How to manage a project team

Just as behind every successful sports team is a great manager so behind every top project team is an effective project manager. But how do you get the most out of your team? Here are some tips to help.

  1. Begin with the story. We're not talking bedtime stories, of course, but business stories that can be just as inspiring and memorable. They're commonly used to woo customers but can be very useful for pulling in employees to connect them to your organisation. The narrative can take many forms and include any amount and kind of information depending on circumstances. You may want to share the company's vision, highlight what makes the project special, outline employees' roles within the organisation, and so on.
  2. Get specific. Once you've linked both project and team to the company story, you can explain the case for the project outlining why it's desirable, viable and achievable and therefore worthy of investment. It's helpful to spell out things like the project outcome and benefits.
  3. Set targets. In recent years the idea of setting targets has got a bad name because of fears about living in a "target culture"; yet defining goals can be useful. They're a good way of motivating people, giving direction and getting good team performance. Be sure that you think through the targets so that they are, for example, clear, measurable and time sensitive.
  4. Balance the project, team and the individual. Just as it's no good putting a square peg in a round hole, so it's no good expecting meticulous people to be creative or asking ideas people to perform detailed tasks. In the chapter on Organisation PRINCE2 advises that as a project manager you should make sure that you know the characteristics and personality of the team to put them in the role in which they'll deliver the goods.
  5. Train for the project. Matching personalities to roles is not enough. You need to work out team members’ strengths and weaknesses in terms of skills and knowledge. This will help you provide appropriate learning that may include anything from teaching processes and standards to explaining project background and project goals as outlined in PRINCE2 to even giving them out-of-comfort-zone skills in areas such as finance. Remember that you don’t have to organise training on your own; the best learning companies provide 360o support by offering consulting services to make training effective.
  6. Give them growing room. We're long past the days when employees had a job for life or stayed with a company for life; people will leave at some time or other. Strange as it may seem, this makes it even more important to urge them to develop their skills and offer opportunities to develop their careers. In this way you're more likely to get the best out of the whole team and to keep the best team members for longer.
  7. Empower your team. People tend to respond to the attitudes of their leaders. If you have low expectations of your team members, you can be sure they'll dumb down to meet them. If you have high expectations they'll willingly rise to the challenge. So create the right atmosphere by boosting involvement in the decision making process, welcoming contributions, respecting opinions, stimulating debate and supporting independence in self-starters.
  8. Make them feel safe. Stuff happens. And since projects are about change and change involves risk – stuff can happen a lot. So a good manager will understand that and be prepared for risk and be supportive of people’s mistakes. One of the best ways of getting ready for risk is to aim to reduce, detect and control it – in other words to manage it using methodologies like PRINCE2 or Management of Risk. One of the best ways of being supportive is to understand the adverse effects of tiredness, stress and over-heavy workloads and do your best to minimise these problems.
  9. Communicate. Whether through set departmental meetings, through chance encounters at the coffee cart or through daily chat on social media, use appropriate opportunities to communicate information, demonstrate the project's on-going feasibility, encourage perseverance, show appreciation and award rewards; we all like being valued.
  10. Create team spirit. If you're in a tug-of-war it's no help if half your side are loafing about or arguing amongst themselves or polishing their egos. To keep everyone on side: share goals and updates; clarify roles and responsibilities; establish structures that foster personal and team transparency and accountability; promote an atmosphere of trust and respect; show how every team member is a link in a chain that holds the team and the project together. Do this and they'll all be prepared to take one for the team if the time comes.

Useful Links