Reading Time: 4 minutes
Project culture is one of the key drivers of project success, yet the bulk of project management training is about learning techniques to keep projects within scope, schedule, and budget. While those are important objectives, we need to spend more time improving project culture if we truly want to be more successful.

Most project teams don’t have the luxury of hiring expensive consultants or spending days in team building programs. It’s great when project managers know how to coach their teams to build effectiveness; but what happens when you’re starting at ground zero with no money and a new team- or a team that isn’t working well together?

While there are many factors to consider, here are some ideas don’t require a lot of time or money to implement.

Focus on your why.

Get back to the basics. Why are you doing the project? Develop a succinct and compelling statement that describes why you are doing the project.

What does success look like? At some point in the early days of your project, you should document both the success and failure criteria. It’s important to understand your end game. Specifically, what does success look like? What result might represent a complete failure?

What does success look like? At some point in the early days of your project, you should document both the success and failure criteria. Click To Tweet

I think the phrase ‘so that’ is quite helpful here. Once you have documented your success and failure criteria, revisit your ‘why?’ statement and think about using ‘so that’ in the statement.

Repeat your ‘why?’ statement until it’s second nature and you don’t have to think about it. As time goes on, and people get farther into the project and the many problems that surface, revisit your why. Begin meetings by asking someone why you are all working on the project. Make that succinct and compelling statement your rallying cry.

Use team meetings to build accountability.

There are a lot of opinions out there when it comes to meetings. Many argue that we should cut back on the number. Some say we should eliminate meetings entirely, or perhaps declare one day to be free of meetings. Seth Godin says he accomplishes more than others because he doesn’t go to meetings. And Jason Fried of Basecamp advocates for eliminating status meetings. With great respect for Fried, I argued against his thesis in this blog.

For project teams, meetings can be a valuable way of building accountability and team effectiveness, but only when conducted well. This blog has some ideas on running more effective meetings.

For project teams, meetings can be a valuable way of building accountability and team effectiveness, but only when conducted well. Click To Tweet

In Patrick Lencioni’s book: The Advantage, Enhanced Edition: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business, he recommends that project leaders move to real time agendas. Using this strategy, the first few minutes of the meeting are spent outlining what needs to be covered. The goal is that meetings are being used to address what is most important at that time, not presentations on subjects that no one is particularly interested in.

It really depends on what kind of meeting you are having. In this blog, I outline some thoughts on how to plan meetings, depending on what kind of meeting it is.

Ask open-ended questions. Listen to the answer. And then, ask: And what else?

Project teams spend much of their time trying to solve problems. And many project teams are staffed by really smart people. Sometimes, I see smart people jumping in to solve the problem quickly, because they can. And after all, time is money, so we should solve problems quickly. Right?

When meetings move that quickly it may appear that some opinions are discounted, ignored, or not heard. This can reduce the number of good ideas that are truly considered and lessen the quality of the solution.

To address this problem, the project manager or anyone on the team can ask open-ended questions. Then stop and listen.  Follow up with: ‘and what else?’ Repeat that question in one form or another until there is nothing else to be said.

If you see a person in the room who is not engaging, call on them when you ask your next question. Sometimes, a dominant player in the meeting room can intimidate others. By calling out someone who is quiet, you may get a new idea on the table.

Michael Bungay Stanier talks about the phrase ‘and what else?’ in his books, The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever and Do More Great Work: Stop the Busywork. Start the Work That Matters.  ‘And what else?’ is a powerful question that challenges people to dig deeper and think harder about the challenges they face.

The question can also be used when addressing work and personal conflicts or handling feedback. When a colleague approaches you to discuss a problem that he or she is having, it can be tempting to quickly react (often negatively). By using that phrase, we give ourselves time to think and process what is being said. And we learn more about the situation that will help us.

Make regular disclosure of problems part of your process.

In a book by Kerry Patterson and Joseph Grenny on tackling difficult conversations, the authors express their concern that many people are reluctant to tackle difficult subjects when the stakes are high. Some people seem to have an easier time with tough conversations, but most of us struggle at some point.

If you have established a process of disclosing problems early, it lowers the stakes.  There are at least two major ways that you can make the early disclosure of problems a regular part of your process.

First, standing meetings are a viable way to incorporate the regular disclosure of problems into your process. When there is the expectation that people will disclose problems when they first arise, you lessen the risk of a project completely bombing because someone on the team withheld knowledge of a problem out of fear or embarrassment.

Second, project teams are responsible for thinking about risks. That should be a part of your regular process. Periodically, ask the question, is anything on this project keeping you up at night?

Did these suggestions help? Share your ideas in the comments.