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

formerly of Professional Project Services, LCC

Tag Archives: Team Building

An Ounce of Prevention – Agreement and Documentation of Project Roles

Have you ever been on or lead a team where confusion over who should do what existed? Maybe there was a ‘roles and responsibilities’ document or even RACI chart on the wall, yet team members struggled. Struggles commonly persist when a task was not included in the document or the team members did not accept the assignments. Have they even seen and reviewed it? Unclear expectations and lack of communication leads to team conflict, something we all want to avoid. Below is one exercise I have done with teams that has resulted in a better understanding and respect in team members’ roles.


Generate team discussion and agreement on who is responsible for the completion and quality of project tasks.


All team members for a small team or a representative of each team discipline for larger teams.  No discipline should go unrepresented. For best results, ask for an independent facilitator so that the project manager can be a full participant.




  • Large index cards or sticky notes
  • Empty walls for posting cards
  • Felt pens


  • Write out a team task, one task per card (may be hand written with felt pen or creating labels to stick to the cards may save some time) – Sample Set of Labels
  • Create a card for each project team discipline (e.g., developers, business analysts, test team) including single person roles (e.g., project manager, sponsor)
  • Use the team discipline cards to create areas for columns, or groups, of tasks on meeting room walls. Additional groupings for “ALL” or “TBD” may also be represented.
  • Leave some blank cards and felt pens around the room for team members
  • Organize your pre-written cards so that can easily get to the most controversial tasks easily


  • Explain the goal and process for the meeting to team members
    • Goal – Assign all tasks to project sub-team or members with full team agreement
    • Process – Ask the meeting participants where each task belongs as far as who do the task. Encourage discussion of “why” when there are differences of opinion. There are no right or wrong answers. Whatever the team agrees to is correct. The project manager may suggest best practice, but not dictate the final assignment.
  • Start with a few more obvious tasks such as “write program code”
  • Post the card in the in the group that the team agrees
    • Where differences of opinion, ask those most directly affected to explain why they choose that role or discipline
    • See if team members agree after hearing explanations
    • If still no agreement, offer the project managers view on where the assignment belongs
    • See if team can agree to the project managers view, specifically those most affected
    • If still no agreement put task aside or post in “TBD” to come back to
    • Limit the time per card to about 2 minutes
  • Move on to the tasks that are likely to generate the most discussion once team members have a handle on how the process works
  • Team members may propose new tasks for discussion by writing out a card
  • Stop about 10 minutes before the scheduled end time to get agreement for handling remaining tasks. Possible options include:
    • Extend meeting time
    • Schedule a follow-up meeting
    • Assign delegate to propose assignments for any remaining tasks and send to team members
    • Inform the team how the results will be documented and where available for future reference

This exercise focuses on who does the work. There is still a need to document who reviews, who approves, and so on. This can come in a RACI-type chart later. Another option is to mark each card as team members discuss the assignment. Choose whatever method will get to team acceptance the quickest.

I mention a RACI-type chart for a reason. When creating a matrix of roles and responsibilities use the terms best represents how work is approved in your team and organization. “Responsible”, “Accountable”, “Communicated”, and “Informed” may not hold a lot of meaning to your team members where “Leads”, “Approves”, and “Informed” may be clearer. Let the team help decide on the categories to capture so that the resulting document is meaningful.


I hope this exercise, or some variation of it, will help to avoid confusion and conflict in your project teams. Please comment or email me if you use this exercise on your project. I am interested in how it went for your team; especially any adjustments made that provided even better results.

It Starts With You! Exploring Team Communication Breakdown

There is a phenomenon at the poker table that helps to understand one aspect of breakdown in team communications. Often the action (or play) will get held up because someone does not check, bet, or raise. They simply sit there. Everyone at the table assumes this person is thinking about their options. Only this person is wondering who is holding up the action. The general rule is, if you don’t know who is holding up the action – it is you.

Here are some thoughts to consider next time your team is experiences problems due to poor communication.

Great team communication starts with you!

Sender – Focus first on what you know or are doing that might impact anybody else

  • Have you communicated this?
  • Have you communicated the potential impact on other because of the action or change?
  • Have you communicated in a way that will be received?
  • Have you confirmed that everyone received and understood the information?

Receiver – In getting information from others

  • Do you pay careful attention in meetings?
  • Do you refer to meeting notes?
  • Do you ask for clarification?
  • Are you up to date with your email?
  • Are your emails organized so that you can get back to past information?
  • Have you done a search on your email to get earlier information sent?
  • Are you paying attention to what is available on the team collaboration site?
  • Have you stated a preference to the team or team members on how to alert you of new information?

Team member – Working toward a team goal

  • Are your actions in line with the stated current team goals?
    • If not, have you validated that your activity is a valid priority and adjusted the overall work plan with the team?
  • Is anybody waiting on something from you?
  • Is there something you are doing that will help or impact another team member?
  • Have you stated your concerns or thoughts of the current activities towards to team goals to with the team and/or team leader?
  • Have you asked others to give information they have that might have to help you better understand the difference in opinion?
  • Do you given respect to team or team leaders decisions and priorities

Share this post with your team members to encourage introspection for better team communications.

Related Posts:

“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
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