How To Manage Project Teams Effectively [Complete Guide]
Possibly one of the most important aspects of project management is being able to form and manage your project team effectively. Projects with increasing complexity require a team effort to complete in the required time frame and to a high standard and the best way to achieve this efficiently is to create a team that combines different skills, characteristics, and abilities and molds them into a single unit.
It’s not quite as easy as it sounds, as you probably know. You may be lucky and all the pieces fit nicely into place without much effort but the likelihood is there will be challenges. Challenges that can be overcome but nevertheless need to be actively addressed for the benefit of not only the present project but for future collaboration and long-term business strategies. Luckily if you follow these tips on best practices and ideas on the best ways to create a team ethic, you’ll have more than a fair chance of getting your team pulling in the same direction.
Managing project teams effectively
Managing a project team is absolutely about delivering the project required and a successful result, don’t doubt that. But within that result-driven end-product, there are so many other factors.
You may have to select the team and its members of it. Once you’ve got your team you have to establish the guidelines under which it will operate, ensuring collaboration where necessary and great communication between all team members. You have to provide motivation and impetus, for this project as well as measure successes or failures. Smooth the path for the team allowing them to concentrate on their given task and deal with any internal issues that arise. You need to provide a working environment, resources, and conditions that will stimulate your team and facilitate great work.
In addition, you should be thinking of the future. Establishing team bonds that will last beyond this project and looking for the keep players who could be your leaders of the future.
These tips will help you along the way and serve as reminders of best practices to ensure short and long-term success.
1. Clearly Established Roles and responsibilities
A project team is essentially a group of individuals brought together to contribute to the delivery of any given project. Within this team, it is clear that the members have different roles and also have different responsibilities. Different businesses have different methodologies and very different organizational setups but as a project manager, it is important that you clearly define the roles in the team, the authority of different roles, the hierarchy, and what expectations come with these roles.
Teams work better with structure -sometimes loser than others but still a structure, and as the project manager, it is your responsibility to explain and deliver this in an effective and practical way for the project. Before you even select the team, you need to take some time to understand the project and what will be needed, some questions you may need to answer are:
- How many team members – you need enough to be able to hit the timeframe without putting undue stress on your team but not so many that people have too little to do
- What specialist skills – do you need specialists and experts in any particular area?
- Do you need to split the team into smaller teams – if so you may need to have a structure within each team, and team leaders.
- What balance of experience is necessary – if you need team leaders, they will need experience and be able to fit that role.
2. Choosing the Team members
In sport, the very best managers appreciate that they are only as good as their team. This is equally true in business so choosing the right team is vital. Of course, the most obvious way is to define the technical skills you need in the project and select the most qualified person for that role. Easy -if only it were so!
Yes, you need technical people, and maybe experts in their field but you also need to form a team. This is about getting a group of personalities to gel for the greater good. This is about finding a balance between technical ability and personality traits and interpersonal skills that fit into your value system. The best teams are usually mixed teams, in terms of abilities and personalities. Fit the person to the role not the role to the person.
How to choose the team?
Businesses spend an awful lot of resources on recruiting staff. The simple reason for this is that they realize that the more effort and accuracy they can have when finding the person the much greater the chances of success. It is no exaggeration to state that the selection is half the battle.
Qualification and Experience
As far as the technical process is concerned selection is relatively easy, based on qualifications, and experience is a proven factor. It is of course worth remembering that the more experts you have in your team the higher the potential risk of banging heads, not to mention the potential effect on budget due to increased salaries. One of the skills of recruitment is choosing the right person for the task you envisage them performing, this may not necessarily mean the highest qualified or greatest genius. Even the start teams need water carriers!
Choosing through personality is more difficult, but maybe even more important. There are tests such as the Myers-Briggs Indicator, that are supposed to help assess personality traits but like all such tests, there are some that question the accuracy and value. More usually you have an interview process, have access to references, or maybe have access to a pool of staff already employed by your company. Ideally, you will have worked with people before and made relationships that will last.
There is a balance to all team selections. Is it worth selecting someone who is more difficult to work with but produces exceptional results? Is it better to have a group that gets on famously but has no dominant driving force? By choosing certain individuals you are answering these questions, and your answers will affect how much effort you will need to put into the key areas of project management.
3. One-team expectations code
Once you’ve chosen your team, the key is to form them into your dream team. Your initial team meetings should set the expectations and atmosphere for the upcoming project. Start as you mean to go on. Clear, decisive but inclusive.
By setting up a “team code” at the outset you are providing a framework that every single member has to adhere to and work within. This leaves no element of doubt about lines being crossed regarding behavior or expectations. This should be more than just verbal guidelines, it needs to be clearly written out and accessible for all at all times. It is not a secret code, it is the general terms under which the team has agreed to operate. Managers and team leaders can refer to this agreement as standard practice, and thus avoid potential misdemeanors and accusations of unfairness.
When setting out the code, listen to input from all the team members and encourage different opinions. Take on board good ideas, dismiss with valid reasons ones that you believe to be inappropriate. This serves the dual purpose of bringing everybody onside in the original code and encouraging a team feel where input by individual members is welcomed and appreciated.
It is also a good idea to create a series of guides or guidelines for different elements of the project. The idea is to have an easily accessible document available to all members of all parties that sets out the best work practices and the expected standards of work and communication. These guidelines help bring a team together and give comfort to less experienced members.
4. Communication with and within the team
To be an effective project manager you need to learn and learn to value communication both with your team and also between your team members. Managers who operate on dispensing information on a need-to-know basis are seen as lacking trust and faith in their team. Managers who are open and transparent are seen as the opposite and benefit enormously from this image.
Any project team needs to know the project’s aims, goals and objectives from the start. This is a team matter and all the members involved should be aware of the overall vision even if they are only delivering a small part of it. Members also need to be aware not only of their own tasks and the requirements but also of the general progress of the project. All of these things help the team members feel engaged. Communication tools and meetings are ideal for informing all team members equally.
Regular and Frequent
Once underway any project manager needs to keep up a steady flow of communication and should welcome a two-way flow. You need to be aware of potential problems and the sooner the better. An open communication policy is vital if you want your team member to feel comfortable coming to you. Make sure you communicate with individual team members as well, this should be a standard part of your management role. Regular communication done through the most appropriate channels is an ideal way of making the individual feel valued and also an efficient way of keeping track of progress and any possible issues.
You also need to oil the wheels of communication between the team members. Providing the correct communication tools and guidelines for use is of utmost importance. You should encourage team members to communicate even outside their own specific area, we will look at team building later, but the resources need to be put in place from the top.
Collaboration and communication go together like gin and tonic. Both are essential and both are good on their own but together it’s a whole new ball game. Communication encourages collaboration and vice versa.
Collaboration is working together as a team, and seeing the value in the input and expertise of others on the overall outcome. The best collaboration is done in a relaxed, open atmosphere where people feel comfortable with each other -it’s part of your job to create this culture.
From the first team meetings, the team can sense how much the management value their input, so set the example. Listen, take on board, encourage people to speak up and to have an opinion. Explain the thought processes of decisions, don’t dictate. Start as you mean to go on. Planning and goal setting should be as collaborative as practical.
And let these opening meetings set the way forward. If you are lucky collaboration may come about organically, if not think of innovative ways in which you can encourage it. You are trying to create a cohesive culture, so if it’s not happening, do something about it.
6 Pro-Active Team Management
Problems will happen, if they didn’t you could just let the workers work and what would be the need of a manager. You half expect problems to occur during a project for all sorts of reasons, from deadline issues to technical problems or client input. And you deal with it.
Put the same effort into team management. No matter how well-chosen and what good intentions, teams are at the basic level a group of people who are artificially being put together and expected to work as one. Think of how carefully you have to plan the seating at a wedding to avoid conflict, and in theory, this should be a stress-free environment for the guests. Surely in a highly intense, often competitive environment where people are working to deadlines and dependant on the abilities of others, something is bound to flair up. You’d be surprised if it didn’t.
Your job is to deliver this project and to do that you need to have your finger not the pulse of any potential difficulties that could result in conflicts affecting any one area or even worse the whole group. If something is bubbling take action, it is unlikely to go away by itself.
Whether the issues are professional or personal, you need to find out as much information as you can about the nature of the problem. Professional problems are often easier to solve, you’ve set the rules and guidelines and now you need to fairly make a decision on the nature of the problem. Personal issues can be more tricky. Only a fool believes that you have to get on famously with all your colleagues all the time in order to work together. Whilst there needs to be respect, you can’t force people to like each other but this doesn’t mean their relationship must affect the project or the working atmosphere.
Your role as a manager is to find a suitable solution, it is not a defeat if they have to work away from each other or at different times. It is a defeat if this issue rumbles on affecting the whole team.
Consistent motivation, appreciation, and rewards
Long, complex projects can drift and workers can find themselves drifting too especially if the tasks and goals are too distant. One of the many roles for which you are assigned is to man manage. You need to somehow keep the motivation and drive.
Whilst it is possible to use rewards schemes and bonuses, and many businesses do with undoubted success, this is not the only way. Any reward scheme should be carefully thought through to reward good work rather than expected work. Rewards need to be earned. When used well they can encourage work speed and competition, and so don’t dismiss them.
However, there are other ways in which to motivate your staff and to show appreciation. Trust and understanding go a long way to motivating staff and creating the kind of work environment where they are willing to work not only on the project but for you. By giving empowering your staff to make decisions, or organize their own workload and their day, you are showing that you value them not only as workers but as trustworthy reliable, conscientious team members.
Giving feedback during the project is a great way to keep your team on the right track. With consistent feedback, you can solve any problems before they’ve gone too far, show your appreciation for good work and create a constructive relationship. Feedback needs to be honest, if something isn’t going well then you need to say it but it also needs to be fair. Why isn’t it going well, is a question you should be asking yourself as well as the employee. Consistent negative and unrealistic feedback is demotivating so try to find a constructive style that looks at positives as well as any negatives. Team members can react in different ways, so remember the relationships you’ve built up should be reflected in the style of your approach.
Furthermore, you should encourage your team to give you feedback. Take on board the fact that the best teams are the team that sees you as a part of them and not above them. No one is perfect and you should be looking at constantly improving yourself and your management style. Whilst this involves an amount of honest self-reflection, feedback from your team is vital too. If you get feedback it is a sign that you’ve created an environment in which team members feel comfortable enough to speak up. They should be praised for this, if they are seen to be listened to and their idea acted upon then this will encourage others. How people deliver feedback is up to you, but bear in mind how uncomfortable people can feel if it is too direct, give them the opportunity to comment anonymously or in a different format than face-to-face.
and use it
The best way to encourage feedback and indeed a sense of team is to listen and then take action. If you feel the feedback is warranted, address the issue, and show your intentions to improve yourself or the working conditions. Action speaks louder than words.
8. Utilize the technology
Technology has come in leaps and bounds in every area of our lives. You can’t ignore it, and especially if you are in the IT field you should embrace it. Implementing technological solutions and platforms into your daily routine is essential for convenience and efficiency. There are numerous great platforms for project management that allow for cross-communication, collaboration and tracking of progress. These platforms can create a visual record of who is doing what, track timelines, allow for file sharing, create and record data and analytics, and pretty much allow access to the project by all parties at all times.
And don’t just stick to project management software, the key is to use the right tool for the right job. Various communication platforms to offer video links and different messaging systems may be more useful for certain types of communication. Set guidelines for usage and feel the benefit.
9. Build a Team
You can create a group but you might need to build a team.
We’ve already touched on elements of team building such as high-quality communication, encouraging input and constructive feedback. These are definitely elements that will work to start creating a team, maybe they’ll be enough. If not then you should be looking at further team-building strategies that create a strong bond between the individual members and also between you and your team.
These can be very obvious strategies such as group get-togethers or organized social events. Much more subtle elements such as workflow organization, or even the physical layout of an office environment are worthwhile too. The idea is to help your team member get to know each other beyond professional communication or collaboration, to create a sense of value in the individuals joining as one. Into something deeper than establishing professional respect. Some people will naturally orient toward each other, others will need more encouragement. Don’t fall into the trap that everything is quiet and there seems to be no issue therefore everything is hunky dory. Take an active role in encouraging team building.
Take the opportunity of bringing people together for meetings and see it as a way of uniting the team rather than just a standard convenient communication strategy. Give some time both before and after the meeting for socializing, don’t just usher everyone back to their workstations. Create a space for them to feel like a group. On a practical level, you can create coffee machine spaces and eating areas where people will naturally be in the company of others, many businesses use to play or relaxing areas for the same purposes. Birthdays and other celebrations at a great “excuse” to show you value an individual but also bring workers together.
Link team building to progress and project achievement. Celebrate hitting key milestones or objectives, share the rewards and share the success.
10. Set the Example
“Do as I say, not as I do” is not the way to command respect, it is not the way to gain followers and it is not the way to lead.
As the project manager, it is no good setting the code, or establish the guidelines and rules if you don’t follow them yourself. ~If you want your team to believe in the value of what you say, then you have to believe in it too. So follow the rules, stick to them and have faith in them. If they don’t work for you, they won’t work for others, so change the rules.
Be professional in your dealings at all times, question yourself before you question others, and be a role model. You are there to lead a project to pull everything and everyone together, no one expects you to be an expert on all the technical aspects. So be prepared to listen, to learn and to delegate when necessary. It is a strength, not a weakness to use your staff wisely and to be brave enough to admit you don’t know everything. Protect your staff from outside interference, create an environment where they can flourish, grow and feel safe and join in.
The best managers are part of the team not apart from it.
Bringing it all home
Effective project managers will only be effective if they have an effective team. The days of the lone ranger have gone, as have the days of the stand-apart, dictatorial management style.
There are three steps to effective project team management. Firstly, select the right members, fit the characters and skills to the roles. Secondly, establish the framework in which the team can flourish. The guides and rules allow them to work and develop into a true team. Finally, keep them on that track, motivated, and pulling in the same direction as one toward the set goals.
The elements within these steps take interpersonal as well as management skills. They take courage and craft and a willingness to learn, listen and adapt. All skills that the top managers have are in abundance.
And let’s not forget once you’ve got your team, and you complete the project you don’t stand still. If you’ve worked hard on creating an effective, bonded team don’t throw it all away and start again. Use these skills for next time and if possible use team members that you’ve already worked with. Having established people on any new team, already makes your job easier. If you’ve proved yourself they’ll want to work with you again, and you’ll want them. Win/win.