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Understanding Project Team Culture

written by: Bruce Tyson • edited by: Ginny Edwards • updated: 8/29/2010

As team members share the challenges, obligations, and objectives of the team, a distinct culture develops that characterizes the team as a whole and ultimately determines how successful the team is in achieving its stated goals. Learn about project team culture here.

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    What is Project Team Culture?

    Project team culture is the system of interaction that develops between team members, and ultimately exists independently of team Crystal Clear teamwork members to characterize the team as a whole. Successful teams have a culture that gets others to embrace change and is constructed from positive interaction among members as they pursue shared interests, obligations, challenges and friendships. The cohesiveness, loyalty, and integrity of the team as a whole is determined by the quality of interaction among its members.

    The cyclical nature of project team culture is demonstrated by the way the culture that characterizes the team influences the behavior of each member, thus demonstrating the importance of nurturing a positive project team culture from the outset.

    Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Niki K

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    Foundations of Project Team Culture

    Although every project team will develop a culture, not every culture that develops is good. Ideally, team members will work together and thus create a cooperative environment where communications and teamwork create synergy among the team members that enhances the team's effectiveness. Contrariwise, if the team members do not communicate effectively, isolate themselves in tasks, and work for their own interests, a pathological team culture develops that can result in project delays and even failure.

    Although each team member initially contributes to the project team culture, other factors also influence it which may be beyond the project manager's control. Teams where too many polices are in place, too much paperwork is required, and too much bureaucracy is in place, and too many meetings are held will tend to generate negative cultures.

    Because many factors that negatively impact the culture of a team are systemic, the quality of the project team culture can be in the hands of senior management and executives who may or may not understand the concept of project management. Companies that do not value the principles of project management or those that are not committed to it are those that are most likely to impose too many rules and requirements on the team without regard to their effects.

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    How to Improve Project Team Culture

    Because of the importance team culture has on project outcomes, steps should be taken to create an atmosphere where strong cultures can develop. Beginning at the top, corporations should educate managers and executives so they can develop an understanding of project management. Once that understanding is operational, project managers have more responsibility for the culture that emerges to characterize the team.

    Project managers have the opportunity to develop a positive culture by encouraging team work, exhibiting strong communication skills, and avoiding the temptation to micromanage team members by practicing effective delegation. A healthy approach to relationships within the team and attention to controlling the scope of the project will also foster a strong project team culture.

    Finally, one of the best ways to encourage a positive project team culture is through the use of achievement. Each team member is aware of their responsibility in the project's outcomes. They are judged only by their success at fulfilling their responsibilities, not by every step they took to achieve them. This tends to avoid a culture where finger pointing is the name of the game because the work of team members can be validated to some extent even if the project as a whole fails.