WHEN DYSFUNCTIONAL Project Teams SUCCEED

Nearly every project management consulting professional has watched a completely dysfunctional Project Team execute a project successfully. How do they do it? When the rest of us are carefully creating solid budgets and timelines, while we’re diligently minding our progress and watching for potential problem areas downstream, these broken teams manage to succeed in spite of themselves. Is it just luck? I don’t think so. In those cases where I’ve seen a heavily flawed project team achieve its objectives, there are usually some extraordinary circumstances that contribute to the project’s success.

A lot of problems can slip past disconnected stakeholders or an executive team that isn’t paying attention. Projects that are over budget or miss a deadline may never be questioned, and even failures on a critical deliverable could glide under the radar. If your performance is never truly subjected to scrutiny, what does it matter if you do a good job or not? But beware the downside: the long-term effectiveness of projects that don’t pass muster is diminished, meaning that stakeholders might not trust your Project Team’s recommendations in the future, or other projects may need to be implemented to fix what went wrong the first time.

A project team comprised of high-performing individuals will often succeed, even if a subset of members aren’t pulling their weight. Self motivation and sheer determination can usually drive those who set high standards for themselves to cover a lot of faults if it means the project will succeed. Unfortunately, in my experience these situations ultimately put the organization in an even worse position when the stars of the Project Team move on in search of a team that doesn’t take advantage of them.

Have any of you ever worked in a dysfunctional Project Team? What were the underlying problems, and how did your team manage to find success?

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