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  • Writer's pictureDr. Denis Petersen, PMP, ACMP

Building Project Teams - Part 2

Project Managers have a direct influence on team synergy. This article discusses specific actions they can take to enhance teamwork and build cohesion among stakeholders.

Project team working together

Building Team Synergy



Petersen Training is an Authorized Training Partner for the Project Management Institute; some of this content is based on concepts in the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) and can be helpful for those who are preparing for a PMI certification.


1. What is Synergy?


The term “synergy” is not new; it has been used by writers and theorists for different purposes for hundreds of years. However, in a business setting, it is a term that represents the ability of people to accomplish more as part of an effective team than they can if they work on their own. In addition, teams with positive synergy collaborate well and perform at higher levels. The following graphic depicts this truth:


Curve showing increasing synergy and success on the right, with decreasing synergy and success on the left

From Petersen and Anderson


So, if team synergy is increasing, projects will see increasing success at an exponential rate. However, the opposite is also true. If team synergy is decreasing, they will see decreasing success—also at an exponential rate. Teams never seem to be stagnant on this curve. They are either progressing upward or sliding down the curve. Thus, it takes constant vigilance by leaders and team members to build synergy.

2. Start with a Team Charter

One of the first things a project manager can do to build synergy is to have team members develop a Team Charter. This is a guiding document that establishes how team members will work together. It is composed of expectations, processes, and agreements that will guide member actions and decisions throughout a project. The charter may contain:

  • Shared values

  • Team norms

  • Ground rules for how the team will interact

  • Decision-making processes and structure

  • Conflict management processes

  • Communication expectations and methods

All of these elements are designed to build the team and help members understand (upfront) the behavioral expectations that will lead them to success. When a team experiences difficulties or conflicts, team members can always refer to the Team Charter to help them work through these issues. So, to create an effective charter, it is best to gather team members into a room (or a virtual work session), have them develop team expectations, resolve any concerns that arise during discussions, document the results of the work session, invite each member to sign the document (when they agree with its contents), and display the document prominently in team work areas.

3. Leading Synergistic Teams

An effective team environment promotes feelings of unity, belonging, cohesion, value, and trust among team members. So, when building synergistic teams, leaders must BE the type of person—and take positive actions—to allow these feelings to be present.

To BE an effective leader, project managers must have integrity, trustworthiness, interpersonal skills, and problem-solving and conflict-resolution skills. They can’t ask team members to become or accomplish what they are not willing to be or do themselves. Great leaders realize that the work environment and team climate are built on relationships. In fact, leaders with the traits and skills mentioned above are the foundation for positive team relationships.

So, what actions can project managers take to build team synergy? They can start by being positive. Positivity creates an environment in which team relationships thrive. Other synergy-building actions include:

  • Clearly defining team success parameters

  • Clarifying roles, responsibilities, and expectations

  • Communicating well using methods that work for the team

  • Facilitating, coaching, and training

  • Removing obstacles that inhibit team performance

  • Establishing team-based recognition and reward processes

A quick word about the last item in this list—the team environment will be impacted most positively if recognition and reward programs are team-based.  Systems that are based on competition for limited benefits may introduce strife and envy into the team environment. It is usually best to base rewards and recognition on how well a team performs and meets goals. It is also helpful to celebrate performance as a team—during these celebrations, leaders can show gratitude for outstanding individual efforts that contributed to team performance and meeting team goals, but they should make team efforts central to the celebration.

In addition to the items outlined above, project managers should take the opportunity to introduce activities that are focused on team building.  These activities can be formal or informal, they can also be facilitated or structured by professionals who work in this field.  Project leaders can also facilitate team-building efforts in meetings or gatherings.  Every meeting is an opportunity to build cohesion and support a healthy team culture.

Self organizing team working together to plan project actions

Finally, project managers can improve the team environment by empowering the team.  Here are a few ideas:

  • Have team members set and track progress toward team-based goals

  • Encourage members to organize around team strengths

  • Invite team members to participate in planning processes

  • Allow members to volunteer for specific work assignments

  • Assign team members to monitor specific performance metrics

  • Allow team members to decide how to correct performance variances

Self-organizing teams are empowered teams; great leaders capitalize on the benefits and synergies associated with empowered members.

4. Conclusion

Leadership is the ability to influence people’s attitudes and actions. A leader’s influence is critical when building team synergy.  And, synergy is all about attitudes and actions. When team members build positive relationships and work collaboratively, they push together up the right side of the synergy curve and experience exponential success. This is the goal—exponentially positive team success!


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