20 Tips for Creating High Performing Project Teams

Editorial Team

develop project team

High performing project teams are the difference between project success and failure.

Poor teams miss milestones, leave you endlessly frustrated, and could even damage your career. In contrast, high performing teams empower you to achieve your priorities, inspire confidence in your ability, and might get you promoted.

That’s why it’s so important to invest time in creating high performing project teams.

But where do you start? Right now, you might be setting up a new team, trying to motivate your current one, or working hard to convert a good team into an excellent team. With so many factors at play it can be extremely daunting.

Don’t worry though. Achieving project team perfection is closer than you think. Use these 20 proven tips to create high performing project teams. They’re easy to implement and deliver truly effective results.

1. Create An Inspiring Mission Statement

Not all projects are alike, however your team’s motivation and the quality of their output should be. Whether you have the luxury of building your team for each project, or not, as a project manager you will always be working collaboratively.

So it’s important that you acknowledge and celebrate the team in your project team.

What better way to do it than creating an inspiring mission statement?

Now it can’t be just anything. You will need something understandable, that clearly communicates your team’s purpose and drive. When creating a mission statement, take your time and think about exactly what you want from your project team.

Enlist your team to help you. Mission statements help give your team a sense of purpose, and tell the rest of your organization exactly why your work matters.

2. Clearly Define Project Team Roles

Like a house, project teams are only as strong as their weakest beam.

It’s vital that you understand exactly which roles are required in your project team. Carefully plan what you are expected to deliver collectively, then scope out the professional requirements of the project.

Clearly defining project team roles requires you to understand your project, so consider what you are delivering.

When you are sure that you know exactly which roles your team requires, assign them to your team. Sometimes, team members will need some help understanding how their roles are aligned to your organization’s overall objectives, so help them.

It’s important that each member understands their responsibilities. Otherwise, they won’t be able to deliver them.

3. Communicate Common Objectives

Every project has common objectives. Make sure your team know exactly what they are.

Sometimes when individual tasks are broken up into smaller ones, it can become difficult for your project team to understand exactly what they are working towards.

Make sure everyone knows that they are working towards the same milestones and delivery deadlines.

4. Expert Recruitment

If recruitment is an option, use it.

For every project its paramount that your team has all the necessary skills to deliver set tasks. Sometimes, the only way to achieve it is to bring in new, exceptional talent. Understand exactly what your team is missing, and work with your human resources department to find to the best candidates.

To find the perfect addition to your project team, get involved with the recruitment process.

5. Retain Talent

While recruitment is always an option, employee retention often takes less effort. Remember, the best way to deliver your objectives is to keep talented people working for you.

Don’t be fooled though, retention is not always easier than recruitment.

Make sure you are paying enough attention to every member of your team. Keep tabs on whether you think your team are challenged enough at work. If they aren’t, consider delegating more responsibility to them.

When someone deserves a promotion, make sure you acknowledge it, whether you have the budget to offer one now or not.

Regular individual catch-ups with your team will help you keep a good oversight, so do them.

6. Collaboration Trumps Brilliance

Never forget, you work with a team.

Although there may be some brilliant people at your company, project teams are about the project, not individual achievements. For your team to succeed, everyone needs to be a team player. If they aren’t, there’s no way you’ll meet your project goals.

While it’s easy to focus on talent, your team is a group of people not a single person. So while one person may be brilliant, if they’re affecting the quality of other people’s work, you are well within your rights to remove them.

7. Give Clear Directions

An excellent project team isn’t all in the creation. High performing teams require maintenance.

To keep your team high performing, give them clear directions and stay on top of their work. When new tasks come in, make sure you provide clear directions and check that your team understand exactly what they’re doing.

If you’re team don’t have clear instructions from you, they will never excel.

8. Encourage Professional Development

Learning is for life. As the project manager make sure your team are supported in their professional development.

Advertise training courses available in your company. Identify skill gaps as they emerge to ensure that your team stay high performing and are capable of the next task on the horizon.

Supporting professional development helps drive retention, and makes your team an attractive place for new, high performing candidates.

9. Create A Collaborative Atmosphere

Working environment is everything. Make sure your team work in a professional environment that promotes collaboration. You could have the best team ever, but they will not perform to your expected standards if they do not work together.

Make sure your work environment is the right one to support the work of a collaborative team by being open and transparent about your work. Don’t be afraid to encourage healthy competition, but beware that it can become toxic.

10. Be A Participative Leader

Never be afraid to get your hands dirty.

While you are the Project Manager, high performing teams are brothers and sisters in battle. You cannot sit in an ivory tower and issue commands. If you never lift a finger your work will suffer, and your team’s work will suffer.

Get to know the project inside out and work collaboratively with your team. When there are problems that people can’t solve, use your expert advice to find a solution.

A team that can see you supporting their work are more likely to trust your commands and go above and beyond.

11. Listen To Their Problems

Even high performing teams have problems. Keep your door open them, and invite members in to share them. It’s your responsibility to listen to their issues. They will appreciate it when you provide advice that helps them work through these challenges.

Remember too, when listening to problems, it’s important that when appropriate, you try and address them.

Understanding your team’s challenges will help you make sure that they remain high performing.

12. Never Over Promise

When scoping out a project, or writing a business case, remember, even the best teams cannot deliver impossible goals.

Even the best performing teams can only be high performing with realistic goals.

If you know that your team won’t be able to deliver on the promises you’re making, don’t make them. Instead, take the time to negotiate realistic goals, so you’re not setting your team up to fail.

13. Be Honest

To complete the best work, your team needs to trust you. That’s why whenever possible, you need to be honest with them. While some aspects of your project will be confidential, don’t get into the habit of unnecessarily hiding information.

Whether the challenge is deadlines that aren’t being met, or there’s uncertainty around a project, it’s better that your project team are aware and hear about the issues from you.

Whatever the news, you can find a way to communicate it that will motivate, and arguably, empower your team to tackle it head on.

14. Celebrate Success

Motivated teams are high performing teams. When something goes well, celebrate it. During the stress of a project, it’s easy to just want to move onto the next goal. However, it’s important that you take time to celebrate successes.

Celebrating success let’s your team know that their work is recognized, and importantly, highlights the standard of work you expect from them.

15. Address Poor Performance

Sometimes, to maintain high performance, you need to address poor performance.

If someone is not meeting agreed deadlines, call them up on it. If not, the rest of your team may start to resent it.

You can use specific strategies to do this successfully. Start by privately discussing the individual in question’s performance. If it doesn’t improve, help them develop effective strategies to complete their work to the agreed standard. Should their performance continue to wane, take formal action. Check with your company’s procedures and understand the protocols you need to take to remove them.

Be prepared to take definitive action and remove people from your team when they are damaging the project.

16. Manage Conflict

Conflict is one of the many symptoms of high pressure working environments. It’s also a common feature of project teams. It’s unavoidable.

However, how you manage conflict is your choice. While sometimes it can seem like healthy competition, on occasion it will severely impact the performance of your project team.

There are various methods for addressing conflict. The most important thing is that you take an active role in addressing. Act as the arbitrator, help your team develop solutions to conflict when they are facing an impasse, and consider reassigning responsibilities, where necessary.

If you let conflict take root, it will affect the performance of your whole team, so don’t ignore it.

17. Be Competitive, But Only with External Teams

Nothing drives performance like a bit of competition. That’s why it’s important that your team has clear targets or goals that they can work towards. Try and avoid encouraging competition directing in your team, but identify ways that your team can have some healthy competition with other teams in your company.

Perhaps you could work with other project managers at your company to have a healthy sales team competition. Internal competition may not always be an option. If it isn’t, consider whether securing a new contract before a competitor manages to could drive motivation.

When setting up a competition, just make sure it doesn’t become unhealthy. You don’t want your project team to cut corners to achieve their final goals. So keep an eye on them.

18. Reassign Tasks Based on Individual Strengths and Weaknesses 

Knowing your team is the path to Project Management nirvana. Perhaps your team is not high performing now. It could be that you have a great set of individuals, they’re just assigned to the wrong tasks. 

Work to understand your team’s strengths and weaknesses, and consider your personnel requirements.

Perhaps you have a team member who’s very persuasive and great at presenting, but they’re stuck on admin tasks. Think about how you can give them the opportunity to get into sales, or support you at your next presentation.

Perhaps one of your analysts is displaying potential as a good project coordinator. Why not let them manage your project risk register?

19. Train for Specific Tasks

Certain projects will require specialists. Your latest project could require the use of a new software package, or maybe you’re consulting in a field that you’re not used to.

Evaluate which new skills you need and seek a training budget to skill up your project team.

You might have a high performing project team, but if they do not have the right skills for the job, they won’t be able to complete the tasks that they are given. By definition, this would mean that they are not high performing.

20. Set Specific, Difficult Goals

Why not set your team some more challenging goals?

If your project team seem too comfortable, help them raise their game with more difficult and tasks that stretch their ability.

However, remember that difficult doesn’t need to mean unrealistic. There’s nothing that transforms a good team into a great team than the opportunities presented through a bit of a challenge.

Exceptional Project Team Performance

As a project manager, you project team are your most valuable asset.

Make sure you have the right one for every project. More importantly, remember that high performing project teams are not created, they are maintained.

Project teams are greater than the sum of their individual parts, and as the project manager it is your responsibility to help your project team reach for the stars.