Projects provide a window into many facets of teamwork. People with different backgrounds, skills, and areas of expertise must come together around a common mission. They need to communicate effectively as they share information, solve problems, work through conflicts, and reach consensus on difficult issues. Each of them brings important knowledge and competencies. Though some team members may work in different departments and report through different managers, every one of them is expected to have the project’s requirements and parameters in mind as they evaluate risks and utilize resources.
While every PM would like to think their groups have mastered project teamwork, there are a number of issues that may disrupt the normal synergy and make the team less effective. Communication problems are often the first sign of trouble, but PMs should also watch for other warning flags. If you spot one of these pitfalls brewing, early action can help maintain your team’s ability to work together.
Team members don’t like each other
Most people can put aside personal differences and function effectively in a team environment. As professionals, they recognize the need to move forward with their tasks and responsibilities. They don’t let incompatible personalities or previous clashes interfere with their work. However, there may be times when a significant rift exists between a select few individuals. Whether these divisions are personal in nature or business related, PMs need to identify the potential for problems and quickly address the issue to keep the project on track.
Speak privately with those involved to evaluate their willingness to put their differences aside. If you don’t receive the response you want, it may be prudent to replace one or more of the team members to avoid ongoing problems. Another option is to partner with a skilled facilitator who can help ensure that communications across the team aren’t interrupted by pockets of discord.
Team members don’t respect each other
Even more difficult to manage are team members who don’t have professional respect for their fellow stakeholders. If left unchecked, their behavior can seriously endanger the group’s dynamics. This may occur when the people in one discipline don’t value the experience or input of those in a different area. Divisional lines—either by department or based on education, rank, seniority, or even jobsite location—are also commonly cited as reasons that some team members lack respect for others.
It’s important to begin setting the tone at the top by emphasizing the value every team member brings to the project. Meeting attendees should represent a broad range of functional areas and disciplines. If you notice disrespectful or dismissive behavior from a few individuals or a small faction of team members, discuss the matter with them directly and remind them that the project benefits from everyone’s involvement, not just theirs.
Department leaders don’t support the project
Unfortunately, some projects aren’t very popular within the organization. Downsizing or consolidation initiatives, for example, may not be unanimously supported. When a portion of the workforce will be out of a job or when their location options become less attractive, PMs should expect some reluctance.
The company’s leadership can help maintain strong project teamwork through the use of targeted tools, such as financial incentives tied to an individual’s participation in the project or access to retraining resources or job search support. A candid discussion with the senior management team about any ill effects the team is experiencing from the lack of engagement may be useful. Work with them to develop an environment that focuses on the project’s positive effects and highlights why good teamwork will benefit the company in the long run.