Project teams are in a constant state of communication via email, videoconferences, telephone calls, texts, face-to-face discussions and even nonverbal interactions. Whatever media they use, project teams will increase their chances of achieving their goals if they develop successful strategies for keeping everyone informed about what's going on.
Here are some tips for communicating effectively during the course of a project.
1. Meet regularly
Hold regular strategy meetings for the entire team. This gives everyone an opportunity to be present while project activities and changes are being discussed and creates a level playing field by giving all team members a chance to voice ideas concerns and share status updates. To reduce wasted time, try to limit meetings to 50 minutes; that gives everyone a few minutes for administrative work or downtime - or simply a chance to get to the next meeting.
To ensure that meetings stay on schedule, do the following:
- Assign a timekeeper.
- Draft an agenda and send it to all team members prior to the meeting.
- Ask team members to be prepared to discuss the agenda items.
- Unless urgent, table any non-agenda issues raised, with the understanding that they will be up for discussion later.
- Schedule the next meeting in advance, and keep a record of discussion items to be carried forward.
2. Be inclusive
Make sure you don't leave anyone out when you invite people to meetings or send out reports about recent developments. If you're not sure whether certain people need to be involved in a meeting or kept in the loop about the latest project activities or updates, err on the side of caution and include them. It's always better to gain more input from more people than limited input from just a few team members who are regarded as key players.
At the project kick-off meeting, ask the team members about their communication preferences. One option is to use project software that includes a portal that can serve as a central hub of communication. Compared with relying on email and an assortment of other communication tools, a central portal decreases the likelihood that people will be excluded from conversations that are important to them.
3. Be transparent, clear and concise
Communication can be time-consuming in any form. You can avoid wasting other people's time (and your own) by being transparent, clear and concise. Prior to picking up the telephone, typing an email or scheduling a meeting, take a moment or two to consider the following:
- The purpose of the communication.
- The audience. (Are they team members, executives, vendors, clients or other stakeholders?)
- The desired outcome.
- Whether you will need to refer back to the conversation later or provide details of it to others.
- Whether, in light of the factors above, you're using the best medium for the type of communication you have in mind.
Try to get your message(s) across in ways that are easy to understand and accessible to everyone concerned.
4. Show some respect
People are put on project teams for a reason. Whatever their roles, all members serve an intended purpose and bring intrinsic value to the project. Regardless of title and position in the organizational hierarchy, all participants should be expected to show respect for their fellow team members and should be held accountable for their behavior.
It's natural that the opinions and thoughts of higher-level project participants may be given more weight than those of junior team members. But that's a mistake. Even if they disagree with people who outrank them, all team members should be able to freely communicate their thoughts, opinions and concerns without fear of ridicule or consequence. Great ideas are great ideas, regardless of who they come from.
Similarly, when scheduling project activities, every team member's competing responsibilities and time pressures should be taken into consideration. Teams cannot remain strong if they have weak links in the chain of mutual respect.
5. Recognize that being right may be wrong
On the surface, getting everyone to see that you're right might seem like a big win. But such a "victory" can have far-reaching consequences if it affects the attitude or morale of other team members. Project teams are just that - teams - and therefore there's little room for any member, regardless of position, to put a lot of energy into proving that he or she is usually right. Your need to be right can end up alienating others to the extent that they stop communicating altogether. Such a breakdown in communication causes the team to function at a less-than-optimal level.
No project can be successful with a team of one. Egos need to be checked at the door when team members are communicating with one another.
6. Use online collaboration tools
Collaboration tools help streamline project management and facilitate the process of collaborating with team members and other stakeholders.
"If you're looking for a free and easy way to communicate and collaborate with team members - in the same office or across the globe - consider giving cloud-based project management tools a try," says Patti Rowlson, founder and marketing director at PR Consulting Inc."Online project management tools are great for keeping everyone informed and up to date on a variety of project types. . . from keeping a sales pipeline moving to organizing volunteer efforts."
Of course, collaboration software alone won't guarantee that your team will communicate openly and efficiently. Whatever medium you use, communication will only be as good as the communication strategies you adopt.