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
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
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
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.