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Rallying the Troops

By: Christy Overall

Working in a group

How to Get Teams to Work Better Together

Have you ever worked toward a clear, measurable goal and found it fairly uncomplicated? Organizing your closet, cleaning out your inbox, finishing a season of your favorite show in a week? In our personal or professional lives, most of us can pinpoint examples of these types of projects; they may not have always been easy, but they were straight-forward. But what happens when you involve other people? Other teams? Other departments? Suddenly, new priorities, challenges, and personalities color the landscape, and the goal becomes far more complex to achieve.

In my time as a consultant, many of my projects have required that various people work together to achieve a goal. On my current project, I’ve seen property management, legal, construction, and network/IT teams all working together. I’ve worked with and led teams firing on all cylinders and ones that have struggled through cloudy priorities and relentless roadblocks. Every team and project is unique, but a few key ingredients have been present in the most successful ones. Many of the elements below have a Project Manager perspective as PMs are often charged w/ defining the principles/operating procedure of the team, but everyone should feel empowered to influence these behaviors on their teams.

  • Team Members leverage sincere empathy: Most IT projects are met with competing priorities as team members are often allocated across multiple initiatives and projects at one time. As with most situations, the team will function more healthily if each person sincerely understands everyone’s constraints and makes allowances accordingly. Does someone from another department already have too many tools they’re required to use daily? Maybe someone on the team with more bandwidth can make updates in the project’s system for them from time to time. Or maybe there’s some automated process that will update records. The default approach for the project manager should be first to understand, then to be understood. Advocate for your project’s ultimate goal and your stakeholders’ priorities, but keep in mind that understanding the challenges of each team member will help build more effective relationships. Compromises are almost always possible.
  • Get everyone regularly focused on the same goal: It is a well-known principle that the best motivation for a team is a clear, common goal. Find opportunities to direct and re-direct the team towards the common goal. Personality conflicts are often one of the biggest obstacles on a team, but it is often possible to move past these when all parties remember the ultimate benefit to putting difference aside.
  • Get consensus outside of the room: A basic principle of project management is to discuss team member concerns outside of large meetings, to ensure that the larger team isn’t bogged down by issues that could be resolved one on one. When possible, proactively address concerns with team members individually, listening first to understand before addressing. Demonstrate consistent follow up on the issue and work to resolution when possible.
  • Regularly ask for feedback, openly and individually: Create an environment where team members feel comfortable being honest about the challenges they’re having. Create an agenda item once or twice a month in regular meetings (too often, and the request will lose its clout) to solicit general feedback on the project, associated processes, and regular meetings. If you sense that team members are unlikely to speak up, solicit them one on one. Feedback from leadership is of course, always important, but the day-to-day contributor feedback is invaluable to the crystalizing of the team.
  • Respect everyone’s time: If you’re in charge of scheduling meetings and/or maintaining meeting cadence, be a meeting skeptic. Regular meetings especially should be consistently evaluated for usefulness. Minimize meetings and calls, but if you can’t, then think of meetings in terms of blocks of time. Are certain team members only needed for a few minutes? Line up their agenda items first, then let them exit the meeting.
  • Regular check in’s on progress in relation to goals: Related to the effort to remind team members of a common goal, take opportunities to regularly report on progress as it relates to goals and milestones.

As well as helping teams work together, the above efforts also help reduce project fatigue. Project managers certainly have a variety of approaches and personalities. Many are exacting and focus on project plans; many focus on people and feel their way to project completion, but the ones with the most cohesive teams celebrate wins often and celebrate people openly. Even the most significant projects will be forgotten – but any leader (or team member) who leverages empathy and pauses to recognize progress will be remembered.

Christy Overall

Christy Overall


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