July 30, 2009 — Vol. 2, Issue 7
Message from the Academy Director
Learning Takes Place at the Team Level
All successful projects are team efforts, and our learning strategies have to reflect that.
One of the paradoxes of talent management is that most organizations focus exclusively on developing individuals when their critical success variable is team performance. Individual competency development is clearly important — people need the knowledge and skills to do their jobs — but it is just the beginning of the story in a project-based organization.
At the Academy's recent Masters Forums, I have asked over 200 master practitioners to tell us how they have developed their expertise and effectiveness over the course of their careers. The replies have been remarkably consistent: roughly 90% say learning takes place on the job. At NASA, that means within the context of a project team. Nothing flies into space through the efforts of a lone individual.
The Academy's current approach to working with project teams emerged in response to the back-to-back failures of the Mars Climate Orbiter and the Mars Polar Lander in the late 1990s. In the immediate aftermath of those failures, Dan Goldin, then the NASA Administrator, made it clear that he expected the Academy to find a way to support teams, not just individuals. It was a wake-up call for me, and it helped set the Academy on its present course. Today, we offer an integrated set of competency-based activities that address individual, team, and organizational learning, and team support is our most in-demand service.
The Leadership Bookshelf feature in this issue of ASK the Academy features a review of How NASA Builds Teams: Mission Critical Soft Skills for Scientists Engineers, and Project Teams
. It is the story of the work the Academy has sponsored to help teams improve their performance. The results speak for themselves. I have written in the past about knowing your project team's storyline
. It is almost impossible to overstate the importance of context when talking about teams.
Here's what we know: team managers improve project and executive team dynamics most effectively when they assess team and individual behavior. Assessment tools can measure both behavioral effectiveness and team knowledge. Post-assessment services typically include a combination of workshops, coaching, and consultations with experienced practitioners. Many of the experts who work directly with project teams are retired NASA and aerospace industry project managers. The Academy's services for teams address the full range of project competencies: team building
, planning and scheduling
, program control analysis
, systems integration support
, risk management
, and software management
. NASA teams can request support at any point in the project life cycle, from formulation through implementation and evaluation.
When working on complex projects, our ability to learn continuously is crucial. Since that learning takes place primarily in a team context, we improve the odds of success when we invest wisely in project team development.
Learn more about requesting support for your project team.