A project team typically includes a project manager and a group of individual team members that work together to achieve a project’s goal. Well-run project teams can improve cross-functional collaboration and help your organization deliver high-impact work. Here’s how to help your project managers build and manage an effective project team.
In project management, assembling the right team is kind of like putting together a complicated piece of furniture—it takes foresight and careful planning, but when done correctly it makes all the difference.
Before you can put together a project team, though, you have to understand exactly what a project team is and the types of roles that need to be filled. In this article, we’ll break down the basics of a stand project team, and walk you through how a well-assembled team can enable your employees to create their highest-impact work.
A project team is a group of people that work together to complete a project. Usually, project teams are cross-functional—meaning they’re made up of individuals from different groups or departments within the organization, working toward a common goal. Project teams are responsible for successfully completing a project according to the project schedule and overall project objectives.
Typically, a project team is made up of a project manager, who oversees and manages the team, and individual team members who complete specific project tasks. Project team members can be internal (such as full-time employees) or external (such as freelancers). A project team can also consist of other stakeholders, including people who neither manage the project day-to-day nor carry out project work, but still have an interest in the project’s success and varying degrees of decision-making ability.Free cross-functional project template
Project teams aren’t one size fits all. Project teams at your organization will probably look a little different for each project, depending on factors like the project’s size and goals. No matter what the end goal, having a team with the right mix of skill sets is crucial to project success.
Here are the most common team roles that make up a project team:
The project manager—also known as the project leader—is typically responsible for coordinating, overseeing, and managing the project and the project’s team members. Project managers are responsible for ensuring that the project runs smoothly, from the kick-off meeting to the project post-mortem.
Project managers oversee the project and guide the team by setting expectations, assigning tasks, and coordinating work. They serve as mentors, guiding individual contributors and facilitating collaboration and communication between the project’s team members.
The project manager’s main responsibilities include:
Working with high-level management to develop a project plan and outline project goals.
Allocating project resources and developing a resource management plan.
Determining project scope and keeping the project within the limits defined in the scope management plan.
Communicating with and managing project team members.
Assigning project tasks and delegating project work to individual team members.
Keeping the project on schedule and developing solutions when priorities shift or roadblocks arise.
Tracking project KPIs and proactively pivoting if the project isn’t on track to hit goals.
Coordinating communication between team members and resolving any inter-team conflict.
Setting expectations and communicating updates to stakeholders through stakeholder management.
Let’s say your marketing agency is undertaking a website redesign. For this project, the project manager would be responsible for determining the time and resources needed to complete the project; overseeing the day-to-day operations of the redesign, including giving feedback and keeping the project on track; and managing the project’s individual team members.
A project team member is an individual tasked with producing the work that contributes to the successful completion of the project. Typically, project team members are individual contributors who have specialized, specific skill sets they bring to the team and to the project. They can be full-time or part-time employees who work in-house or as outside contractors.
You can think of project managers as the project overseers and project team members as the project executors. Remember, project teams are typically cross-functional, so project team members are often part of different departments throughout the organization. These siloed teams need effective technology to work cross-functionally (and produce high-impact work), such as a work management platform with tool integrations.
The main responsibilities of project team members include:
Producing deliverables and individual work that contributes to the project’s overall objectives and success.
Providing knowledge and feedback based on their individual areas of expertise.
Collaborating with other team members on project work.
Completing individual work on time and by priority.
Let’s continue with our website redesign example. For that project, project team members might include individual contributors from departments like design, copywriting, and development. Their tasks and deliverables could include developing a new color palette or typography scheme for the site, mocking up new designs for the homepage, wireframing the website, creating new copy, and coding out the final website.Free cross-functional project template
A project sponsor—sometimes known as an executive sponsor—is the person responsible for the overall success of the project. The project sponsor is typically a company executive or member of senior management. They serve as a champion for the project, helping allocate project resources, advocating for the project, and securing project buy-in.
In the project team hierarchy, the project sponsor sits above the project manager, acting as a guide and a go-between for the project manager and senior management. While the project manager is involved in the day-to-day operations of a project, the project sponsor may be looped into the project for feedback or status updates on a daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis.
The project sponsor’s main responsibilities include:
Advocating for the project during the initial planning stage, to get buy-in and secure funding.
Aligning the project with the business's strategic goals and demonstrating to stakeholders how project success will provide value to the company.
Appointing a project manager to lead the project and serve as a mentor for the project manager throughout the project lifecycle.
Providing guidance or approval on high-level, senior decisions.
Acting as a go-between for the project manager and members of the senior leadership team.
Keeping senior-level executives informed of project progress and necessary status or deliverable updates.
Closing out the project, including evaluating performance and ensuring a successful hand-off.
To round out our example, the project sponsor for the website redesign project would be an executive at the marketing agency, such as a senior creative director. They may have championed the project and led the charge to get the agency’s website redesigned. Once the redesign project kicks off, their main role would be mentoring the project manager and keeping senior management updated on the website design progress.
A basic project team almost always consists of a project manager, individual team members, and a project sponsor. But projects can vary a lot in size and scope, and that means project managers will need to adjust their team to meet their project’s needs.
Here are a few roles a project team may or may not include, depending on the project’s size and objectives:
Business analysts: A business analyst is an individual whose main role is to ensure that the business’s operations are running efficiently and find areas of improvement. On a project team, a business analyst helps define project goals and ensure that the project will provide value for the company.
Project team leads: For small projects, having one project manager oversee the project’s team members is enough. On larger projects, however, the team’s individual contributors might be structured into mini-teams, making it difficult for one project manager to provide oversight. Team leads are individuals who work directly under the project manager and oversee the work of specific individuals or mini-teams within the project team hierarchy. Typically, team leaders serve as a connection between the project manager and the individual team members.
The project steering committee: A steering committee is a group of individuals—typically senior managers or high-level executives—who “steer” the project by providing guidance and support throughout the project’s lifecycle. Not all projects need a steering committee, but they can be useful for projects that involve a lot of stakeholders.
Subject matter experts: Subject matter experts, or SMEs, are individuals with specialized knowledge in a specific field or area of expertise. SMEs typically collaborate with project managers, team members, and stakeholders to provide expert opinions or advice on questions or processes related to their area of knowledge. Depending on their role within the project, they can also help develop procedures, map out training processes, help secure buy-in, and provide project recommendations.
Additional stakeholders: A project stakeholder is anyone who has a stake in, or can be impacted by, the project. While this typically includes senior-level executives, it can also be peers or cross-functional teams who aren’t directly working on the project but would be impacted by the project’s outcome. Stakeholders can also be external, such as clients, customers, investors, or even shareholders.
Now that you know what a project team is, you might be wondering why your organization needs one. Project teams can help companies of all sizes collaborate and create, but are especially helpful for large enterprise organizations where team size and siloed communication bottlenecks can serve as roadblocks to collaboration.
Project teams help large organizations by:
It’s just common sense—the larger the organization is, the more teams and team members there are. And this can create bottlenecks. Think of it this way—siloed teams often have their own “language”—they have established processes and tools; they speak in a way that’s specific to the team; they store their files and do their work in certain places. And this works when teams stay siloed, but throw in some cross-functional collaboration—like asking members of the marketing, sales, and engineering teams to work together—and you’ll probably run into more than a few roadblocks.
That’s why cross-functional collaboration is so important. Project teams help streamline and simplify team communication and complex teamwork by setting clear responsibilities and aligning all team members on the same strategic goals.
As organizations grow, it becomes increasingly difficult to streamline and produce cross-functional work. By connecting team members and reducing silos, project teams maximize efficiency and reduce redundancies that can cost time and money. Plus, successful projects helmed by project teams can provide insight into how to streamline processes and workflows, which can lead to greater long-term business efficiency.
When team members have clearly defined roles and are aligned on strategic outcomes, they’re able to focus on creating important work. By reducing the friction caused by siloed teams, project teams allow everyone at your organization to function at their highest potential—ultimately leading to a collaborative, competitive enterprise.Free cross-functional project template
When it comes to successfully running a project team, understanding roles and responsibilities is important, but there’s more to it than that. Great project teams are collaborative, creative, and able to effectively communicate.
Here’s how to build a great project team—and, by doing so, set the team up to deliver high-impact, business-critical work.
The first step in creating a project team is choosing the correct team members. The mix of skills needed will depend on the purpose and goals of the project. For example, if your company is building a website for a client, your project managers will want to pull in a mix of creative and technical team members, as well as client-facing employees, like client account executives. On the other hand, if your organization is overhauling its onboarding process, the project team might consist of team members in more administrative and business-focused roles, such as human resources, business analysis, and people operations.
In addition to hard skills, it’s also important that your project managers think about the soft skills they’ll want to bring to the team—like adaptability, communication, critical thinking, and motivational skills. Finding team members with different skills and styles that complement each other is key, since it will allow them to build a dynamic team that will bring the project to life.
Clarity is key when it comes to project success. Before the project kicks off, it’s important to clearly define the project’s goals and success metrics. That way, you can get the project team on the same page about what that means for them.
Here are a few things to clarify at the beginning of the project, to ensure the project team is set up for success:
The project's goals, or the outcome or result they want to achieve with their project. For example, the project’s main goal might be to launch a company blog.
The project’s objectives, or the steps the project team will take to achieve the overall project goals. To continue our company blog example, project objectives might include developing an editorial calendar, choosing a content management system, and designing and developing the blog.
The project’s timeline, which includes the general time frame the project team will work on and complete the project in.
The project’s scope, which outlines the total work needed to finish the project and includes project resources and deliverables.
The project budget, aka the overview of how much the project should cost to complete and how to allocate the spend.
This should be a collaborative process—pulling the project team in early to talk through what work feels doable, what resources they need, and what project success looks like makes sure the whole team is aligned. That way, the whole project team can jump into the project feeling collected and confident—and that’s something every project needs.Free cross-functional project template
Once you’ve helped map out a plan for the project and defined the project’s goals and objectives, it’s time to clearly define the team’s roles and responsibilities. Like defining the project goals, determining team responsibilities helps bring clarity to the project—so every team member knows exactly what they’re responsible for and by when. This can cut down on potential miscommunication and duplicated work, while encouraging team collaboration.
For example, let’s say the project involves design work and there are two graphic designers on the project team. The project manager will need to determine how to split up the design tasks, as well as assign review and approval responsibilities to other team members. For larger projects where responsibilities feel especially murky, creating a RACI chart can help define and align on team responsibilities.
Project teams are made up of relationships and like any good relationship, communication is key. Here are a few tips for how to create a culture of open communication on a project team.
Be transparent with communication. Project managers set the tone for how their team communicates. They can help facilitate open, transparent communication on their team by leading by example. That means being honest with their team if they need to pivot the project or responsibilities, leading with empathy, and trusting their team to accomplish tasks without micromanaging. This will help create an open, trust-based team environment—that will translate into how team members communicate with one another.
Use communication tools consistently. Communication tools, like Slack, Zoom, or Gmail, are the foundation of workplace communication. To really be effective, though, teams have to do more than just use a communication tool—they need to use them consistently and follow the same communication guidelines across the team. To set these guidelines, project managers can work with their team to create a communication plan and determine best practices for team communication at the start of the project. What should video be used for? When are quick, one-off Slack messages preferred? By setting—and then following—these guidelines, project teams can collaborate more efficiently. And that means faster, better work.
Encourage bottom-up communication. Bottom-up communication helps foster an inclusive, open environment by encouraging team members at the “bottom” of the team’s hierarchy—such as new team members or individual contributors—to speak up and share their thoughts and ideas. To help create a space where team members feel comfortable speaking up, project managers should make a point to ask different team members for their opinions and thank them for sharing when they do.
Manage team conflict effectively. Team conflict can feel overwhelming, especially if project managers are relatively new or haven’t dealt with a lot of inter-team conflict before. But dealing with conflict doesn’t have to be scary—with the right conflict resolution strategies, project managers can resolve conflict and encourage their team to learn and grow. They can start by holding 1:1 conversations with the team members involved to get to the root of the conflict and practicing active listening. Once they’ve determined the cause of the conflict, they can move toward a mutually beneficial solution.
Be open to feedback. How project managers lead impacts how their team communicates and collaborates. Being open to feedback—whether it be in 1:1s, through anonymous surveys, or in team meetings—signals to the project team that they’re in an environment that’s welcoming and encourages them to give feedback to their team members as well.
Employees who receive consistent feedback are more engaged and more likely to thrive in the workplace. To ensure individual team members feel valued, make sure project managers recognize their team’s hard work and accomplishments with positive feedback.
Project managers simply letting their team members know they’re doing a good job is appreciated, but there are a lot of ways to acknowledge accomplishments and make their team feel recognized. Here are a few suggestions on how your project managers can acknowledge their team.
Send an email or a note calling out specific ways they’ve contributed to the project’s success.
Shout-out about one of their deliverables or contributions in a team Slack channel.
Share the client’s positive feedback about them or their work.
Take them to lunch or send them a small thank you gift, like their favorite ice cream.
Implement a time to share weekly wins during project meetings, and call out employees who have stood out that week.
Celebrate with the whole team with a team outing or surprise treats.
Acknowledge and celebrate the completion of project milestones.
Offer project-specific bonuses or monetary rewards for specific performance metrics.
Give the team visibility by spotlighting their work at company-wide meetings or similar public forums.
Constructive criticism is just as important as positive recognition. The two serve different purposes—while positive feedback boosts employee morale and makes team members feel valued, constructive criticism helps employees learn and develop in their roles.
Hearing constructive criticism can be difficult, so make sure everyone on your team is being direct, specific, and actionable when giving it. Good constructive feedback gives the receiver specific examples of how to improve going forward. It should also be a conversation—give team members time to ask questions and clarify. If you can, empathize with the employee, such as giving an example of a time you received similar feedback and how it helped you be better.
Just because the project is completed doesn’t mean the work is done. Encourage your reports to hold a post-mortem meeting to discuss what about the project went well and determine what could have gone better.
Post-mortems are great for learning about how to more effectively run a project, like how to better mitigate risk or proactively plan for project roadblocks. But they can also be tools for collecting feedback from the team about how they felt the project went from a team-building perspective. Encourage the team to give candid feedback about what could have made the team more successful.
Project teams set the foundation for project success. By facilitating cross-functional communication, reducing silos, and aligning team members on project outcomes, successful project teams facilitate creative, collaborative, and high-impact work.Free cross-functional project template