Get Your Project Sub-Teams Working Together | PMAlliance Project Management Blog

Crop close up stack of different hands put one on another from above.
Crop close up stack of different hands put one on another from above.

Gaining cooperation across disparate sub-groups is sometimes a difficult task for project managers. Even when everyone agrees they’re on the same page and working toward the same goals, it’s not uncommon to discover that communication channels between the groups are weak and collaboration is lacking. Some departments may have a tough time fully engaging with the effort. Others might try to push their opinions and preferences to the forefront. Participation in meetings and brainstorming sessions is often hit or miss.

If your Project Team is focusing too much energy on maintaining engagement among the various stakeholder groups, the project’s progress could be hindered. To increase involvement at all levels and get your project’s sub-teams working together effectively, it’s necessary to determine what’s standing in the way of communication and collaboration. A handful of questions can help uncover why these challenges exist.

Have the sub-teams worked together before? If the various sub-teams haven’t collaborated previously—a common occurrence when facility relocations bring together groups from multiple sites, or a corporate merger introduces new teams from outside the core organization, for example—they may not know how the relationship is supposed to work. There could be questions or ambiguity about who’s in charge or what the hierarchy structure looks like. The sub-groups might not be familiar with how disagreements are normally handled. But time is of the essence and quickly forming a working partnership could mean the difference between project failure and success. Robust communication and facilitation skills at the project leadership level will be crucial in bringing everyone together into an effective working team.

Does each functional group understand the contributions of other team members? If one or more of the sub-teams is relatively new, either to the organization or to the project planning or execution function, there may be questions about how the overall group will benefit from the skills and experience of each team. If one faction doesn’t see the value the other groups bring to the table, there’s sure to be trouble. A short introductory meeting that outlines the expertise and responsibilities of each sub-team can be used to clear the air and allow for some candid discussions about where each group contributes in the broader picture.

Do the groups value what they themselves will bring to the project efforts? End users are one stakeholder group that is sometimes inclined to see themselves as less important than others on the project team. As a result, these sub-groups can be difficult to engage across the project’s lifecycle, from early planning to closing out the final tasks. They may not respond to solicitations for feedback, often because they don’t believe the broader team cares what they have to say. Groups that feel marginalized may not prioritize attendance at project meetings or fully commit to the assigned activities in their areas of responsibility. The Project Team can improve these perceptions by showing each sub-team the importance of their role in the project and the risks that exist if they don’t participate.

Is the fear of change holding them back? As simple as it sounds, a reluctance to change is human nature and it can wield a heavy influence on people’s actions. For sub-teams that haven’t had much exposure to either planning projects or executing them, the entire process may be so overwhelming that their instinct is to pull back and contribute to the changes in their environment as little as possible. Overcoming their fears calls for a project management professional with strong change management and communication skills who can discuss their concerns and demonstrate the benefits the project will deliver in the end.

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