Projects are increasingly at the heart of what an organization does today. Whether it is new product development, marketing campaigns, technology implementations, process improvement or a myriad of other possibilities, projects are what get things done.
Almost all of us can point to examples of project success and project failure. Many well-known examples of project success include such famed stories as the Apollo space program, and the Chrysler Automotive turn-around. A more recent success story is the rescue of the miners in Chile. But for every success story, there are multiple failures. Time and / or cost overruns occur in many of our projects today while only a small percentage of the desired objectives is delivered.
At the heart of almost every project is a team that is tasked with completing the project and delivering value to the organization. Effective teams deliver high-quality, value-added projects. Ineffective teams deliver mediocre projects at best and no project at worst.
How can you improve the performance of the project teams in your organization? How can you get your project teams to do more, faster, and maintain or increase the quality of their deliverables so that your project is listed as a success and not as one of the statistics? The purpose of this article is to discuss 10 ways that will yield both short and long-term results and that should trigger you to think of other methods that will be effective in your own organization.
#1: Clear individual and team values defined
It is astounding how many times people work in teams having individual values that conflict with team values. Much of the time, initially such conflict occurs without awareness from other team members, until there is a collision of perspectives. Hence, it is important for team members to know each other and to respect different ways of viewing things. There are great online assessment tools that can aid team leaders in assisting team members to grow in this process. Each team member can privately clarify what their own values are and how that affects their behavior and each team member also receives an aggregate score of what the team thinks of the organization. For a team to be most effective value conflicts should be minimised, then it will bring a greater natural commitment from individuals to the objectives of the team and to each other.
Some workshop ideas to foster discussions on team values revolve around getting individuals to share what is most important for them in a team. You could use a set of cards with each having a team value on it (eg. focus, challenge, vision, commitment, loyalty, unity, co-operation, trust, diversity, respect, organisation, outcomes, etc…) This works well, I spread them out and ask members to choose one or two that are the most important values for team success. I then get them to go around the room and share what they chose and why they thought it was important. It is not rocket science, but it sure deepens team member awareness.
#2: Make Status Updating Easy
The primary job of your team members is to complete project deliverables in a quality fashion. However, part of their job is also to communicate the status of their work. This is critical as decisions need to be made based on the project’s current status. Can we add resources to a task that is falling behind? Can we source supplies from another vendor since the original vendor is late? What should we communicate to the organization’s customers? Critical questions such as these cannot be asked, much less acted upon, unless you have good project status. And the project’s current status is only as good as the status that each individual provides.
The quality of a team member’s status update is often related to the ease with which they can provide it and what will be done with it after it is provided. If it takes a team member hours every week to supply status, it will either not get done or it will not get done well. If it is a complicated process, they will simply not want to do it. The result is that you will not know for sure at any point in time where your projects stand. This mushrooms into ineffective or missed decisions, poorly executed projects and ineffective teams.
First, make status updating easy. Determine the information that you need to make decisions on the project. Sacrifice quantity for quality. You can collect a great deal of information from your team members, but most of it will not be used or necessary. Do not collect information that you do not absolutely need. Only collect the information that you need.
#3: Emotional Intelligence (EI) development of team members
Let me just simplify this for a minute by saying EI involves two key elements. Firstly, it is the emotional growth of individuals where they are more self-aware of their reactive patterns (triggers) and of the reactive patterns of their team members. Secondly, it is using this newfound knowledge to channel their emotions into more empowering modes of operation where the team is all the better for the experience. I like to contrast the terms, “React” versus “Respond.” When team members can learn not to fly off the handle because they have learned to control their emotions, everyone wins.
Sometimes it seems impossible to improve the area of emotional intelligence in a team, but the key is to recognise it as being in the sphere of continuous improvement. You are unlikely to drastically transform team members’ EI levels within a short period of time. I have found that an assessment of individual team members coupled with some training on this topic is invaluable for improvement. Through training together the team receives a common language to discuss this phenomenon. Furthermore, if team members are willing to be vulnerable, opportunities will arise for feedback sessions to discuss ways to improve.
#4: Deal with Failures Head-On
Equally important with celebrating achievements is to deal with your team’s failures head-on. It goes without saying that this is a difficult task. Every project team will suffer failures as well as successes. What often times separates the highly effective teams from the ineffective ones is not how they deal with success but how they deal with failure.
If failure is not properly dealt with, it will become an “elephant” on the back of your team and will load them down in all future projects. No one will want to talk about it but everyone can feel the “cloud” hanging over the project. It is important that the team sit down and discuss what happened. Simply airing out frustrations can go a long way towards moving forward. Be careful, however. This should never turn into personal accusations or injury. Ensure that everyone understands that this will be conducted professionally and courteously with a focus on how to improve and that any exceptions to this rule are simply not allowed.
It is sometimes helpful to get the project team away from the “project setting” for a brief period of time. Go offsite. Talk through what happened. What did the team do that was good. What could the team have done better? Keep it positive, but don’t be afraid to talk about what should have been done better.
#5: Roles worked out and defined clearly
If there is one thing that can cause a team to come unstuck very quickly, it is when everybody doesn’t fully comprehend their role and the roles of everybody else in the team. When each individual knows their place and where everyone else fits, it is easier for leadership to show that all are needed in the team and that each has an important task to contribute to team outcomes. Respect is heightened and boundary conflicts are reduced. When each team member has a sense that they have something important to contribute to the team then morale is heightened and productivity is increased.
It is therefore important to review job descriptions and roles on a regular basis. It is up to the team leader in their individual discussions and six-monthly reviews with their team members to assess how accurately their job roles reflect their current required activities. If changes are needed then they need to not only be clarified to the individual team member, but to the whole team. There doesn’t need to be a significant amount of team time taken on discussing such changes, but it does need to be communicated accurately, showing how it benefits the team and the achievement of team objectives.
#6: Give Them the Tools They Need
One of the common frustrations of team members is to not have the right tools to do their job. This covers two areas: tools that are job specific (a testing platform, a good computer, the right software for a graphics designer), and tools to manage the project.
Tools that are job specific are self-explanatory. If your team members need something to do their job, there is nothing more frustrating (or that wastes time more) than not having it. Get it for them. I understand the budget constraints that organizations are under, but find a way to win. Borrow from another department for a while, beg, but find a way to give your team what it needs to be successful. Not only will this help them do their job better, but will also show them that you are going to bat for them.