I remember a project some years ago when everyone on the team was quite stressed because things were not working out so well. At some point, the lead asked everyone to put aside common sense about what we thought would work and just brainstorm ideas. The goal was to come up with as many ideas as we could. It didn’t matter that they were horrible ideas. I think she thought that if we just kept thinking creatively, something good would evolve. (It didn’t.)
I see that trick used a lot, very effectively, when it’s used early in a project. But when money is running out, frustration is mounting, and your teams are still storming, it’s time for another strategy. Is your fighting project team making progress? If not, it’s time for a course correction.
I have long advocated using diverse teams, as they offer many advantages, but they often result in disagreements. We’ve all heard the terms forming, storming, norming, and performing. Storming can be an important part of team formation. I’ve worked on great teams that seemed to gel quickly without going through those stages. I’ve worked on other teams that never seemed to get there and every meeting was a battle.
There is no I in team. Ask yourself, are you even trying to build a team? While most larger projects are typically executed by teams, I’ve worked on projects where the team was a group of subject matter experts that never really formed, as a team.
When you are trying to build a team, and your fighting project team isn’t making progress, here are some suggestions to consider.
Stay focused on the objective.
Whether it’s how you are beginning your day, your meeting, or your email, start with the objective. What are you trying to accomplish? Once you understand what you need to accomplish and why, you are halfway there.
Review the way the project has been broken down and ask yourself if the activities that have been scoped are all in alignment with this objective. If not, why are they included?
Use the appropriate communication strategy.
When you planned the project, you should have assessed the appropriate communication strategies for the key stakeholders. The reality is that people are not cut from the same mold. The communication strategy that works for one person may not work for another. So that email that you sent that explained everything that was going wrong with the project and how you were planning to fix the situation? Some people may not have even read it.
If what you are working on planning is a meeting, email, or conversation, ask yourself if you are using the right forum. For example, if you are trying to resolve a personnel issue, don’t use email or a meeting with the entire team. If you are trying to fix a struggling project, you probably need to have some meetings. Carefully consider what the purpose of each meeting is.
Get the right people in the room.
All projects are different. Teams come in varying sizes, but larger teams can be ineffective. If you are trying to organize a meeting to assess where things stand on a floundering project, get the right people in the room – no more and no less.
Ask yourself if the work styles of the people who are needed in the room will advance or impede the conversation. If you have a problem person(s) on your project, you’re going to need to address that person(s) one-on-one. Stay focused on what is good for the project. Get your problem stakeholders on board with the goal before you have a team meeting. Consider saying ‘can you help me make the case for x?’ or ‘I need your help with y, so that we can finish this project successfully.’
If you have someone on the team who truly is trying to sabotage your efforts, try to get them removed from the team. Make it clear to your project sponsor that successful completion of the project hinges on developing a team that is united behind the goal. And if someone is not, you have to address that problem with company leadership, sooner, rather than later.
Actively pose questions and document answers.
So often, we see time wasted when people gather to discuss a problem. Open-ended discussions can sometimes result in a fruitful list of assignments, but sometimes, they can just meander around without direction. This is particularly true in meetings with creative types, who may think very circularly.
One approach that works for me is to think through the specific questions that need to be resolved, write them down on a board, and try to document answers. I concede that this takes time. Consider what is better done in groups, and what is better done solo.
Listen twice as much as you speak.
This is not a new concept, but it bears repeating. It would seem likely that a solution will come from the mouth of someone on the team. But frequently, people are not listening actively. And when people aren’t listening, they are likely to misunderstand the problem that needs solving.
Plan to compromise.
Most of us have bought a car at some point, and are familiar with the idea of starting high and preparing to concede on price, perhaps in exchange for some floor mats. The same attitude may be necessary as you approach your project work. In the construction world, most people understand that you can have that home built fast, cheap, or good – but not all three. Or, pick two – as some might say. The trick in compromising is to identify the minefields and avoid them, when possible.
For example, let’s say you are working on a community project that spans multiple jurisdictions. It’s critical to understand the sticking points for each entity. That’s part of your stakeholder analysis that you did in the beginning. Or did you?
Who said project management was easy? There are lots of steps that you can take in the early days that will help your fighting project teams continue to make progress. It’s a lot easier if you start smart. I can help you do that. Give me a call.