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Lucubrate Magazine, February 10th, 2023

Building an effective happy TVET project team on an international development project is usually challenging, considering the mix of personnel engaged and real obstacles on the ground. Traditional team-building approaches are enhanced by using additional measures to turn an effective team into one that is also a happy team.

Ways to Establish and Maintain a Happy TVET Project Team

Much has been written about developing an effective team but not so much about keeping a team happy. Maintaining a happy team encourages both better work and a collaborative, inviting workplace. Such team building involves not just traditional methods such as effective communication, shared goals, and effective leadership but also nuanced approaches like empathetic listening, and social events. Specific examples of best practice from a recent survey are provided by former national and international team members on the TVET reform project in Bangladesh (2007-2015)[1]. The project was funded by the European Union and implemented in partnership with the International Labour Organization and the Ministry of Labour, Bangladesh.

Photo: Hamida Hafiz

The traditional approach to team building

Without prompting several of the project team members mentioned traditional team building measures as being important on a development project.

  1. Develop a shared commitment to project goals – At the very start of the project, national and international staff reviewed the project design and discussed aims, objectives and proposed activities. Through individual and group reflection, the team developed mutual understanding of the project and their roles in it. At the end of year one of the project, the team conducted a self-evaluation and identified areas of success and needed change through consensus.
  2. Use a collegial approach. Everyone’s views were heard and valued. Everyone understood their tasks and schedule and communicated these at meetings and during their work. The right hand knew what the left hand was doing.
  3. Share success – New curricula developed, workshops delivered, TVET trainers trained, all these activities were assessed and feedback sought. Mostly, the feedback was very positive. Everyone involved, the secretaries typing the materials, the trainers delivering the workshops, the industry representatives preparing competency standards, all received expressions of thanks and recognition for their hard work. 
  4. Evaluate team performance – The ILO has a performance management system that required an annual review. Individuals set their goals and targets and discussed these at the beginning and end of the year. Managers in each project component were able to provide feedback to individuals in their team as a form of mini-mentoring. The individuals in return adjusted their following year plans and set revised performance targets and self-development goals.
Photo: Hamida Hafiz

Building a happy project team

Team members also commented on what made the TVET Reform Project a “human-centred workplace” and factors that contributed to a happy project team.

  1. Trust – One secretary wrote: The team empowered our professionalism by trusting us to finish our work on time. We worked with full dignity and on par with senior team members.
  2. Delegated authority – Related to the above point, international experts delegated authority to national counterparts based on trust and to develop junior staff. 
  3. An opportunity for national staff to grow – Apart from the chance to develop their skills within the project through mentoring and joint problem-solving, national staff had the opportunity to participate in local workshops and international fellowships abroad. Many of these individuals went on to become advisors on other projects both in-country and internationally.
  4. Appreciating a multicultural and gender-balanced workplace. Ability to work in a multi-cultural environment is a requirement for United Nations agencies. Members on the TVET reform project were initially from three different countries, and from different faiths including Christian, Hindu, and Muslim. Team members often partook of special events during Eid, Christmas and others. Women on the project worked in an environment free of gender bias; it was as one national expert said “a safe and inclusive environment.”
  5. Caring – A secretary felt her manager was empathetic, he listened and understood her needs as both an employee and as a mother. Children do get sick and having a manager who is supportive reduces the stress of such situations. Another person suggested “move around.” Take a few minutes to drop into a colleague’s office, to chat or just say hello. It makes a difference. It shows you care.
  6. Make work fulfilling Everyone wants to feel what they are doing at work matters. Junior project staff often accompanied managers to events to record proceedings, talk to participants engaged in training, and see the joy on the faces of those receiving their certificates. These opportunities allowed staff to better appreciate project goals and the impact of their own work.
  7. Share success storiesDevelopment partners are naturally interested in how their funds are spent. Project partners such as Ministries and Chambers of Commerce and Industry are also concerned that their partnerships are recognised. The TVET reform project developed a series of printed resources as well as video clips to illustrate project achievements often interviewing senior government and business officials to highlight their partnership. These efforts inform those outside the project of its successes and generate satisfaction within the project team. 
  8. Organize social activities As one national consultant advised, get out of your work routine (occasionally). Team members did this in many ways, getting a birthday cake and taking a few minutes over lunch or at the end of the day to celebrate, and participating in the annual ILO picnic. Our team organised the cricket match in Dhaka and even set up a few competitive games with other UN agencies in country. Later in the project, the team organized a regular end-of-month buffet and invited colleagues from the ministry, private sector representatives, and others for casual conversation. It was a wonderful way to interact in a non-office environment and share each other’s human stories.

One respondent to my request for suggestions on how to build a happy team, said “hire happy personalities.” I am not sure if such a suggestion can be affected in a personnel interview, but as the Chief Technical Advisor on the Bangladesh TVET Reform project, I can recommend keeping a sense of humour. It serves the team leader well in all circumstances. No kidding!

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Getting it together

Building an effective team on an international development project is usually challenging considering the mix of personnel engaged and real obstacles on the ground. Traditional team building approaches such as developing shared goals and joint problem-solving work but can be enhanced by using additional measures to turn an effective team into one that is also a happy team. The TVET reform project leadership created a happy team and a human-centered workplace. You can make it too.

Read more: www.northstarskillsfordevelopment.ca


[1]  https://www.ilo.org/dhaka/Whatwedo/Projects/WCMS_106485/lang–en/index.htm

Lucubrate Magazine February 2023

The photo on the top of the article: Hamida Hafiz

Photo: Hamida Hafiz

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Arthur Shears
Arthur Shears

Arthur E. Shears is an international development consultant based in Canada, operating his consulting firm after recent project leadership positions with the International Labour Organization in Bangladesh and UNESCO in Malawi. His interests vary. Apart from technical and vocational education and training, he has expertise in distance education, learning materials development, management development, and TVET instructor training. He has published numerous professional articles and recently released a memoir reflecting his work and experiences in sixteen countries. The memoir, “Overseas Adventures – From Afghanistan to Zambia and Points In Between”, is available in paperback or eBook versions through his business website or from Amazon. (www.northstarskillsfordevelopment.ca)

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