“Great things in business are never done by one person,” Apple co-founder Steve Jobs once observed. “They’re done by a team of people.”
To that, veteran engineer and educator Harry T. Roman adds, “And nothing builds professional skills better and faster than leading project teams.”
You can take Roman at his word; he spent most of his 36-year career doing just that at PSE&G, New Jersey’s largest utility company. Now, to encourage other professionals and lend them a helping hand with leading successful teams in their organizations, he has written Caring for Your Project Team. The e-book is a valuable resource for almost anyone who may be asked to lead a project team – whether they’re brand new at it, or experienced.
Organization leaders form project teams when they want to resolve a well-defined problem or need. The team is usually interdisciplinary, with individuals selected from various departments, to provide the right mix of skills and perspectives.
Describing his own experiences with project teams, Roman points out team leaders usually have no line authority over team members – they can only promise the opportunity to provide unique and creative solutions to help address an important problem.
But despite lacking superior-subordinate powers, the author believes the person heading the team must also be a good leader, if the group is to achieve its goals.
“Successful teams feed off great leadership,” he writes. “Good management is always important, but leadership gets the job done. It unites 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 emphasizes that project teams vary according to their specific charge. In Roman’s case, many of the teams he led typically involved large-issue concepts and projects, such as developing an advanced technique for power-system load-flow analysis, or using robots in nuclear power plants and other utility operations. Moreover, his teams usually involved three- to five-year member commitments, large budgets, and he often supplemented them with vendors and outside consultants.
Nevertheless, Roman lists 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 to key areas where team leaders need to devote special attention in managing their groups.
For example, when discussing the importance of connecting team members to the future of the organization, he encourages these strategies: Showing how the solution can affect the industry, encouraging creativity, and introducing team members to senior management – both before starting the project, and during the team’s term of work.
“Team members naturally covet the chance to do something creative, to think and act ‘outside the envelope,’” he writes. “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 employees’ general growth should continue – as they discuss with their direct supervisors – the project team assignment could potentially provide special technical or business training, as part of the team activities.
“Knowing they’re going into new territory and exploring a new area that boosts their creativity gives team members a powerful uplift,” he writes. And further, “A very cogent case can be made that team assignments will probably put team members’ development on steroids.”
Other development strategies he recommends for team members include encouraging them to attend conferences and seminars relevant to what the team is doing; and 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 for the team leader to use in engaging and promoting creativity.
Roman offers a list of typical statements that he describes as what “great leaders would say to their team members. They range from “I messed up, my fault” to “I believe in you. Keep pressing forward!”
The last chapter, “The Voices of Others,” includes the thoughts of some former PSE&G colleagues on getting the most from a project team – whether as leader or a participant. Harry Roman’s valuable advice aside, these views are worth the price of the e-book.
A frequent author of IEEE-USA e-books, Harry Roman is an IEEE Senior Member, holds 12 United States patents and has published hundreds of scientific papers, articles, monographs and books.
Helen Horwitz is an award-winning freelance writer who lives in Albuquerque, N.M. She was with IEEE from 1991 through 2011, the first nine as Staff Director, IEEE Corporate Communications.