I was speaking with a colleague interstate who was expressing his frustrations with his current project team. They are about halfway through the construction of multi-story building and have been plagued with team dynamic issues from the start. Although a relatively newly established team coming from different companies and projects prior, there are a couple of individuals who are what you could deem as being “toxic” to the project. The project is being delivered on a “business as usual” timeframe, however the amount of energy that is being expelled from each of these individuals and their lack of engagement to the company and project is creating a huge cost.

These costs include wasted hours through team meetings to try and get along, inefficiencies and lack of accountability in getting the job done. As my colleague expressed “We spend the bulk of our time battling with subbies and trying to get the job done – we just can’t be wasting time and energy battling each other”.

Let’s be clear – this isn’t about trying to build a happy team environment where we all go out for lunch, Friday night drinks and are polite, pleasant and nice to each other all the time. Far from it. This is about building a team that connects to the purpose of what they are trying to achieve, being clear on who is responsible for what, holding each other and themselves accountable and having the trust in each other to deliver and do what is best for project, client and company.

So is it too late for this team and should they just grumble through the next 10 months and breathe a sigh of relief when the project is done? How can this team get back on track?

One of the biggest issues that this team are having is a lack of accountability. In Patrick Lencioni’s book “The Advantage” he talks about the importance of embracing accountability – and that there are two different types of accountability: Measurable performance and Behavioural. Behavioural accountability is more important due to the fact that “behavioural problems almost always precede – and cause – a down turn in performance and results”. If the team doesn’t address the behavioural accountability issues that are occurring – the result is going to be that the project and ultimately the bottom line are going to suffer.

Accountability can be a difficult skill to master as holding others to account can involve personal, behavioural judgement.   The first steps in ensuring the team is set up to be able to practice and master the skill of accountability are:

  1. Purpose – The team needs to be clear on what the purpose is for them, each as individuals and as a team. They need to connect to the vision for the project
  2. Leadership – Poor leadership on the project has left a lack of trust and faith from the team in the leaders. Issues that are addressed from the team are not taken seriously and when escalated, staff are told not to try and go above heads. Leaders need to be clear on their priorities and be visible on the project.
  3. Planning – Better planning needs to occur within project delivery to avoid last minute rushes and reduce inefficiencies. More visible involvement from the project leaders and presence on site will allow them to better plan and communicate these plans with input from the team on the ground.
  4. Role clarity – Each individual needs to be clear on not just want their role is on the project, but what each other’s roles are so that they can best support each other in achieving their individual and project goals.

By embracing accountability within the team and the project leaders, the team should be able to find a space to unite and get on with achieving the safe, on time and profitable delivery of the project.