The project was a new mine in west Africa. The owner had assembled a strong international team based in several countries on the job. The project directors had decades of experience building mines in Africa, but their experience leaned more towards construction and logistics issues rather than front end engineering. The engineering team also had good mining experience, but needed leadership and guidance.
When engineering was about 20% complete, the owner raised concerns about the lack of progress being made. Although a big team had been mobilized, and everybody looked busy; deadlines were not being met and the team seemed to be spinning their wheels. Decisions were regularly second guessed and revisited, sending the engineering and design teams back to the drawing board.
After the flag was raised an independent team was asked to assess the project. They held a series of interviews with all the stakeholders and many of the team members and the underlying issues became clear.
The team had been formed initially by throwing a number of highly qualified people together without an overarching strategy or any direction as to expectations, roles or authorities. Not enough consideration had been given to recognizing existing allegiances, the potential for conflict, and to setting the team up for success.
At that point, personality clashes had taken over and politics and ineffectiveness ensued.
The Project Director had a strong personality, he was experienced and authoritative. But he was also a micromanager who insisted on being involved in every decision. To support his desire to be involved, he insisted on an extremely flat organization with 18 people on the team reporting directly to him.
The Deputy Project Director knew a great deal about the mining business but he avoided conflict with the Project Director and kept his distance. He was also indecisive, regularly revising past decisions to perfect the design.
The engineering manager and his team was smart, enthusiastic and eager to please, but disheartened by the overall lack of direction and progress.
The solution was a reorganization and a clear re-definition of roles and responsibilities. A new Deputy Project Director with stronger management skills was recruited and put in place. New roles were created and strong Area Managers for the facilities’ three primary areas were engaged. Finally, each of the players, including the owner’s team, were asked to write and then formally present their roles and responsibilities to the rest of the team – ensuring buy-in from everyone.
Once the new players had been recruited, and existing ones notified, the reorganization was rolled out. The change in the team dynamics was dramatic. Production gained traction, teamwork and communications jelled and the team was energized again.
As is seen regularly in the world of sports, a group of good players does not necessarily translate into a winning team. Strong management and leadership to actively manage the dynamics of the process and the team is required for success.