Today, more than ever, employees need to be able to work in teams as businesses try to solve every more difficult tasks. Alas, many team projects start off with high hopes and ambitious targets only to end up with diminished expectations and delayed timelines.
So, how can we realize a successful team project?
- Have a Leader as the Leader: Many project teams, especially technological ones, have the highest ranking person or the most important expert as the leader of the project. That is a mistake. Projects need to be led by a leader / manager who is able to set clear expectations, follow up, and hold the different members of the team accountable to do what they have committed to.
- Define a Modest Goal and the Work Upfront: At the very beginning of the project, the leader and the team need to clearly define and write down exactly what will get done and the work that is required to complete that goal. Sounds simple. Yes, but this step is often neglected as the team sets vague goals and general tasks. More frequently, the team sets a goal that is too aggressive and too difficult to realize. Modest goals are much more feasible and can be realized. We need to start out keeping it simple. Remember – we can always make it more complex later.
- Critical Path Management: The leader needs to assertively manage the critical path (those items that need to be completed before another task can be started), especially at the start of the project. Most projects get behind schedule right at the beginning. The deadline for the whole project is still a long way away. So, there is no presumed time pressure or sense of urgency. Unfortunately, such delays at the beginning inevitably lead to delays at the end.
- Create Individual Assignments: Creating team assignments where two or more people are required to complete a task inevitably leads to social loafing. Social loafing is the phenomenon where one person does all the work while the other people do little or nothing. Common to school projects, it is just as common in the business world. To get around social loafing, create individual assignments wherever possible and then hold all the different individuals accountable to get their piece complete.
- Ditch the Meetings and Conference Calls: Far too many projects descend into a series of useless update meetings and conference calls where each team member reviews their progress. A waste of time! Yawn! Drastically reduce the meetings and conference calls by having each team member provide a very brief written synopsis of progress and concerns to the other team members. If someone has a question or needs help, then they can reach out directly to the one or two other team members who can really help them.
- Keep the focus on the WTNA: As the project continues, the team leader needs to keep him or herself and the team focused on the WTNA (What’s the Next Action!). As pioneered by productivity guru David Allen, constantly asking about the WTNA keeps everyone focused on actions rather than talk. After all, the only way the project will be finished is through action.
In short, by following these six steps, we will be able to better manage our team projects and achieve what we set out to achieve.