Sep 8, 2012


Communication is 80%-90% of the time a Project Manager spends their time on. So what are some of the problems that can occur within a project team?

Vertical flow. Communication both up and down stops working. When there’s a vacuum in the information, we know how people will fill it - with their imagination. In the upward direction, workers on a problem project quickly become conditioned not to escalate problems. Consequently, important status stops flowing up and problems go unmanaged.

Horizontal flow. Part of the team is not talking to another, or at least not routinely coordinating as they should. Sometimes it’s because one or two people are on a power trip. Sometimes, their team members don’t get along. Sometimes on matrixed teams, the functional managers are in conflict which manifests itself as dysfunction on the project team.

Skill deficit. Not everyone is born with a gift for communication. Most people can develop it given the chance. Some people might never get good at it. I have seen teams where underdeveloped communication skills simply get in the way.

Morale. If a team is demoralized, it is simply difficult for people to find the energy to go the extra distance and make sure communications are timely, accurate, and relevant. Once people are emotionally checked out, all the soft skills suffer.

Cultural inhibitions. The organization’s culture can impede good communication. Sometimes managers routinely withhold information as a source of power and control (aka “mushroom management”). Aggressive companies typically reward success and punish failure to a fault which encourages dysfunctional competition within a team.

What are some of the tools that can be used to improve communication?

Daily team meetings. This can help not only the vertical flow of information but horizontal. Everyone becomes more attuned to people they need to coordinate with and, even more importantly, why. Target is 10 – 20 minutes.

Coordination meetings. Coordination meetings can simplify communication by giving people direct involvement with what is said and how it is said. It’s our job as project managers to pay attention and end coordination meetings when they are not needed.

Open door policy. Do it, mean it!

Replace the irreplaceable. Sometimes you may need to remove a disruptive team member from the project.

Put culture in the open. Recognizing different assumptions and expectations during a meeting can become routine and even a light diversion.

Whatever you expect of the team, management stakeholders, the sponsor, the vendors, the customers, etc., you must do the same first. You must walk the talk. If you don't, you are a hypocrite. Follow your own advice or you won't get the results you need.


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