Team Building for Better Project Outcomes

Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.   – Henry Ford

I once had the opportunity to manage a project team that was led by Brad Pitt!

  Photo Credit: DPA/Landov

Photo Credit: DPA/Landov

It was early in my project management career, and as part of our first virtual team meeting, everyone created a PowerPoint slide that listed a bit of key information – name, area of expertise, personal interests, etc. And at the top of the slide, everyone added a picture so that we could put names with faces since we were meeting virtually.

And much to everyone’s surprise, when we got to our team leader – whose idea it was to put these slides together in the first place – it was Brad Pitt!

Ok, so it was not really Brad Pitt. But this jokester left a lasting impression on all of us by putting a picture of Brad instead of himself on his slide, which set the tone for the fun and engaging team dynamic.

As the project manager, team building will be a key responsibility of yours that will help lead to project success. You need everyone on the team to commit to the project goals, timelines, and deliverables. And a team who knows each other well – whether it is through a simple team building exercise at the start of a meeting, or due to more focused extracurricular activities – will likely respect each other more and be motivated to work together toward a common goal.

I find the same thing happens with one-to-one relationships. If I meet a person just once, and especially if we formed a connection, I am more inclined to prioritize my work with that person. I read and respond her emails first, I meet her deadlines, and I want to do a good job because I feel that accountability toward her.

One of the best ways to help build rapport and commitment within your team is to conduct a quick team building exercise. I like this idea because it is easy and free!

I typically try to facilitate team-building exercises at the start of kickoff meetings or other larger working sessions where many people do not know each other. You can ask the team to put together informational slides like our friend Brad Pitt did. Or you can simply go around the room and ask people to say a bit about themselves.

For the latter, I typically have people share their names, roles, and where they are from (if people are from multiple locations). And then I would add something fun in there, like the “two truths and a lie” game – where people say three things about themselves (two things that are true and one that is a lie), and everyone needs to guess which one is the lie. There are usually some fun tidbits shared during this game!

Or I would ask team members to share something unique about themselves – perhaps a fun fact that most people in the room do not know. This one also gets people interested because it gives a glimpse into another side of each team member that normally would not be seen.

For a meeting I facilitated in Australia, people were from Sydney, Melbourne, and New York, and most people were well traveled for either work or vacation. So I had them name their favorite restaurant from anywhere in the world! It was a good one because there was a bit of a competitive factor to name the best restaurant in the most exciting place, and the team also left the meeting with a bonus – a list of eateries to try as they traveled the globe.

There are many different options for quick and easy icebreakers. When deciding which one to use, think about the makeup of your team, what they would be comfortable sharing, and how formal the exchange should be. And always plan for more time than you think it is going to take in the agenda – I find that we run over in many cases because people are excited and converse more than usual.

And as the project manager, try to remember the information that was shared, and at the start of any other team meetings – as people are gathering in the room or on the phone – ask people about the information that they shared during the team building exercise. Maybe they talked about their families, or upcoming travel plans, or the fact that they typically read one book a week. It is always nice to start meetings off with this kind of chitchat rather than getting right down to business, as it keeps that friendly rapport going.

So gather your team and help them get to know each other! The resulting teamwork and camaraderie will make for a much more engaging experience for everyone, as well as better project outcomes.