project team kickoff

project team kickoff


This series of short posts explores more deeply the Nine Team Moments that Matter when you, as a team leader, may need to pay extra attention to the needs and performance of your team. We identified these moments by blending our review of the research into high performing teams and our more than two decades of working with teams as internal and external consultants / coaches. new team is formed


Everywhere we look in our organisations, there is an increase in the number of project teams. This is especially true as we adopt agile methodologies requiring the quick formation of project teams. For the most part, project teams are like any other team. They require the project leader to do the pre-work we discussed in our first article. The team leader and project sponsor(s) need to think through what type of team is needed for the specific deliverables of the project and how that team will need to work together in order to meet the project goals, often a mix of time, quality and cost.

at least 70 percent of projects fail when measured against original objectives:

The project team is not the direct reason why projects fail. However, issues around governance, decision making, team and organisational alignment all contribute to the key causes . A PWC Australia report found that the top 4 reasons were all people related:

  1. Lack of shared vision
  2. Misaligned clarity and priority of requirements
  3. Not being clear on who is in charge
  4. Slow or weak governance

Source: CHAOS report

As project teams tend to be made up of people already doing other work, a tricky piece of pre-work is to agree with senior leadership who will be on the team and how much of their time is available. Experience is that anything less than 50% and you will struggle to keep people focused or make their time available for your project. The key conversation to be had here is around prioritisation of this project against other projects or other work.

When I was at Shell we looked into what are the key determinants for project success. We reviewed internal learnings as well as publicly available reports into project failures. Based on these findings we developed the 8 Project Principles. This was later picked up by the UK’s Infrastructure and Projects Authority.  In both cases prioritising people, behaviours and having the right team in place are key principles. These are key to address during your project team kickoff.

example 1: agile project team

We worked with a large technology company that kicked off a series of agile projects. To the frustration of the senior leadership, the teams were not “getting going”. This was primarily because the teams did not know how to set themselves up or what was expected of the. 

After running a simulation so that the teams could experience being a high performing team, we gave them a few tools so they could define their team purpose linked to the project goals, agree their ways of working, and identify what they would require from the wider organisation and leadership. This simple nudge kickstarted the teams and gave the a clear direction for the project team kickoff.

Many of these tools aligned with the new team checklist we shared in our first team moment that matters article and is aligned with the 6 Team Conditions framework.

We also worked with the senior leadership on their role during the life of these projects. I have seen many project teams fail not because they were incompetent, had a poor project plan or couldn’t work together. It was due to a lack of senior leadership support, too much top management ‘help’ or protection for the project team. We really challenged the leadership on what was the minimum reporting required that would serve the needs of the teams, and not feed a corporate machine.

example 2: pipeline construction team

Capital projects are some of the most complex projects to lead. This is especially the case when you have multiple players involved. Nexi Consulting facilitated the project team kickoff for such a project. The complexity was that an alliance between 5 organisations was being created, with no time to create formal joint venture agreements. 

During the session, beyond what would normally be covered in a team launch, we worked with both the sponsor team and the project delivery team to focus on a few specific project deliverables. For example:

  • Articulate their definition of am alliance and how this would be experienced through key behaviours
  • Team Purpose statements for both the sponsor and project leadership team, including governance and interdependency between the teams  
  • An exercise to appreciate the pressure that the ‘home’ organisation would be placing on the representatives who sat on the teams 
  • The leadership role modelling required to ensure that outcomes would stick and not become platitudes or a poster on the wall

At no stage did we discuss the technical aspect of the project, contractual arrangements or scope boundaries. These are all important, but would be covered later. We gave attention to people, behaviours and the team.


Tool tip: before action review

A favourite tool of ours, and many other team coaches, is a Before Action Review. There are many versions available, and you can download the template that I use with nearly all project teams at their kickoff and when they move from one key project phase to the next. What is powerful about the review is that it is focused on the work of the team (remember real teams do real work…together) and builds on lessons from the past. The key elements of a BAR are: 

  1. Align on the required or intended work of the project team – not the project deliverables
  2. Look ahead and articulate challenges that may be encountered
  3. Reflect on how similar challenges were overcome in the past
  4. Agree on what learnings from the past can be applied to this project, especially with norms and work practices

You can download a version of the Before Action review by click on this button.

Are you about to launch a project team?

Send us an email or set up a call and we would be happy to explore with you how to ensure your project team is set up to deliver a successful project.

Comments (1)

[…] is also a great moment to revisit the Before Action Review that the team may have completed at the start of the project or piece of […]

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