Project Team Characteristics

After the project has been defined and the project team structure finalized, the project team characteristics must be considered by the project manager. The following characteristics are considered central to small groups and teams. How these characteristics and traits present themselves in team settings have an impact on the level of motivation, the quality of communication, and the effectiveness of the transfer of knowledge in project teams.


Communication. Verbal and nonverbal communication are considered some of the most fundamental behaviors associated with a team’s actions and are often the first indications of the presence of a team. True team communication is not random, but purposeful interaction where problem solving, role playing, team building, and trust building occur.

Structural patterns of talk. This characteristic is considered an indirectly observable communication characteristic. If an individual understands the four types of communications (problem-solving talk, role talk, consciousness-raising talk, and relational talk) of the team, it is sufficient for participation as an effective team member.

Space. Even though physical proximity of individuals previously indicated the presence of a group or team, the emergence of new technologies has changed this indicator significantly. Integrated communication systems have modified the understanding of face-to-face and virtual communication between team members and the challenges around these environments, and will continue to do so.

Time. A group of individuals typically have to communicate with one another for some period before the discussion can be considered team communication. This time period will vary depending on the unique situations within the team

Size. The definition of a team should include the characteristic of size, but scholars have not been able to agree on the exact parameters of team sizes. The optimum size of a team must ensure enough diversity of opinion, knowledge, and roles to prevent group thinking within the team while still being productive.

Interdependence. True interdependence occurs when the tasks of the team are complex and of such a nature that the team cannot divide into separate, parallel teams. The achievement of the common goal of the team through interdependency is the key characteristic that distinguishes a team that is a team in name only vs. a cohesive team.

Norms. Team norms are shared ethics, convictions, behaviors, and procedures regarding the team’s purpose, which usually is agreed upon subconsciously by the team. Once the team has established a history, new group norms will begin to emerge.

Goals. Teams are held together by their commitment to cooperate in the achievement of a common purpose or goal. A group of people can only become a team when the common goal is sufficiently attractive for the individual to set aside personal goals for the sake of team goal achievement.

Shared Identity. Another way to identify a team from a group of people is to determine whether there is a perceived line that separates the insiders from the outsiders. This characteristic of a team refers to the process when people come to think of themselves as members of the team, and see other people as not being members of the team.

Team characteristics are not the only factors that impact project teams; the individual and sociocultural diversity of team members also play a role in the effectiveness of teams.

Dawie Steenkamp, PhD, PMP.

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