Monday, August 27, 2012

The Project Manager as Team Leader

Most projects require a team approach. Therein lies both a tremendous opportunity and a substantial challenge. The upside of the team approach is undeniable. By drawing on the varied talents, experiences, and perspectives of the project team, you maximize your potential for delivering a successful project. But the challenge of getting people to work together effectively also presents the risk of problems along the way.

In most firms, the project manager assumes primary responsibility for leading the project team, and for promoting the synergism that can result from teamwork. Unfortunately, many PMs are more comfortable focusing on the technical and administrative aspects of project management, neglecting their responsibilities as team leader. Perhaps it's helpful to clarify what's really involved in effectively leading a team. Let me suggest the following:

Provide clear direction to the team. As PM, you are the primary link between the client and the team. Thus you are the conduit through which critical information flows about what the client wants and expects. This also involves helping team members understand overarching project goals, as well as the details of their individual work assignments. Key responsibilities in providing direction are:
  • Communicate client needs and expectations to the team
  • Clearly articulate project goals and requirements
  • Define standards, procedures, methods, and internal expectations
  • Make individual work assignments clear
Maintain frequent, effective communication. Teamwork depends on communication. When teamwork breaks down, it is almost always due in large part to communication problems. Thus you should see that all parties are communicating adequately, enabling everyone to understand their respective roles and responsibilities (you might be surprised how often, in my experience, this isn't clear to the team). You should also keep the team informed of project progress and changes. Key communication responsibilities include:
  • Keep lines of communication open through regular meetings, emails, one-on-one conversations, etc.
  • Actively solicit regular feedback from team members
  • Promptly inform the team of any significant changes or developments
  • Make yourself routinely accessible to the team
Promote a collaborative environment. Collaboration produces synergy, where the results of combined effort exceed the sum of individual contributions. You should regularly engage the team in strategy definition, crucial decisions, problem solving, and helping one another. One suggestion is to periodically provide opportunities for the team to work together in a common space (e.g., a conference room). This physical interaction can remarkably improve collaboration. Other suggestions:
  • Allow team members to define their own assignments where practical
  • Engage the team in all important decisions and in problem solving
  • Schedule brainstorming sessions at critical project junctures
  • Take steps to promote better interactions between different disciplines
Motivate top performance from team members. Motivated employees are more productive and service-minded—keys to a successful project. PMs too often ignore their responsibility for motivating those on their team to do their best and keep improving over time. As PM, you should work with department heads or disciplinary leaders to ensure that you're working together in bringing out the full potential of the staff that you share. This includes:
  • Take time to learn what motivates individual team members
  • Offer frequent praise and encouragement (positive reinforcement) for good work
  • Address performance problems promptly and fairly
  • Stay involved with and interested in the team on a continual basis

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