements.” Drawing from the foregoing definition, scholars have seen that project management is to a great extent, people management; people management, because, the duty and responsibility of overseeing the project stages, falls upon the shoulders of the project manager, who, in turn, gets the task done through the project team. Newton (2016) writes that “There is nothing more important to the success of a project than the people who make up the project team. Without good people – who possess the knowledge, experience, and motivation to get the job done – all of your other planning will be quickly wasted.”

The author adds that project management “is managing people, who will do the work of the project.” Put another way, project management is teamwork, in which, the project manager also wears the cap of a team leader or manager. Hence, project management and project team management are so interwoven, and almost functionally synonymous. Succinctly said, the project manager serves the same role as the project team manager. Nonetheless, the project team management functions can be located as a subset of project integration management, of which, the earlier skill, is one of the essential competencies for the latter. This is so because, in the course of his/her project management functions, the project manager operates as the project team’s facilitator, hands-on-trainer, guidance, communicator, motivator, morale builder, observer, mentor, delegator, overseer, coach, appraiser, developer, etc. Thus, before one can become an effective team leader, one must first become a thoroughly bred project manager. There is, therefore, no gainsaying that project success or failure, hinges heavily on the project team manager’s professional knowledge, personal and performance competencies. By extension, since the project manager does not work alone, it means that he/she has the responsibility of reproducing these competencies in the team members, through professional and practical development strategies. Hence, the success or failure of any project depends to a large extent, on the development and application of standard project management competencies, which include at the core, the ability to walk the project team through - from project conceptions to conclusions. Again, since project failure is not the direct opposite of project success, there is the added need to identify the factors that lead to project failures, for the purpose of addressing, or at least, minimizing them via project manager competency development; on the other hand, there is a need to identify the factors that help project success, with a view to inculcating them into project management professional development programs.

Reasons for Project Failures

Monumental accounts gleaned from both the literature and general observations have shown that project failure is commonplace. Many reasons have been adduced for this ugly experience which affects both developed and developing countries alike. All the causes of failure have been largely found to be rooted in a lack of project-manager competencies, as the literature reveals.

Reasons for Project Success

Among numerous commentators on the factors leading to project success, is Rockart (1979), who corroborated the need for enhanced competency of the project managers by upholding his 8 Critical Success Factors in Project Management: these factors, to a great deal, emphasize the need for developing team management skills.
Since the place of team management skills for project success cannot be overemphasized, the researcher has explored the available literature with a view to exposing the project team managers and their team members to the team dynamics
and practical guidelines for success.


Available resources have provided much data on the concepts, principles, and practical guidelines for successful project team management. Therefore, the researcher has reviewed and presented resources on the subject matter under the following outlines within the space available: The Concepts of Team and Teamwork; Team Building Defined; Essential Stages of Team Development; Steps in Building a Collaborative Team Environment; Suggestions for Handling the Newly Formed Team; Team Building as an On-Going Process; Major Barriers to Project Team Development; Overcoming Team Building Barriers; and Tips for Managing Difficult Team Members.

The Concepts of Team and Teamwork
Team Defined 

The team concept has been variously defined in the literature. Generally, a team is seen as a group of people, or things working together for a common goal. This generic definition accords with the English Language Learner’s Dictionary which defines it as a group of people who compete in a sport, game, etc., against another group; a group of people who work together; a group of animals used to pull a wagon, cart, etc. However, since we are concerned with a sort of work team, the foregoing definition is quite applicable to the work environment. Newton (2015) defines a work team as a “group of people who share a common understanding of their mission and work together to accomplish it.” Further to this, given that a project is not the same as normal day-to-day work, we may define a project team as being differentiated from an ordinary work team - as a group of people working together on a given project. Bearing in mind the temporary nature of projects and hence, project teams, a project team is one whose members usually belong to different sub-groups or sub-teams with their various functions assigned and supervised by the project manager. This implies an element of teamwork, since all team members or sub-teams, though assigned differently, are working towards one goal.

What Then is Teamwork?

Teamwork implies unity of purpose; the creation of a synergistic environment whereby team members contribute efforts and skills towards the achievement of a common goal. Hence, teamwork is an inevitable factor for successful project delivery. Accordingly therefore, Jamaledine (2018) describes teamwork as a term used for joining the efforts of members in a project or business together to achieve a common goal. The ProofHub (2017) adds that the French language describes it as esprit de corps, meaning a sense of commonality among team members in such a way that inspires enthusiasm, devotedness, and a strong commitment to the group. Carnegie (2016) basically describes teamwork as the ability to work together with a common vision that directs individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives, thus, fuelling the achievement of extraordinary results.

Reasons Why Teamwork Matters

Given the inevitability of teamwork, many reasons exist as to why project team leaders and their members should ensure the creation and sustenance of the spirit. The literature have offered many reasons why teamwork is critically needed, which project managers ought to do well to observe. ProofHub (2017) captures most of the literary opinions in the following six reasons why teamwork is essential:

1. Teamwork Unifies the Workplace Environment by creating familiarity, understanding, friendship, family togetherness, a supportive work environment that encourages hard work and selflessness that is devoid of grudge and egotism.

2. Teamwork Promotes Workplace Synergy that allows team members to work together in an interactive, cooperative manner that creates a result far better and more satisfying than individuals working alone.

3. Teamwork Makes Way for Flourishment of Ideas that allows for creativity, thus helping both personal and corporate fulfillments’.

4. Teamwork ensures the successful completion of projects. This is simply logical given that project work calls for a synergistic approach for there to be a success. Hence, team members working together are better than one working alone.

5. Teamwork promotes delegation of responsibility. Given that teamwork is about working together to accomplish a common task, one can effectively delegate responsibility among the team members. This not only helps to lessen the workload but also contributes in developing accountability in team members; it also prepares every member of a team to be clear about what is expected of them, thus propelling them to perform with dedication and responsibility for their work.

6. Teamwork leads to improved productivity and efficiency through a shared community of brotherhood that fosters morale-boosting and loyalty. Newton (2015) summarizes the above viewpoints by writing that teams bring several benefits to organizations, including greater levels and depth of expertise; more productivity; ability to deliver large projects successfully; and a workplace community a brotherhood that boosts morale. In the light of the foregoing, effective team management is critical for any project's success. It behooves us at this stage therefore to explore the dynamics of team building and management.

What is Team Management?

The ability to manage a team is highly critical for successful teamwork. This entails the skills of team coordination, communication, objective setting, and performance appraisals. Hence, team building and management have received elaborate attention in both project management and other literature. Accordingly, the Business Dictionary defines team Management as the “ability of an individual or an organization to administer and coordinate a group of individuals to perform a task.” Agreeably, helpful team building and management approaches have been developed by both individual and organizational experts. Some of these are included below as they are believed to highly beneficial for the project managers’ consideration.

Team Building Defined

Simply put, teambuilding is the tactical process of group formation and blending of individual personalities, efforts, relationships, and abilities towards a common goal. It is perhaps, the most critical skill required by project managers for project success. Hence, keen attention should be paid to the dynamics of team building and the proven practical guidelines which have been offered by experts as given below. Starting with, among many other experts, Wilemon and Thamhain (1983) define team building as the “process of taking a collection of individuals with different needs, backgrounds, and expertise and transforming them by various methods into an integrated, effective work unit.” In this transformation process, the authors say, “the goals and energies of individual contributors merge and support the objectives of the team.”

Essential Stages of Team Development

Building a team takes time and effort. Much of the team building theories in the literature have been based on academic research that is rooted in psychology and sociology. Newton (2015) writes that these team building theories began with the work of Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920). Building on Wundt’s work, Kurt Lewin (1890-1947) coined the phrase “group dynamics” to describe the positive and negative forces within groups of people; and by 1945, he established The Group Dynamics Research Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was the first institute ever devoted to the study of group dynamics and how they could be applied to real-world experience. Ever since studies have been extended into how group performances could be improved upon in the workplace. Newton (2015) further writes that one of the most influential researchers in the area is Bruce Tuckman (1965), who proposed the four-stage model called, Tuckman’s Stages for a Group’, which states that the ideal group decision-making the process should occur in the following four stages of team formation, namely - Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing. Some scholars have expanded the stages to 5, by including Adjourning. Below, therefore, is the 5-stage model as commonly expressed in most literature.

Five Essential Stages of Team Development

The following are the five developmental stages of a typical team:

1. The first stage is the ‘Forming’ Stage. Here, members, being newly assembled, are just getting to know each other, trying to understand their roles, and the goals they are to achieve. The leader at this point is concerned with an orientation about the group’s mission, goals, objectives, and scopes of operation. The atmosphere is usually that of apprehension at this stage.

2. The second stage is the ‘Storming’ Stage. Since team members are new to each other, conflicts arise because they are uncomfortable with their fellow colleagues. Competition for roles and leadership may also arise as differences in perspectives and experiences collide with each other. At this point, the leader’s role emphasis is to reduce tension through relationship-building skills and personality orientations.

3. Next comes to the ‘Norming’ Stage. With proper relationship building, members at this stage start to communicate well together, they build trust among themselves, and everyone gets to know their roles. Leaders at this point emphasize communications between members that enable them to start to start stable teamwork.

4. Now we reach the ‘Performing’ Stage. In this stage, having achieved a high level of communication, understanding, and trust between the team members, individuals are working together efficiently to achieve their common goal. Group
decision-making, collaboration, motivation, and effective development are happening here. At this point, leaders emphasize affirmation to the members individually and also as a team for their good performance.

5. The last stage is the ‘Adjourning’ Stage. This stage marks the project closure with the delegated roles and goals either having been completed effectively or not. According to whatever the accomplishments are, the team either becomes permanent or temporary - some members are forced to go back to the early stages due to their incapability of achieving what was desired, whereas, others may be retained as a stable team taking on more responsibilities in future

The Role of the Project Team Manager as the Team Transforms

As explained, above, team development goes through 5 stages. At each stage, the role of the project, the team manager transforms to meet the need of the team members. According to Newton (2015), the recommended roles are as follows:

Forming Stage: The team manager’s role is a hands-on approach that ensures clear communications as to dispel misunderstandings, and give directions, and guidance.

Storming Stage: Here the team manager’s role assumes that of conflict management, offering support, aiding and explaining decision-making processes, active listening, and altering team composition when necessary.

Norming Stage: At this stage, the team manager’s role begins to transform from that ofa coach, to being an observer, facilitator, and mentor.

Performing Stage: At this stage, the project team manager now serves as a delegator, overseer, and monitor.

Adjourning Stage: This is a time for appraisals, appreciation, and learning from the project successes or failures.

Steps in Building a Collaborative Team Environment

Building a good team is important for any project or affair to succeed. So it is advisable that diligent efforts be put into team building activities. Gratton and Erickson (2007), offered the following Factors that Lead to Success in building a collaborative team environment: 1. Executive Support. 2. Investing in signature relationship practices. 3. Modeling collaborative behavior. 4. Creating a “gift culture.” 5. Focused HR Practices. 6. Ensuring the requisite skills. 7. Supporting a sense of community. 8. The Right Team Leaders. And, 9. Assigning leaders who are both task- and relationship-oriented.

Team Formation and Structure

According to Gratton and Erickson (2007), “The final set of lessons for developing and managing complex teams has to do with the makeup and structure of the teams themselves. They call this “Building on heritage relationships.” In the authors’ opinion, given that trust is highly important for successful collaboration, forming teams that capitalize on preexisting, or “heritage,” relationships, increases the chances of a project’s success. Their research shows that new teams, particularly those with a high proportion of members who were strangers at the time of formation, find it more difficult to collaborate than those with established relationships. In the situation, newly-formed teams are forced to invest significant time and effort in building trusting relationships. On the contrary, the authors say, “when some team members already know and trust one another, they can become nodes, which over time evolve into networks. …we discovered that when 20% to 40% of the team members were already well connected to one another, the team had strong collaboration right from the start.”

As already emphasized, team collaboration is essential to guide the path to a successful future. Over time, strong bonds within the team will evolve into a family-oriented atmosphere where every individual’s participation is needed.

Suggestions for Handling the Newly Formed Team

Newly formed teams could be inherently problematic as the members struggle to know each other, trying to understand their roles, and the goals they are to achieve. Great tact is therefore needed by the team leader. According to Wilemon and Thamhain (1983), anxiety arises in a newly formed team for many reasons that constitute barriers to getting the team quickly focused on the task. Such anxieties, the authors say, consciously or subconsciously, keep the members focused on the resolution of their personal anxieties to the detriment of group goals. The authors therefore recommend that the following steps, if taken early in the life of a team can help in the handling the above problems, especially, if the project leader at the start of the project talk with each team member on a one-to-one basis:
1. What the objectives are for the project.
2. Who will be involved and why.
3. Importance of the project to the overall organization or work unit.
4. Why the team member was selected and assigned to the project and what role he/she will perform.
5. What rewards might be forthcoming if the project is successfully completed.
6. A candid appraisal of the problems and constraints which are likely to be encountered.
7. What rules of the road will be followed in managing the project, for example, regular status update review meetings.
8. What suggestions the team member will have for achieving success.
9. What are the professional interests of the team member? 
10. The challenge the project is likely to provide to individual members and the entire team.
11. Why the team concept is so important to project management success and how it should work.

Furthermore, the authors observe that the achievement of team spirit is paramount for project success. The reason is that the team members feel committed to the project and when they “feel free to share their information and develop effective problem-solving approaches.” Hence, attention should be paid to creating comradeship.

Team Building as an On-Going Process

Team building is an ongoing process. Which, the project manager must be continually monitoring team functioning and performance to see what corrective action may be needed to prevent or correct various team problems. Some useful hints are given by Wilemon and Thamhain (1983) for success in this direction. The authors discovered several good indicators of potential team dysfunction that must be worked on. For example, noticeable changes in performance levels for the team and/or for individual team members, such as conflict, lack of work integration, communication problems, and unclear objectives; should always be followed up. Changing the energy levels of team members may also indicate that the team is worked up. the way forward, according to the authors is sometimes, to change the work pace by “taking time off, or selling near-term, more easily reached targets can serve as a means to reenergize team members.” They further recommend that project managers should “spare time to hear the needs and concerns of team members (verbal clues) and to observe how they act in carrying out their responsibilities (nonverbal clues).” Finally, the authors say that detrimental behavior of one team member toward another can also be an indication that a problem within the team calls for attention. “More serious cases”, the authors say, “can call for more drastic action, e.g., reappraising project objectives and/or the means to achieve them. Besides, they recommend that project leaders hold regular team-building meetings to evaluate overall team performance and deal with team functioning problems.”

Major Barriers to Project Team Development and Overcoming Strategies

Further helpful hints are given by Wilemon and Thamhain (1983) concerning the most common major barriers. They also gave helpful tips for overcoming them. For each of the major team-building barriers identified, Wilemon and Thamhain (1983) offer several suggestions that can be advanced for either minimizing or eliminating them. They are outlined below to help project managers in their team-building and management efforts:

1. Differing Outlooks, Priorities, Interests, and Judgments of Team Members: The way forward is to make effort early in the project life cycle to identify the conflicting differences; explaining the scope of the project and the rewards for successful completion; selling “team” concept and explaining role expectations; and trying to blend individual interests with the overall project objectives.

2. Role Conflicts: This challenge could be minimized early in a project by asking team members where they see themselves fitting into the project; determining how the overall project can best be divided into subsystems and subtasks (e.g., the work breakdown structure); assigning/negotiating roles; conducting regular status review meetings to keep the team informed on progress; and watch out for unanticipated role conflicts over the project's life.

3. Project Objectives/Outcomes Not Clear: This could be helped by assuring that all stakeholders understand the overall and interdisciplinary project objectives; ensuring clear and frequent communication with senior management and the client; engaging in status review meetings for feedback purposes; and adopting a a proper team name that can help to reinforce the project objectives.

4. Changes resulting from Dynamic Project Environments: This creates a major challenge for stabilizing both internal and external influences. Success is achieved by ensuring that key project personnel work out an agreement on the principal project direction and selling this direction to the whole team; educating senior management and the customer on the harmful consequences of unwarranted changes; forecasting the environment within which the project will be developed; and designed contingency plans.

5. Competition Over Team Leadership: This could be helped if senior management help establish the project manager's leadership role; if the project manager fulfills the leadership expectations of team members; and where clear roles and responsibilities are defined to minimize competition over leadership.

6. Lack of Team Definition and Structure: This challenge is better coped with where project leaders sell the team concept to senior management as well as to their team members; hold regular meetings with the team to reinforce the team notion, tasks, roles, and responsibilities; and ensuring visibility in memos and other forms of written communication with both senior management and client participation with the purpose of unifying the team.


This presentation has attempted to take a broad look at the dynamics of project team management within the wider context of project integration management. The objective has been to explore the body of available pieces of literature with a view to exposing project team managers/leaders and their team members, to team dynamics and practical guidelines for successful team management. In pursuance of the above purposes, the researcher has reviewed and included robust resources on the subject matter within the space available. It is hoped that in all, the tutorial format of this paper will benefit project team managers and their team members, by bridging at least, part of the perceivable knowledge and application gaps among project management practitioners, as well as, lay a basic stepping stone to their development of team management skills. Since team management is one of the essential competencies of a project manager, it is believed that an improvement in this area will eventually lead to more project successes.

Author: This is a full version of an article written by our student Ogechi Ogbonna, supervised by our lecturer Dr. Amr Sukkar, Ph.D. MBA. 

Application for study

Interactive online: