Spontaneous teamwork – the best kind?

Spontaneous teamwork - the best kind

I recently saw a great example of spontaneous teamwork. I was making my way up one of those very long escalators you find in London tube stations. Some way above me and ahead of me, a woman took off her hat and put her hand on the moving hand rail, but without realising it let go of her hat. The hat slid quickly down the steeply sloping polished surface next to the hand rail. It slid past several people but a man about ten rows behind the woman caught the hat. The hat was then passed forwards by various people and within little more than ten seconds was returned to the delighted and grateful woman, who until then had not even realised it was lost.

I noted several observations from this little scene…

  • This team formed completely spontaneously – no-one was assigned roles or organised from above (but then this was a very simple little task)
  • Nobody told the team what to do – they saw there was something that needed to be done, and they did it
  • No-one in the team had anything to gain from their actions, except the satisfaction of doing something good, and of seeing the woman’s smile when her hat was returned (although granted they were there anyway and it was very little trouble to them to help her). She was positively beaming – I think it was an expensive hat!
  • The recipient was delighted with the result because she got something she wasn’t expecting.

So how can we apply these observations to teamwork in project management? Here are my thoughts:

  • If you are lucky enough to have an experienced and mature team, let them organise themselves as far as possible – show them what needs to be done and then hold back, only stepping in if it looks like it’s not going to work.
  • Explain to the team what the end goal is and that you need their help. They will feel more motivated to contribute if:
    • they can see what the goal is and agree it is worthwhile
    • they can see how their actions contribute to reaching the goal
    • they will receive recognition for achieving the goal
  • If you want to delight your sponsor, you can deliver a little something extra that they didn’t know about (but that is easy and cheap for you to provide, that the sponsor finds desirable and that they didn’t have to pay any extra for!). B.Be careful here though, as they may expect similar extras in future that are difficult and expensive for you to provide, and providing too much as free extras could lead to your sponsor undervaluing the delivery they did pay for.

What do you think? What PM lessons occur to you from this little scene?

Author: Ken

Ken Burrell is a contract Project, Programme and Portfolio Office (PMO) Professional, who makes targeted improvements to PMO practices to add value to Projects, Programmes and Portfolios through engagements of his company Pragmatic PMO. He provides senior management with the analysis they need to make decisions, and gives project and programme managers the support they need to deliver solutions.

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