Fixing an Out-of-Control Project Team

Sometimes, for a wide variety of reasons, a Project Team suddenly finds itself scattered and struggling to succeed. If your team is full of high performers but still sagging when it comes to performance, or if things seem to be more difficult than they should be, it’s time to step back and see what you can change to improve performance and set your team up for success.

Power struggles

Conventional wisdom suggests that power struggles are the result of too many leaders vying for control, yet oftentimes it seems the opposite is true. Power struggles within a Project Team are frequently triggered by an absence of solid team leadership or clear delineation of responsibilities. It may also result from a general lack of respect for the skills and contributions made by others on the team.

Solution: Establishing a firm reporting hierarchy, even if it incorporates the sometimes murky layer of matrix reporting, is a good first step. Strong, experienced team leadership helps to provide continuity and accountability. Outlining responsibilities and delegating tasks according to the organization’s structure and each member’s strengths will also go a long way toward widespread recognition and respect of the skills and expertise wielded by other team members.

Scattered budgets

A lack of firm control over project budgets usually escalates into performance issues, failed projects, and staffing shake-ups. Requests for more money often lead to blame (not always correctly placed), and havoc ensues when objectives are compromised because of lack of funds. The approval of pending projects may also be hampered because of a history of poor budget management.

Solution: Nail down what’s been approved, along with what’s been committed, spent, and how much money is left for each project. Devote sufficient time to formulating accurate budgets, and emphasize the importance of sticking to the plan. It’s also a good idea to appoint someone to maintain the budget spreadsheets on a day-to-day basis, so the entire team has on-demand access to their project’s budget position.

Disheveled documentation

Duplicate copies, outdated information, lost data, and an overall lack of order in your Project Team’s documentation is guaranteed to cause problems. Team members may take action based on incorrect information, or pass along the wrong data to business partners and stakeholders. Projects that are subject to audits or regulatory oversight are especially vulnerable to poor documentation management, as the inability to produce requested information could spell project (or company-wide) disaster.

Solution: If possible, assign documentation management to one person in your Project Team, or a small administrative subset of the Project Team team. Next, centralize the team’s documentation, and standardize at every opportunity. Make good documentation practices a skill set that every team member is expected to cultivate and use.

Lackluster performance

Once the other areas of your Project Team have been whipped into shape, chances are good that performance will begin to improve. If your team is still struggling to achieve success, it’s time to take a closer look at what’s going on.

Solution: Consider how communication is taking place within the team. While external communication channels may be functioning well, internal discussions may not be happening often enough, or involving the right players. Emphasize accountability, so that past problems in the Project Team aren’t blamed for ongoing performance issues at the individual level.

Another frequently overlooked cause of poor performance is exhaustion. Closely monitor your team’s workload to ensure their performance isn’t flagging simply because they’re suffering from burnout. If it’s possible to bring in outside help, such as an external consultancy or other business partner to tackle overflow, contribute expertise, or provide leadership support, it may help to normalize your team’s activities.

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