In 1965, psychologist Bruce Tuckman defined the stages teams go through. Teams begin with a “forming" where team members get to know each other. Next, the project manager guide team members through a “storming” stage where the team discusses how it wants to function. During the “norming” stage, the team works out their roles and responsibilities, and, during the “performing” stage, the project manager leads the team to complete project tasks. During each stage, the project manage can alleviate some of the tension at team meetings by conducting games and fun activities to promote collaboration.
To help team members get to know each other better, project managers can conduct activities at the initial meetings. For example, the project manager can ask each team member to think of a little-known fact about herself. He distributes index cards to each participant in the conference room and asks each person to write her fact down and keep it hidden. The project manager divides the team into two groups and takes the index cards from half of the team members. He hands these cards out to the other half. The participants don’t look at the cards but walk around showing the card until they find the owner of the card. Then, they ask the owner questions about her little-known fact until it is identified. They hand the index card to the other person, and that person gets to ask questions to identify the partner's little-known fact.
A project manager helps her team develop the skills necessary to brainstorm ideas effectively by conducting engaging games at team meetings. For example, she begins by dividing the team into pairs. She asks each pair to come up with a potential problem the whole team needs to solve in the next six months. Then, she assigns a different role to each pair, such as customer, engineer or manager. She asks each pair to brainstorm ideas for solving the problem from that role’s perspective. After five minutes, she creates new pairs. The group continues the brainstorming activity by discussing both problems for ten minutes. Now, each pair has two different perspectives. The project manager asks the original pairs to get back together, and she asks each team to prepare a recommendation for the issue. After five minutes, each team presents its recommendations to the whole group. The group gets to vote on the best recommendations to determine the winner.
Helping employees listen to each other typically involves practice, usually including role-play exercises or games. An effective project manager conducts games and activities as a regular part of team meetings to encourage active listening. She divides the team into groups of three, and she assigns one person the role of preparing and giving two statements about any topic he chooses. She then assigns a second person the role of providing feedback to the first person about the statements he makes while the third person acts as an observer. After three minutes, the participants change roles. After another three minutes, the project manager tells the groups to change roles again so each person has a chance to play each role. She joins the group together again and conducts a debriefing exercise about how difficult or easy providing feedback can be in a group setting.
To create a team of effective negotiators, project managers conduct fun games to help team members develop the skills and expertise required to handle difficult situations. Games help participants move the focus away from individual points of view to generate opportunities for resolution. The project manager gives each team member a piece of paper and poses a scenario. He asks each participant to name the problem, draw a symbol for it in the center of the page and list several advantages and disadvantages for resolving the conflict. After 15 minutes, the project manager should have each person present her positions on each advantage or disadvantage and let the group vote to determine the best argument.
Tara Duggan is a Project Management Professional (PMP) specializing in knowledge management and instructional design. For over 25 years she has developed quality training materials for a variety of products and services supporting such companies as Digital Equipment Corporation, Compaq and HP. Her freelance work is published on various websites.