Checkboard checklist and stethoscope graphic

Is it possible to measure the culture or ‘health’ of a project team in a scientific cost effective manner rather than using your experience and intuition?  There is definitely both elements at play when measuring team health.

Having worked on securing and setting up large collaborative projects for a number of years, I can assess fairly accurately where a team is at by the office setup, visible posters or lack of them and the general vibe and interaction with the project team.  The culture of a place is something that can be felt and the more experience you have in a variety of cultures with numerous project officers and organisations, the more quickly and precisely you can read where the culture is at along the high performance curve.  Most people will know when things aren’t on track and the writing is on the wall prior to major challenges coming to the surface.

To back up the gut feeling, information can also be gained through discussion with various people about what is working well and what is not.

Key questions I generally ask are as follows:

  • How is the project tracking?
  • Are people clear on their roles and the expectations and key timeframes needed to deliver on this project?
  • What are we doing to regularly communicate to the team?
  • Are people working as a one team or within their respective silos?
  • What needs to be achieved in the next 6 months and how clear are people on these milestones?

Although beneficial, this straightforward approach can also be quite subjective, depending on who you talk to and what areas of the project they are involved in.   It can also lack focus and may be scrutinised by the team for not being backed by tangible evidence, facts, and examples to support conclusions.

A way to combat this is to undertake a confidential survey at the governance board, management team and project team levels on a regular basis.  15 – 20 well designed questions linked to identified success factors that drive positive team health and high performance will allow you to identify gaps, highlight areas you are doing well in, and provide individuals with an opportunity to provide open ended comments that gives everyone a solid understanding of what we should stop, start and continue to do to deliver successfully on the project or bid submission.

The advantage of a more measured approach is it only takes about 5 minutes a month to capture this confidential feedback.  Undertaking these surveys ensure that evidence, not assumptions are guiding the decisions for change whilst promoting openness, and encouraging feedback form the wider team.   By undertaking surveys at the different levels, it will highlight the different challenges and perceptions that arise.  The same issue can be seen quite differently from a board level to a project team level.  It is these differing viewpoints that provide opportunity for focused and constructive incremental improvements.

For those that are not connected to the project on a day to day basis, such as board members of senior leaders of alliance organisations, independent data on where the team is at and where the focus needs to be provides enormous confidence.

In the past I have predominately relied on my gut and past experience, however now I look to combine the two.  Projects take an evidence based approach to addressing technical challenges on a project so it makes sense to do the same for something as important as team health. Trust your gut but gather the evidence to support your conclusions.

What are your thoughts? Should project team health be assessed through the experience gained from being on the project, should we trust our gut, or should there be an evidence based approach?