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How to build an open and collaborative project team culture – a BA’s view

Guest blog by Marina van Wyk

One of the unique challenges of being a project manager is bringing a group of people together, get them to work towards a common goal and make them feel part of a team.

But too often, especially on IT projects, that feeling of belonging to a team is missing.

I get it, it’s a really tough ask. The nature of IT projects is that team members with various skillsets are pulled together from different cultural and organisational backgrounds.

Generally no one knows each other and everyone brings their own baggage from previous projects. Your BA may have just completed a very stressful and exhausting project, feeling burnt down.  The developer has come from a successful initiative, still feeling buzzy with a very high expectation of this new project.  The tester has just finished a project working in a team that lacked leadership and business vision.

So as PM, you pull this group together, call them a team and expect them to produce tangible, valuable business outcomes in a relatively short period of time.

The challenge here is how to make these people not just work together on achieving a goal, but also to connect on a personal level so they don’t feel they’re just a little cog in a large machine.

How do you build an open, collaborative and trusting culture in an IT project team?

Of course we are all human beings and we make connections.  We find things in common and have coffee machine chats about our weekends or hobbies.

Often that’s where the team culture starts and stops – with little initiative from the project manager to encourage and create a strong culture.

As professionals and adults, we should of course all contribute to a healthy and collaborative culture in our team.

While we, as individuals, build individual connections, it’s the role of the project manager to instil a team connection.

The project manager is a focal role who brings the team together and sets the tone for the project.  If the project manager buries her head in project plans and risk registers all day, and keeps busy delivering the project on time and on budget, she risks missing the human factor and the importance of communication and relationship building in the team.

This may be due to the pressures on the PM to not to fail the project, or it could be a lack of people skills, or maybe the view that the team will be together only for a relatively short period of time, so why bother.

But little things like a round of coffee to celebrate a signoff of a test plan, or thanking the developers in front of the whole team for working late to monitor the deployment, or a team lunch to welcome a new solutions architect can go a long way.

These gestures not only make the whole team aware of the effort that individuals put into the project, but also give team members the opportunity to have fun together. They help with understanding each other better, making collaboration and information sharing easier and freer.

What’s more, it helps the PM build a reputation of a leader who connects and attracts people who would want to work with them again in the future.

Marina van Wyk is a Senior Business Analyst with 10 years’ experience in IT project management having worked for Vodafone, Auckland Council, Vero Insurance, Datacom and Simpl. 

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