High-Performance Teams
Hard To Create But Worth The Effort

I am sure that all of us have favorites when it comes to authors, speakers, and people that motivate us in our respective fields. PMI-OC is very fortunate to have such a person as a part of our group. This person always draws out the crowd because everyone knows when he speaks everyone wants to listen. When we are able to all meet in one place together, the room is packed, and we all sit elbow to elbow and on the edge of our chairs because we know when Marty Wartenberg speaks it’s worth listening to. Marty addressed the June PMI Orange County ATS titled, “The Value and Creation of Happy High-Performance Project Teams on Saturday, June 26, 2020. Mr. Marty Wartenberg (MSEE, MBA, P.E.). Marty is a past President of the PMI OC Chapter, and an OC Fellow. He is currently the lead instructor for Project Management at UC Irvine. Marty has taught and consulted worldwide in Europe, Asia, South America, and the Middle East. He has had several projects selected by PMI as candidates for Project of the Year and the subject of PMINet Articles.

Photo of Speaker Martin (Marty) Wartenberg
Highlights brought to you via Dennis Burns – pmi-ocfreezepoints.org

Marty’s topic was not only a very popular topic, but one that is vital ranking near the top in importance when it comes to successful Project Management. This workshop was originally developed as an 8 hour workshop for UCI, but was abbreviated for our ATS. Suffice it to say there was a lot of material provided to be digested and discussed but all of it worth the price of admission. The agenda for the day included:

  • What is happiness?
  • What are high performance project teams?
  • Achieving a high level of satisfaction for team members.
  • The road to a high-performance team.

What is happiness? – Happiness is a mental or emotional state of well-being defined by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy. Philosophers and religious thinkers often define happiness in terms of living a good life, or flourishing, rather than simply as an emotion. Other groups employ the scientific method to research questions about what “happiness” is, and how to attain it.

What makes “happy people”? Marty shared from his experience 8 things that “happy people” do.

  1. Express Gratitude
  2. Savor life’s joys
  3. Commit to goals
  • Cultivate optimism
  • Stop over-thinking
  • Avoid Social comparison
  • Increase flow experiences
  • Nurture relationships

All of these are aspirations everyone of us should embrace and work on daily in both our professional and personal lives.

Here’s a question for you to consider as we open this discussion. “Is a happy workplace a pre-requisite to a motivated HPPT (high performing project team), or is it a consequence of a motivate team enjoying their work and subsequent success?” While this question can and did provide fodder for much discussion and comment the answer can be summed up. A Project Team that is highly motivated, capable and provided with a happy / satisfying environment will generally provide a better outcome than one that is less motivated and not happy.

One of the activities that makes our ATS’s so enjoyable is the opportunity to interact with one another and voice our opinions to each other and share our thoughts. Marty asked us to take a few minutes and “voice” our thoughts about what makes us happy at work. Just a few of the comments were; a good leader, communication, support from leadership, and openness and transparency. There was plenty of good input regarding this and I am sure we all have our favorite things we try to nurture in our teams to make for a happy work environment and a HPPT.

Whether we are leading or part of a team, all of us want to be a part of a High-Performance Project Team. However, as Marty reminded us, the journey to become a High-Performance Team is not a well- defined step by step process. Most of the time it is a messy process and many times you must go back to the beginning and start over.

It seems there is a lot of material, as reflected in this session, on what it takes to get and have a happy workplace. For example: Five Ways to Ensure your Employees Love their jobs: Communication, Morale, Motivation, Co-Worker Relationships, and Recognition. While some of this may sound well- worn and sometimes, we may feel like, “I’ve heard all this before and none of it really speaks to what I am looking for.” What term do you have for “happiness”? Is it, satisfied, involved, caring, committed, excited, elated, jubilant, or some other superlative adjective to make you feel like you are a happy member of a HPPT?

One thing we learned about teams and team building is that you cannot have all the same type of people on a team. It takes a mixture of different personalities to build a productive, happy, successful team.

Marty shared with us a short video outlining Five Golden Rules for Building a Great Team:

  1. Be “open-minded”, it’s not about smarts it’s about listening to the team.
  2. Mix people – Mix introverts and extroverts “ideals, deep dives” YouTube. Mixing people from different backgrounds and education levels.
  3. Build trust – The most important asset for any PM is integrity and trustworthiness
  4. Be happy – It’s a personal decision to be happy
  5. Define goals and rules – A good team knows what they are doing and why they are doing it. One thing about a successful team that is a key take away from this discussion is, a team cannot be built around one member and ultimately be successful. A team can have wins BECAUSE of one member but take away that one member and see how successful they are. An example of this is the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team under Kobe Bryant. For the most part, as long as Kobe was healthy and in his

prime the Laker’s were winners, but after Kobe retired and there was no “superstar” to step into that role the Laker’s became a rather ordinary team.

As already stated, there is a lot of material on this subject out there, and Marty fed us a lot of information in the 4-hour session. My purpose is not to try to regurgitate all of that material, but rather highlight some important takeaways from our session. That being said, let’s examine some of the Basics of Project Team Building.

What is the definition of a Project Team? “A team is a small group of people with complimentary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable for the team’s performance and success.” (Jon R. Katzenbach, “The Wisdom of Teams”). This is a great definition, but how much does it cost to build a successful HPPT? The cost can be summed up in the argument about the Cost of Quality. It takes time and money, there are no cheap and easy short cuts, and companies that are not willing to make the investment or do not see the need will not have HPPT’s. For example, how much time would you guess a sports teams or a military team spend practicing teamwork versus the actual performance of the tasks? If you follow or participate in team sports at any level or are a military veteran, you know the answer to this.

Marty reminded us of our PMBOK training regarding Team Development stages: Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing, and Adjourning. These are still the foundation for any successful HPPT in any

organization. Some of the things we observe as we move through these stages of team building are; communication and participation, goals and roles, staying on task, common standards and values, decision making, solving problems, and supporting each other. Each of these are key to successful team building and implementation of a HPPT.

To try to offer some concise examples of team building Marty gave us some great examples of what some of the masters of the industry do to hire and implement HPPT’s.

The Disney Imagineering Way:

  • Hire based on five factors:
    • Really smart
    • Plays well with other
    • Has a well-rounded and diverse background
    • Is willing to take risks
    • Doesn’t discourage easily – perseverance.
    • Love much, work hard, laugh often, dream daily

Apple hiring principles:

  • Hire for creativity and innovation not just for IQ or grades
  • Give development teams autonomy and freedom to try new things without the influence of management interference
  • Isolate the teams from on-going routine work and distractions
  • Maintain the health and happiness of the team

A typical hiring question from Apple; “How would you move Mt. Fuji?” Just an FYI, the best answer is to ask, “Why do you want to move Mt. Fuji?” Ruminate on this one for a while.

Google Hiring Approach:

  • High level of intelligence
  • Wide variety of backgrounds
  • Fit more important than degree
  • Curious
  • Great at problem solving and defining the root cause of problems
  • Demonstrates ability to work well with others of all types of backgrounds and levels.
  • Has a positive attitude
  • Focused on achieving results

One of the takeaways for me from the Google model is the “Psychology of Safety”. Google defines the Psychology of Safety as a state of being; the feeling team members have when they believe they can take risks without feeling insecure or embarrassed. They feel safe being vulnerable in front of one another. This is important so that workers’ team members are not afraid to fail. They challenge the status-quo resulting in greater creativity and innovation. I inserted the graph from one of Marty’s slides illustrating this important point. We need to understand the differences between the Psychology of Danger vs. the Psychology of Safety.

This image displays the different attributes that are encompassed within both the Psychological Danger and Psychological Safety when pursuing a High-Performance Project Team candidates.

Marty did a masterful job guiding us through so much material and it is impossible to summarize all of it adequately in the space I am allotted. However, the following diagram will reiterate the importance of cultivating an HPPT and its crucial team members. Think about your own teams and strategically plan your next HPPT with precision and institute these practices into your business models.

This image displays the Ideal High-Performance Project Team candidate attributes through cartoon imagery. 
Subject Matter Expert, Leadership, Detailed Planners, Workers and Contributors

Although we are quickly coming to the end of another spectacular Advanced Topic Seminar, the article would not be complete without reminding you that you are always welcome to join us next time. Make the investment in yourself to improve your skills as a PM. If you don’t know how to join us the one Saturday of each month, visit the PMI OC website at pmi-oc.org.

Photo of article contributor Dennis Burns. Caucasion male with grey hair short cut under a beige kango hat. He is wearing black rim glasses, brown polo shirt and a watch on left wrist.
Contributed by: Dennis Burns

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