Team building activity – Defining roles and responsibilities


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A new project is best started by getting the entire project leadership team on the same page. This relates to commercial terms, project scope, key milestones and other important contractual terms and conditions. It is also vital for the project leaders to understand how they will execute this project – who is going to do what exactly to make sure we execute this project scope to the best of our abilities?

The resource I am sharing here describes a process you can follow as part of an early team-building activity to clarify and agree team roles and responsibilities down to individual levels.

In this activity the project leaders are gathered together and a facilitator takes them through this process. (See downloadable process description below).

Additional thoughts:

  • You can use this activity after first running a sub-group responsibility definition activity which defines project interfaces or relative responsibilities for decisions and processes by functional or other sub-groups on the team. (see Defining team interfaces) Using this sequence means you drive home how the overall project outcomes are managed by sub-groups on the team and then right down to individual roles in those same processes.
  • This exercise can also be used when there is a change in phase or focus on the project or the composition of the team changes greatly. At those times it is important to keep the team’s momentum going by ensuring that roles and responsibilities remain clear throughout the changes.
  • Clarifying individual role and responsibilities also supports the performance management process. When individuals receive feedback regarding their performance it is important that they already understand what performance and role expectations are.
  • Having individual roles documented can also support bringing new team members up to speed fast. It helps explaining expected team functioning and who they should talk to while making their contributions to successful team outcomes.

Project teams simply function better when everyone understands how he or she is expected to contribute to the team’s goals. This activity does help greatly in clarifying expected individual contributions. I do suggest you distribute the final agreed pages with the team for reference purposes.

Linking Performance Reviews and Merit Increases


Employee performance outcomes is one important aspect to be reviewed when it comes to considering merit increases. It is not the only consideration though. Overall merit increase budgets, inflation, changes in external benchmarks for specific roles, current compensation ratios etc. are all additional elements which would impact actual merit increases per department and employee.

The resource I have here ties a specific overall individual performance review score to a specific range of possible merit increases. Some managers require a highly structured and fixed process for determining % changes and this is one way to create one. One should however also be sure to consider the other aspects mentioned above: budget for increases that year, company performance in the last year (overall), the market value of specific roles (roles that are in high demand). Compensation has a powerful influence on employee engagement and retention, but it is not the only one. Employees also care about career growth, flexible benefits and being helped to develop further.

I would caution anyone to consider unintended outcomes when attempting to standardize and establish rigid structures for considering individual performance and linking that in a fixed way to merit increase percentages. While intentions may be good: to reward your best performers for their contributions and to ensure those with lesser performance improve or leave the company, a process that is overly structured could fail to accomplish that intention.

The approach shared above – see download link – indicates one way in which a group has established a direct link tying the performance review process directly to the merit increase process. This example does not take into account some of the considerations highlighted above when it comes to selecting the actual increase percentage and I chose to share this resource anyway, because it does happen that HR is asked for a process like the attached on a regular basis and I want to make an example available to you if you find yourself in that situation.

I do suggest you consider ways to incorporate the other aspects as outlined above when you finalize your proposal to implement a more structured approach to tie performance management to compensation review.

My main advice is to think it through carefully to ensure your good intentions have the best chance of being reinforced by your performance management process and pay-for-performance approach . And I would also add that you should remain flexible in working with your documented process. Be ready and willing to adjust and update it as you gather input about how successful your process is in driving desired outcomes – results and behavior that you and the executives would like to see in your pool of employees.

Team Activity – Defining Project Interfaces


Most projects are made up of several sub-groups of people. On a construction project you can imagine there is a group of people tasked with looking after the physical safety of people working on the site. You can also imagine another group that looks after checking that materials and installed units meet quality requirements. These sub-groups of people have interfaces with each other whereby they exchange and share information, documents and outcomes. They also provide and request support from other groups to start, complete and execute a process. Most of the time project inefficiencies occur across the interfaces with internal and external sub-groups or functions.

The best way to ensure efficiency and effectiveness across project interfaces is to increase transparency around assumptions that people have . Test whether they are accurate and understood by others on the project.

Note that project interfaces can also refer to processes that involve multiple functions in the home office environment or the company structure. These “external” groups to the project may be setting high-level processes and goals, which create the environment that the project team needs to operate in. Examples may include HR, Finance, the group that tracks compliance with corporate policies and procedures etc.

This team building activity that I am sharing helps various interfacing groups understand differences that may exist between how they think they should be interfacing with other groups and what the actual expectations from other groups are.

This activity can be used in many different ways:

  • Clearing up interface issues among geographically dispersed groups working on the same processes or projects;
  • Clarifying how different functions should interface with one another on a project;
  • Clarifying any differences in perspective among cultural groups or different shifts of people in the same function working on the same tasks interfacing with one another; and
  • Getting clarity on how multiple projects should interface with each other and/or the corporate groups they work with.

The reason that interfaces with other groups tend to be where delays and frustrations occur is because it is common for people to analyze and optimize processes only for the portion that they are responsible for. This perspective means they often overlook how their efforts impact others or how the efforts of others impact them and they fail to take the bigger picture into account. This activity will support efforts to improve the outcomes of inter-group processes as you work towards greater successes on your projects and initiatives.

Activity for project teams – Diversity


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Your project team is very diverse and you are concerned that this may impact how your project will be executed – will you be able to achieve your overall project goals or will there be a lot of internal strife, misunderstandings and disagreements? Will they work against each other and have the wrong assumptions about each other and the project goals and metrics? If so, this team-building activity may help.

The downloadable resource I am sharing is a team activity you can use to help project team members understand that different groups of people can have different views on the various aspects of running a project and also the relative importance of key project processes. This activity makes those possible disconnects transparent which helps you lead clarification discussions with the team/group. While the activity itself is quite simple, the discussion that comes after the initial assignment is where the value lies and that will take up most of your time.

Further tips and ideas:

  • You can segregate meeting participants in various ways related to the most important diversity aspects you wish to highlight within the team. As a variation you may choose to run the first part of the exercise more than once and each time segregating the group of participants in a different way. Options include: cultures, locations where they are from or live, level of life experience, function etc.
  • There are several topics listed for discussion towards the end and it would be wise to prioritize them for your own convenience, as a facilitator. If you are running out of time towards the end you can then ensure you are covering the most important topics during the time you have available after the initial portion of the exercise.
  • Be sure to stress that diversity is a plus for team creativity and finding new solutions. The objective of this activity is to help work out some of the downsides of diversity without marginalizing any one or group or impose judgement.

Non-homogeneous teams may be tougher to manage than homogeneous teams, but the pay-off in creating new and innovative team solutions coupled with individuals learning new skills and perspectives from other team members can be very rewarding. As a team leader or facilitator you just need to make sure you have the right tools, such as this activity, available to help non-homogeneous teams succeed.

Ice Breaker for international teams


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In our globalized world it is very common for employees to have regular contact with people from other cultures and they may attend meetings at various international locations. When you are executing projects on a global scale it increases the importance of ensuring that communication and collaboration go as smoothly as possible in order to meet your project objectives.

Cultures and sub-cultures

You may be surprised to learn that even seemingly basic project concepts could have different interpretations across cultures and sub-cultures. This exercise that I am sharing with you focuses on intercultural aspects of international teams and can help by clarifying assumptions and expectations at an early stage of your project.

When I think of different cultures on a project team, I also include sub-cultures such as between different regions in the same country or different functional groups in the same company. (This link can provide context if you want to look at cultures more closely.)

In the exercise, participants answer questions from their own perspective being as true as possible to how things are done at the location or group that they represent in the exercise. Most people who have lived internationally for some years have already adapted to habits and ways that conform to expectations and habits for their new location and how people do things there. If your intention is to highlight the richness of different perspectives you have present at the event where you run this ice breaker – ask participants to think back to a time when they lived in location X or worked with group Y – how would they answer the question then?

The downloadable document above contains several project-related scenarios which can be used to explore differences in approaches and mindsets within your project team. You may also choose to use the topic of diversity and inclusion as an on-going exploration within your team where you could select one of the topics at each of your meetings instead of trying to cover all of them during a team-building event.

This ice-breaker can be a good item to include in a project kick-off meeting or when you are adding a few more people to the team from a different office/location. This exercise also works well when you have team members who are from the same country, but are from different offices. (It is not uncommon for offices/locations to have slightly different approaches).

Early exploration of different mindsets and assumptions among team members can be a valuable foundation to ensure smoother relationships and better collaboration on your project.  Feel free to suggest additional important scenarios to consider for discussion after you have reviewed the attachment I shared in this post.

Performance Management – setting the annual process


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The HR function manages a few processes which take place at various points over a 12-month period. Think of the annual salary reviews, annual training needs analysis, bonus calculations and performance management processes.

It is important to managers to have a clear understanding of each of these processes and when they take place throughout the year. If you set all of these processes on a regular annual schedule it helps managers to correctly anticipate next steps in processes and provide input required in a timely manner.

This generic performance management process schedule I am sharing with you (see download option below) shows the various basic steps that would need to be followed over a 12 month period. There are references to the link with a salary/compensation review process and also the link with identifying and reviewing individual development needs and progress along achieving improvement goals.

Implementing a process like this would need a change management plan if your organization has never done anything like this before. Even if you have had some form of a performance management process in place, but would now like to expand on it to include some of the elements shown in the attachment, a change management plan would be recommended. Before you start you would of course ensure that the manager/director, who is accountable for the performance management process at your organization, is aligned with your ideas and suggestions and strongly supports the direction you would like to take.

The benefits of having a documented process for Performance Management are:

  • It is easy for HR to ensure new employees, current employees, new supervisors and existing managers understand the process and their role in the process.
  • It is a way to help stakeholders understand and then prepare for the input and actions they need to complete in order to support the process.
  • Linked to a balanced score card, the process can make it clear to individuals/departments how they collectively and as individuals support the attainment of larger organizational performance goals.
  • Knowing that there are check-in moments for feedback and discussion moments around performance expectations, progress and development needs and activities can be a strong way to reinforce employee engagement. Many employees tend to consider other employment options when they feel that their development and career progression goals are not being met by their current employer.

This list is not exhaustive. For more information about benefits see links like Benefits of performance management or Importance of Performance Management

Risk Management TEMPLATE


Considering risks is a high priority for any project execution planning activity. It is important to also frequently re-assess during the project life-time. The project team should check the status of the risk plan against reality at various moments in time to ensure all risks are captured and accurately reflected along with mitigation or risk avoidance plans as required.

A risk plan is simply a plan that helps you identify where obstacles to successful outcomes could appear and what you could do about it. In some cases a potential risk can be avoided by taking some preventative actions in time. Some risks or obstacles could be things that can happen at any moment and some would only occur under specific circumstances. The project team should consider the key elements of the  project plan – where would the project plan have the highest risk of failing if key milestones or achievements are not met? That is the starting point of the template that I am sharing with you.

The risk mitigation template  shows you how to identify risks, identify the risk level of a possible obstacle to project success, determine what can be done to avoid or mitigate an issue/obstacle to success  and of course select who exactly should take the actions in the event that the risk is realized or upfront as a preventative measure.

Just download the attachment and complete the sections in yellow for each of the key elements of your project plan. Then answer the questions as outlined at the top of each column for each of the key parts of your plan.

When you review the plan look at the elements that were rated as “high risk” that it could occur and also a “high impact” if that risk did materialize. Focus your attention more on those items, but it is also true that sometimes a “low risk” obstacle could have a high impact on the project so be sure to review every element of the risk plan when you do your regular risk plan checks.

Every plan has risks and great returns on investments are often associated with a higher level of risks. The objective is not to avoid risks completely since the ability to manage risks well and willingness to accept and manage risks can be a competitive advantage in the marketplace. This template can help you increase your awareness of risks and learn how to manage them throughout your project. Becoming better at risk management will make you a valuable project member and business partner.

Conflict Resolution between Teams – an Activity


Teams or groups mostly get upset with each other due to ill-defined or badly executed processes or unclear interface issues between them. There are of course other reasons too, but whatever the cause inter-team upsets can cause an overall failure to achieve planned outcomes and a project/location not achieving targets.

Intergroup conflict and effectiveness

This process that can be used to help two (or more) teams/groups work through their issues with each other and how they are impacting each other.

The process and activity is described in the document which you can download above. Estimated timing for each step of the process is also included. The timing is based on only two groups/teams working through the process. If you add teams/groups, do add additional presentation and discussion time to the combined portions of the process.

Each group or team have an assignment to work on independently and when the groups all gather together the results are presented and discussed in the larger group. The objective is to improve everyone’s understanding of exactly where things go wrong, what works and what does not work and how we will move forward with a new agreement of how we will work together.

The process requires at least one facilitator provided the combined groups comprise of no more than 18 people. If you combine more than two groups I would also consider having an additional facilitator to assist in the breakout sessions. The opening and closing sessions should be attended by one senior manager or executive that interfaces with all of the attending groups – to make opening comments to set the scene and establish the importance of the meeting and also to close off the event with encouraging and appreciative comments.

Note this:

  • The process is flexible and it would be up to you, as the facilitator, to make judgment calls along the way. Looking at how you are doing on timing and how well the process is going you may choose to avoid the second breakout session and instead have that discussion in the combined-group setting.
  • This process may not work well if the inter-group/team dysfunctions have been going on for quite some time and the frustration levels are high. In such cases I would recommend that you prepare for the session by first doing a pre-session interview with all or most of the intended participants. That way you can prepare for an intervention having a clear understanding of the issues at hand and the mindsets of those that will be attending. This may cause you to choose for a more comprehensive intervention.
  • If more than one facilitator is involved, do make sure every facilitator is completely aware of how the process will work. This is especially important when you choose to make some changes along the way – i.e. skipping the 2nd breakout session in favor of a large group discussion on the same topic.  It can be quite frustrating for groups/teams when they receive mismatched instructions from different facilitators for the activity they are to complete.

Problem Solving Template


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It can be frustrating to try and figure out where things went wrong when the outcomes you had hoped for, did not work out. Sometimes it could be an object or piece of equipment that is not working well. It could also be a process that is at fault or perhaps it is human action or inaction that is causing the lack of performance.

This template helps one to work what you know and finding the facts in order to fix the issues that are stopping you from obtaining the right outcomes. This offers a better chance of discovering the root cause that is stopping you from achieving the planned good results.

After defining at the top what the problem is which you would like to solve, the worksheet takes you through a systematic process covering: The What, Where, When and How Big aspects are. Across the top moving from left to right on the columns, the worksheet has space to write down what you can see (what is observed) and it moves to any facts you are aware of which could relate to the observations, then writing down what the differences are between what you have observed and the facts until you finally arrive at the last column where you are able to narrow things down to the most likely causes that things are not working out with the problem you are trying to address.

It may seem tedious at first to complete the information indicated, but when the reasons or causes are less obvious this is a great way to summarize what you know about the situation in one place. We often know more than we realize and we simply need a way to put things together logically to spot the reasons behind a malfunctioning element in a failing piece of equipment or a process.

This tool can be used by an individual or in a group context. Sometimes it helps to have more than one person look at the same information and brainstorm through the elements shown in this template to get to the root cause(s). I also recommend that you retain a copy of this completed template to serve as a “lessons learned” to others.  I believe each one of us and every company/team should continuously strive to learn to remain competitive and innovative (creative). Others may be able to solve future issues by reviewing your completed sheet for the issue you solved.

How to set priorities in an action plan


After a survey, a brainstorming session or a discussion it is often true that you end up with a long list of actions that should be put into an action plan. With many actions, maybe only a small number of people available to execute on those actions and possibly a small budget available for some of the actions, this could seem overwhelming.  The important question is: How can you prioritize the actions so you can make the most of the available resources (people to work on them) and funding (available budget)? And on top of that make sure that the most important actions are completed first?

Rate all the projects or activities on two questions:

  • what is the level of impact on your company, project, company if you completed that project/activity? (high means it would me a very big difference (positively))
  • how hard is it to implement this? (referring to available resources, skills and knowledge needed, tools needed, funding needed) (very difficult means you have very limited resources and budget and this project or activity would need more than you have available right now)

Use the scores obtained to plot your planned projects or activities onto this graphic: (the graphic shows an example based on the table and ratings above)

What to focus on?

Use the guide below to understand which of your projects or activities should be a high priority, low priority or medium priority with possible additional research needed.

One the one hand the question is: can you overcome what is difficult about that particular activity or project? Can you (for example) convince someone make more funding available if you present a very solid business case to highlight the value to the company or the project?

Or can you get more people to help? The other question to look into is whether the impact is really as low as you imagine? Speak to others to hear their views of how such a project or activity could possibly benefit more areas than you think. Perhaps the project is much more valuable than you think and it moves into the “green” quadrant meaning it should be a high priority for you to work on and complete.

If your dots appear in one of the yellow sections, you have some questions to ponder. If you can solve the question in each case you may be able to move that particular action into a different “zone” by changing the score. This means you are able to for example make it easier to implement by solving an issue which made it particularly difficult to implement. Or it could mean you realize the business impact is bigger than you previously realized because the company could gain a competitive edge if you implemented that particular action.  Your final action plan for immediate focus areas should contain those actions which finally end up in the green zone on the legend.

Be sure to communicate the reasoning behind your high priority actions to the key stakeholders in the outcomes of the action plan. They may have additional insights to share which could further cause you to change the scoring of actions.

You can use the Action Plan posted here to capture the actions that you will implement, monitor status of and report on regularly.