‘Project Team’ – an abiding myth


By Martin Price 

Northampton, UK

Have you noticed the preference of many groups for being regarded as a team? It seems that many organisations today want to be seen as a team; even when they are not a team! This article challenges the use of the term ‘project team’ and calls for re-thinking about how the management of project delivery should be organised.

A popular definition of a team is

“ a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, set of performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.” Katzenbacher and Smith

I recently heard a town council referring to itself as a team. This struck me as curious. A council must accommodate the irregularities of rival priorities, relationships, personal and party ambitions, controversy and changes to its circumstances. Interests and influence from voters, residents, Whitehall, statutory bodies and others must be accommodated. This all makes council activities necessarily problematic and often ambiguous. Conduct is multifaceted, complex and ‘irregular’.

Surely, whether a group is behaving as a team is important. The definition above implies a unity and coherence that in the case of a typical town council, does not and cannot apply. If instead we consider the conduct of a town refuse-collection crew, gathering domestic waste and disposing of it, their conduct is regular and simple and it can be correctly described as a team. Irregularity is clearly greater in the council organisation than it is for those deployed for refuse collection.

So where does a ‘Project Team’ fall in this range of irregularity?

I see there to be plenty of irregularity in a project delivery organisation. Using a sentence above: ‘many project activities are necessarily problematic and often ambiguous. Conduct is multifaceted, complex and irregular’. We cannot know how a project will turn-out; either in terms of what will be achieved or how it will be achieved.

There is usually some difference between what was initially expected and what is eventually accomplished and the differences can be massive: this being attributable to a project’s evolution rather than to any mistakes on the part of the project manager.

Yet despite this irregularity, the project community at large uses the term ‘project team’.


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About the Author

martin-priceflag-ukMartin Price


Northampton, England

Martin Price is the founder and CEO of EngagementWorks, a consultancy assisting project organisations to collaborate, adapt, become more reliable and accelerate their rate of progress. He was until 2010, Director of Professional Development for the UK Chapter of the Project Management Institute (PMI®) and acted as ‘finder’ and Speaker Host for the monthly meetings of the UK Chapter in London over six years. He is a regular speaker, conference convener and writer on the subject of project management.  Martin has been a contributor to the preparation of professional standards for both APM and PMI.

Following a career in engineering, industrial relations and personnel management, Martin spent 10 years with PA Consulting Group leading projects to help businesses and project organisations to adapt and improve their skills, structures and capabilities.  Martin has worked internationally and has experience as a trainer and consultant in the US, Sweden, Central Africa, The Middle East and India, as well as Britain.  His book ‘Projects, gathering pace’   is to be published shortly.  Based in Northampton, UK, Martin can be contacted at [email protected].  For more information or to follow Martin, visit www.engagementworks.com.