Vicki James, PMP, CBAP, PMI-PBA, CSM

formerly of Professional Project Services, LCC

“Building” a Team

One of the hardest jobs for a Project Manager is team building.  What exactly does a “built team” look like? How do you build a team? And where exactly are the blueprints?

Team building is not a science with hard specifications, but rather an art that takes skill and experience to find what works.  To complicate things even more, what worked well for one team may not have a positive impact on a different team.   As project managers, we need a large collection of tools to mold and shape the team into a cohesive whole. When the team is a cohesive whole they support each other with the goal to do whatever it takes to make the project a success.   This article will describe several exercises that I have used and liked with context on the types of situations you may want to try this.

Team Bingo

  • When: Early in the project, preferably the Project Kickoff Meeting.
  • Participants:  Team members and key stakeholders
  • Preparation:  Get “fun facts” about each player on the team.  Some things  related to the work they do that others may not realize, and some fun personal facts such as hobbies or skills.  Create a bingo card with a “fun fact” in each square.  Don’t have enough fun facts?  That’s okay. Create some FREE spaces as needed or use generic items such as “born outside of the US” or “speaks another language fluently”.
  • Exercise:  Use this at the start of a kickoff meeting.  Each team member gets a bingo card.  The object is to find the person who matches the “fun fact” and write their name on the bingo card.  They must actually talk to this person about the square before writing the name.  The object is to get a bingo (as defined by facilitator).
  • Notes:  Make sure the room you are in has enough room for people to walk around.  Provide a good amount of time on the agenda for this item to give team members a chance to visit and learn about each other.
  • Expected Outcome:  Team members get to meet and learn things that each brings to the team that might not otherwise be realized.  Some items may come into handy throughout the project such as “Jane was editor of her college newsletter”.

Communication Style Round Robin

  • When: Early in a project but after the team members have had some exposure to working together. This will help them decide what tidbits of information will be of the most value.  Conduct this session one to two months into the project.
  • Participants: Core team members
  • Preparation: Decide what you want team members to reveal through the process.
  • Exercise:  Provide a set list of questions that each team member has to answer about themselves about their communication and work styles. Once the person has answered the questions, other team members may comment on their own observations.  Make sure to capture notes and send the results out at the conclusion. Questions I have used include:
    • What is your preferred work style?
    • How do you prefer to communicate?
    • What is one thing your team members should know about you?
    • How will we know when you are stressed? What can your team members do to help?
  • Notes: Generally when a team member provides comments in another’s turn, it is truly positive aspect of that person that they have not even realized or known was appreciated (e.g., “Dave likes to think of what’s coming up next, he is very proactive.”) Other comments include advice on the best way to get another team members attention (e.g., “If you have something you want Art to look at, take it to him and put it on his chair and not rely on email.”)
  • Expected Outcome: Team members have information that will help them understand each other better and work more productively together.  The outcome is that team members are able to meet in the middle where their work styles will work well together.

Daily Scrum Meetings

  • I use daily Scrum meetings on most of the projects I work on whether an Agile project or not.  It gives team members an opportunity to hear where each other is on project tasks and potential, or real, barriers to support each other in moving forward. This is a great way to avoid “heads down work” impeding communications and therefore decreasing overall project momentum. More on Scrum meetings can be found at

Informal Retrospective

  • When: Frequently throughout a project beginning one or two months into the project.  The goal is to get early feedback on how well things are working and what can be done to make it better before the project is over.
  • Participants: Core team members
  • Preparation:  Lots of 3” by 4” sticky notes and markers for posting on a wall.  Predefined legend for rating overall project team satisfaction.
    • 1 – Get me out of here
    • 2 – I have reason for concern and see potential for improvement
    • 3 – I am fairly satisfied
    • 4 – I am glad I’m part of the team and satisfied with how our team works together
    • 5 – This team is awesome!
  • Exercise
    • Team members write project team satisfaction rating on sticky and post to the wall anonymously
    • Determine the averages of the project team satisfaction rating and posts with description for participants.  Track with each retrospective so you and the team members can find trends.
    • Team members write one word to describe how they feel about recent progress and posts to the wall anonymously
    • Read each one word description, asks the reason for the word, and document on white board or flip chart
    • The words and result list can be used to facilitate a brainstorm on process improvement.
  • Notes:  This meeting is for the team members only.  The results do not get posted or shared with stakeholders except when they will be impacted by a changed process with.  The process improvement discussion can easily be adapted to meet your preferences for capturing and tracking improvement ideas.
  • Expected outcome:  A quick and easy way to get a pulse on the satisfaction level of team members and explore ideas to improve.  The one word exercise can produce some interesting results for discussions that can be much more insightful then asking “how do you feel?”   The words provided may be abstract, but the conversation gets you to the important conversations.
These are just a few examples.  Please respond with some of your own team building experiences.  If you now use or try any of the above ideas please post any tips or results you have experienced.  I look forward to the sharing!
Additional Resources

4 responses to ““Building” a Team

  1. Pingback: Free Team Building Ideas To Improve Employee Performance | Call Center Cafe

  2. Pingback: Team Building Ideas « PMChat

  3. Pingback: Understanding Basic Human Needs #pmchat | Your Project Success

  4. Pingback: Understanding Basic Human Needs #pmchat « Your Project Success

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