“Individual commitment to a group effort — that’s what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work,” the great football coach Vince Lombardi once observed.
To that, veteran engineer and educator Harry T. Roman adds, “Nothing builds professional skills better and faster than leading project teams.”
And if you have any doubts, one glimpse at Roman’s résumé will confirm he knows what he’s talking about. He spent much of his 36-year career leading R&D project teams at PSE&G, New Jersey’s largest utility company. Now, to encourage other professionals — and lend them a hand with leading successful teams, IEEE-USA is providing the audiobook version of Roman’s original e-book, Caring for Your Project Team, for your listening pleasure. It’s a valuable resource for anyone who may be asked to lead a project team — whether they’re brand new at it, or already experienced at leading a team.
IEEE-USA is now offering this new audiobook free to members at https://ieeeusa.org/shop/audiobooks/.
For those who may not be familiar with the term, an organization forms a project team, when it wants to resolve a well-defined problem or need. The team is usually interdisciplinary, with people from various relevant departments to provide the right combination of skills and perspectives.
Usually, the leader has no line authority over team members — that is, she, or he, cannot order anyone to do something. But the team leader still has a potentially critical role, helping to steer everyone toward creative solutions to help address an important company problem.
Roman believes that although the team leader lacks superior-subordinate powers, the person who heads the team must be a good leader, if the group is to achieve its goals.
“Successful teams feed off great leadership,” he says. “Good management is always important, but leadership gets the job done. It unifies the team, and without a united team there is no team – just a gathering of individuals vaguely hoping that what they are doing is what is needed,” he says.
Roman emphasizes that project teams vary according to their specific assignment. In his case, many of the teams he led typically involved large-issue concepts and projects. They included developing an advanced technique for power-system load-flow analysis, or using robots in nuclear power plants, and other utility operations. Moreover, Roman’s teams usually entailed three- to five-year member commitments, large budgets, and often included vendors and outside consultants.
Nevertheless, Roman discusses a basic set of activities that he says characterize the movement and evolution of the team: Pulling toward a common goal, doing something important for the company, growing members’ skills and professional toolboxes, learning how to lead teams themselves, and sharing a feeling of accomplishment.
Roman devotes several chapters of his audiobook to key areas where team leaders need to devote special attention in managing their groups.
For instance, when discussing the importance of connecting team members to the future of the organization, he encourages — both before starting the project and during the team’s term of work – introducing them to senior management.
Roman also believes in encouraging creativity, noting that “team members naturally covet the chance to do something creative, to think and act ‘outside the envelope,’ he says. “People get excited about working with different team members, perhaps for the first time, putting fresh eyes on a problem or introducing new technology.”
In a chapter on developing team members, Roman notes that professional growth should be a continuous process. He says that while the employee’s general growth should continue – perhaps as discussed by the supervisor and the employee in previous meetings — the project team assignment can potentially provide special technical or business training, as part of the team activities.
“Providing special perks gives team members a powerful uplift,” says Roman. “They know they’re going into new territory and exploring an area that boosts their creativity.” He adds that a very strong case can be made that team assignments will probably greatly assist in team members’ personal and organizational development.
Other development strategies Roman suggests for team members include encouraging them to attend conferences and seminars relevant to what the team is doing, as well as providing opportunities to assume responsibilities for portions of the team’s work.
Because creativity can be the cornerstone of a project team, he devotes a chapter to techniques the team leader can use to engage and promote creativity.
Roman also offers typical statements he describes as “what great leaders would say to their team members.” They range from “I messed up; it’s my fault” to “I believe in you,” and “Keep pressing forward!”
The last chapter, “The Voices of Others,” includes the thoughts of some former PSE&G employees on getting the most from a project team – whether as a leader or a participant. Harry Roman’s valuable advice aside, these views are not to be missed.
A frequent author of IEEE-USA e-books, Harry Roman is an IEEE Life Senior Member, holds 12 United States patents and has published hundreds of scientific papers, articles, monographs and books.
Members – you can download the new audiobook for your personal listening library; and the companion e-book, for your reference library — free — from the IEEE-USA Shop.
Helen Horwitz is an award-winning freelance writer who lives in Albuquerque. She was with IEEE from 1991 through 2011, the first nine as Staff Director, IEEE Corporate Communications.