Team Communication

Several of my recent posts have focused on the need for effective communication up the organisation to senior managers and clients. Successful project management also needs good downwards communication to and with the project team.

I have just finished reading two Executive Book Summaries from Soundview Executive Book Summaries . The first was ‘How did that happen’ by Roger Connors and Tom Smith, the second ‘The five dysfunctions of a team’ by Patrick Lencioni. Together these books emphasise the importance of effective communication within the team.

Lencioni suggests members of truly cohesive teams; trust one another, engage in open discussion of ideas, commit to decisions and plans of action, hold one another accountable for delivering against those plans and focus on achieving effective results. Trust and respect are the elements needed to allow this to happen.

From the perspective of project delivery, the key elements are active discussions leading to decisions that are represented by the project plan and then focusing on achieving the plan. The agreed plan represents the expectations of the project manager and the team for the performance of the work. But how to turn these expectations into reality?

Connors and Smith show how the project manager can hold the team responsible for results in a positive, principled way. The first step is for the PM to test the expectations contained in the plan to ensure each one is consistent with the overall plan, achievable by the currently available resources, and that the ultimate fulfilment of the expectation is measureable. An expectation may be a document, a piece of code, a successful test or any of the other elements needed to deliver the project to meet the expectations of the client.

Communicating specific expectations to the team members responsible for the work uses a why, what, when approach. The ‘why’ needs to be compelling on a personal level to the individuals concerned; this is helped if they are already committed to team achievements. The ‘what’ requires clarity; not just about the deliverable but also the boundaries of the work and the available support. Lastly, the ‘when’ needs to be precisely defined. The schedule, WBS, and other project documents usually contain the needed ‘what and when’ information, the challenge is using these documents as effective communication tools to build commitment and motivation in the team.

To maintain accountability, it is vital the PM routinely inspects what is expected. Making sure the ongoing work is aligned with the original expectations and any changes are properly managed. Holding people accountable needs the PM to precisely understand things as they really are and to be able to identify and diagnose any problems. Accountability is not ‘blame’ it is a joint process to commit to the truth and then act to develop solutions, overcome obstacles and deliver results.

Accountability is the key! Team members hold themselves and their colleagues accountable and work together to achieve results that meet the expectations of the PM and the project’s clients. To achieve accountability, open and effective communication between everyone in the team is critical and the PM has to be the ‘first among equals’ leading the process. This is one of the reasons a PM should spend 90% of her time communicating.

More next time.


One Response to Team Communication

  1. […] Team Communication Successful project management needs good downwards communication to and with the project team. […]

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