Communication breakdown can quickly spiral among team members when the heat is on to meet deadlines and targets. How can project managers and team leads ensure smooth working relationships that lead to successful projects?
Most project managers will experience times when it feels like their teams don’t understand them. This tends to occur when chaos and confusion arises in a project; nothing seems aligned, team members are completing the wrong tasks and people seem to be wasting time, energy and resources.
At the root of some of these challenges is a team member’s lack of understanding, leading to impaired thinking and poor decision making, causing delays and ultimately missing deadlines.
In extreme cases individuals stop taking ownership of tasks and their part within the project, ultimately not caring and damaging the relationships between themselves, the rest of the team and the project manager.
Why don’t they understand? Although difficult, it is important for project managers to review their own involvement to date and recognise that maybe they don’t understand the project as best they could.
Often there can be an expectation that the project manager has an in-depth understanding of the technical elements of a project, yet this is not required in order to deliver a project itself.
The project manager’s lack of understanding can sometimes lead to poor decision making that is reactive to events and challenges rather than proactive. This results in the decisions made often having to be revoked and replaced with another approach.
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To avoid relationship breakdown on a project, here are five tips for project managers and team leads to ensure team members fully understand the project throughout its lifecycle.
It’s ok not to know everything
Remember the role of the project manager is to facilitate the project and put all the interdisciplinary components in the best place for the team to be able to deliver.
What is required, at its simplest, is to understand what needs to be done by when, and who in the team is capable of and responsible for each deliverable. It is therefore important to talk to and link the people who have the knowledge.
Keep conversations open and honest
The basis of all good relationships is trust. Everyone comes to a project from a different angle and project managers need to understand what each team member is seeking to get from the project personally and professionally.
Often this can lead to confusion where one person is working in isolation and not considering the requirements of another department e.g. design versus technology. When challenges arise being open and honest about the requirements and restrictions within a project and supporting someone to find a solution is key.
This culture of communication is across all of the project and all team members, and it’s the project manager’s role to facilitate this.
It’s ok to acknowledge when things are tough and to share strengths and weaknesses openly with the team. Project managers should seek support from their team where and when they need it.
Being vulnerable creates a safe environment in which other people feel they can share their challenges and weaknesses. This puts everything into the open and identifies areas for development, strengthening the project overall.
A note on technical knowledge… project managers do need to be mindful to strike a balance, as having no knowledge may be exploited by team members.
Pause and reflect
In the heat of the moment, simple mistakes can be made and project managers can often miss key areas that would lead to greater success.
Taking time to pause and reflect as a team gives everyone the time and space to understand the project and where it currently is, along with each individual’s progress in their specific area. Project managers can then identify what challenges are being experienced and by whom. This new perspective supports better decision making.
Promote everyone putting themselves first
When a project gets tough and people are performing at a sub-optimum level due to lack of energy, the key is for everyone to look after themselves first.
It’s important for project managers to create an environment that focuses on the health of the team, and no more than themselves. Team members should be supported in identifying and completing daily self-care tasks to improve their physical and mental wellbeing as well as their performance in their role.
It is a proactive approach to self-care that supports an individual to achieve the resilience which is so often needed when a project seems confusing or challenging. This places everyone in the best mindset from which to understand the project manager and the project.
“If you are going through hell, keep going.” Winston Churchill
In the fast-paced and ever-changing world of projects, it can be (understandably) easy for project managers to become confused. So many moving parts, stakeholders, team members and deliverables can create an environment primed for getting out of control.
In turn, it is easy for team members to follow suit, creating a climate of reduced performance for fear of working on the wrong thing and poor decision making.
Key to success is for the project manager to work both individually and with their team to create an understanding and untangle the confusion. Through leading with integrity and owning up to their part in causing any potential disharmony, project managers will encourage others to follow.
This will help to get the project back on track and identify what needs to be done, when, and by whom. Add to this a focus on self-care in order to be primed with energy and resilience and the team will have all the ingredients for a successful project.
About Alison Rood
Following a 15 year career in project and account management, Alison recognised the necessity for digital project managers to have an enhanced skill set. In 2015, she obtained a postgraduate certificate in the delivery of soft skills and experiential learning. Alison furthered her studies into soft skills by training with author Emma-Sue Prince to become a Licensed Trainer of The Advantage, based on the book of the same name which focuses on the 7 skills for the future. To find out more click here: https://unimenta.com/digitalprojectmanagers/
As a trainer and consultant, Alison works with digital project managers to guide and support them to achieve the core skills they need to get ahead; Empathy, Adaptability, Critical Thinking, Integrity, Resilience, Being Proactive, and Optimism. Regularly delivering immersive workshops in London to digital project management professionals and wider industries including the NHS and law firms.
Alison is an intuitive, creative and reflective trainer. She is able to quickly tap into deep issues and help participants reach solutions and come up with an idea. Her experience in digital project management is an added bonus giving Alison a unique steer and strength to support project managers in building awareness of and strengthening the seven Advantage skills.
Emma-Sue Prince, Author of The Advantage: The 7 Soft Skills You Need to Stay One Step Ahead