The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual project stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime.

Nicolini (2002) Theoretical Framework Asserted That Good Project Chemistry Enhances the Operation of Project Teams, Quality of the Final Product Allowing the Early Detection of Problems

Project chemistry was said to be a good motivator helping team members to work well together, make more effective use of resources, and promote a less defensive system of bureaucracy.  The notion of good project chemistry was said to actually bind people together making them feel secure and able to contribute and reduce team attrition rates.

“it Is Something Special That Happens When the Right People and the Right Conditions Apply” (Nicolini, 2002)

A project with good project chemistry is described as being likely to have close social relations between team members, a friendly and open environment, a low level of conflict, high motivation, a focussed team, high morale and team direction.  Although project chemistry refers to the emotional, perceptual and psychological consequences of communication and interaction, its emergence is likely to be affected by ‘hard’ aspects such as the existing technological processes and commercial practices that lie mainly behind the reach of the project team members.  

“I Am a Member of a Team, and I Rely on the Team, I Defer to It and Sacrifice for It, Because the Team, Not the Individual, Is the Ultimate Champion” Mia Hamm

The research of Nicolini provides a conceptual toolkit to deepen the understanding of the impact of relational and social issues on the success of construction projects.  The idea of analysing project chemistry is a way of capturing some of the relational, behavioural dimensions and factors that may affect project effectiveness in construction.  His theoretical framework identified a number of external and project level determinants of project chemistry.  It suggested ways of measuring how well people interact, perceive their interaction, and work together on a project.  Nicolini related these issues to broader economic and technical factors impacting on the construction project team. 

Good project chemistry is something that is used in this context as a characteristic of good project management.  Some of the personal factors evident as a consequence of good project chemistry are non-confrontational behaviour, a collaborative spirit and trust and these highlight the importance of social, human and cultural factors.  

The five factors that effect good project chemistry are described as follows:

1. Construction industry environment

The Construction Industry Board (1997) asserted that the critical success factors for project management are the commitment of all stakeholders at all levels to making the project a success.  This calls on the project team members to demonstrate commitment and to be able to cope with the drawbacks.  Successful project management is viewed as only possible between organisations whose top management share the fundamental belief that people are honest, want to do things which are valued, and they are motivated by challenge.  These organisations are said to trust their people and seek ways to enable them to add value to their business (Construction Industry Board, 1997). 

The climate of the construction industry in general has an impact on operations carried out within that climate.  The way in which the design and construction process is organised, that is, the early involvement of suppliers in the design process, the use of ‘gateways’, periodic project reviews both at the whole community level and on a daily basis (e.g. short site level meetings), needs to be apparent and welcomed in the field within in which the project is to operate. 

An example of bad project chemistry might be the way in which certain persons were trained in their professional trades and traditional adversarial structures.

2. Organisation’s environment

A number of external forces affect construction companies and their performance.  Factors such as the implementation of new contracting techniques, inadequate pricing methods, lower productivity, insignificant technological growth, reduction in the industry’s net worth, dependence on legal assistance, lack of cooperation among professional groups, and outmoded ‘Quality Assurance’ programmes, were considered to be causing a decline in the quality of construction.

3. Project team environment

Quality of leadership is viewed as a important factor in achieving good project chemistry.  Training for senior project leaders on how to manage and develop good relationships is seen as critical.  Furthermore the team selection and composition, team development process, boundary management and empowerment of the team are positive influences.

“When a Gifted Team Dedicates Itself to Unselfish Trust and Combines Instinct with Boldness and Effort, It Is Ready to Climb” Patanjali

4. Client’s environment

As in the ‘organisations climate’ the client’s organisation has an effect on project performance.  The effects of ‘hard’ technological processes or commercial practices that prevail on its operation form the context within which the team operates.  The project manager sourced from the client’s team brings his organisation’s constraints or characteristics to the process.  The client should establish clear and explicit rules and goals that facilitate the planning, deployment and review of good communication practices at all levels and all of the time.

Key aspects are the establishment of measurement and feedback process, focussed on both goals and relations by the client.  

The nature and origin are seen to be an attribute of a client organisation, in the form of shared perceptions of members and the perceptions managers have of their organisation.  Initiatives to sustain employees’ or project members’ involvement are viewed as key to project chemistry as are clear communication right through the levels, using display boards, project gadgets and logos, internal bulletins, short meetings and presentations, etc.

5. Task environment

The effects of ‘hard’ technological processes or commercial practices are relevant where the task is affected by the circumstances within which it is completed.  Five factors are critical for the success and superior performance of cross-functional teams:

  1. Task design (Holland et al., 2000),
  2. Group composition (Stein, 1982),
  3. Organisational context (Pinto et al, Holland et al., 2000),
  4. Internal processes and boundary management (Ancona and Caldwell, 1992; Holland et al., 2000),
  5. Group psychosocial traits (Pinto et al., 1993).

Forces that lie outside the team exert a power that a small team can seldom resist.  The strongest of those forces external to the team comes from the bigger group in which the team is encased (Meredith Belbin 2000).  Roles themselves are extremely important for understanding people in the work situation or in society itself as they create the patterns of behaviour that give shape to the wider social picture.  In a very small team the focus falls more on the individuals and their working relationships than on the work itself: effectiveness in performing the work is closely related to how they get on with one another.  

Summery

Although project chemistry refers to the emotional, perceptual and psychological consequences of communication and interaction, its emergence is likely to be affected by ‘hard’ aspects such as the existing technological processes and commercial practices that lie mainly behind the reach of the project team members.  

The five factors namely construction industry, organisation’s environment, project team environment, clients environment, task environment all affect the way individual team members perform.  However, by offering a means of making the contractor evaluation more functional, by customising the process to understand the ultimate objectives of an organisation in combination with its technical and financial performance, a better understanding of a company’s overall capabilities can be achieved and improvements can be made.