One of the most important tasks a project manager must perform to be effective in delivering their project is communicating down, communicating to inform, inspire and direct their team. It is often easy, in the heat of the project, to forget that the project is, in reality, delivered by the team of personnel behind the project manager. This team will often get little recognition for their work when the awards are handed out at the end of the project, and frequently feel they are treated like mushrooms, kept in the dark and fed on manure…
The Role Of The Project Manager In Communicating Down
So, if the project manager really wants to stand out to their team, they need find ways to communicate down to those mushrooms, and to do so in a way that will bring them out into the light and provide them with the best “food” available. By this I mean, inform them of the project status, the coming goals and how the project is tracking overall. An informed team is generally a much happier and coordinated one, rather than one which thinks it is being taken advantage of, plus, if they know what is happening, they are far, far, far more likely to act in the best interests of the project since they can see the alignment between the project and their own interests.
While all of the above is simply good project management practice, whether your project is a small co-located team or a large international endeavour with several international teams, it is however very much in the latter, in the virtual teams arena, form where real problems of levels of communication down to the team occur most frequently.
Causes of these communication breakdowns in both virtual teams and co-located teams are typically;
- physical separation between the project manager and some or all of their team,
- a lack of available time to conduct the necessary information sessions or
- the project manager simply not thinking the communication is important as it distracts them form what they believe are more important tasks…
Avoiding The Excuses When Communicating Down
Quite frankly, none of the above reasons are valid. The project manager should make every effort to communicate with every member of their delivery team on a reasonable level of frequency, whether they are co-located to the project managers office or in a remote location.
At the least, the project manager should hold regular communication sessions. These communication sessions should be frequent enough to keep the team informed of project progress, and to do so realistically, on a long running project, this could be monthly or even quarterly. The most important part is that the message should be appropriately pitched and regular enough that the personnel are aware of major trends in their project. They should be delivered in a form that is readily understood by the international project personnel, so the complexity of language used and, in some projects even the actual language needs to be carefully considered, including the use of interpreters where necessary. Also, they should be conducted at a time and location that is convenient for the recipients, so no ‘live only’ webcasts at 6am local time, if a webcast is used, make it available as a podcast, audio or video file for personnel to watch in their own timezone.
The form of delivery can be varied to allow the information to be delivered regularly, regardless of whether it is delivered in person by the Project Manager, by their delegate if the Project Manager is unavailable, or in writing. It is more important that the message is delivered at a regular interval than it is delivered in the same format every time.
Regular Updates Are Effective but must be Natural
The project could also consider running a regular blog with project statistics, highlights, a few social and general interest pieces etc. It could consider a score board or noticeboard with the key project data on display for all to see and, it can include regular lunch, breakfast, dinner or just breakout sessions to allow the project personnel to gather and be updated on things.
The method of delivery and form of message must, however, avoid being patronizing, condescending or a grand standing exercise for the project manager. There are few quicker ways to destroy team spirit than to make the team believe their leader is a pure narcissist, only interested in their own well being and career by continually telling everyone what they themselves are doing, or who regards their delivery team members as a lesser class of citizen, after all, everyone is working on the same project and every cog in a machine contributes to the smooth operating of the machine, every machine requires a certain amount of lubrication, and these communication sessions really do grease the machine.
So, the message here is to provide regular updates to your team at a frequency that suits the pace of the project. To deliver the message in a culturally and time zone sensitive manner that allows them to digest it in their own time and time zone, and to deliver it in a tone, context and quality that addresses the specific needs of the team, not the beliefs and motivations of the delivering managers.
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Do you have experiences with communicating down in project team you have been a part of that you would like to share? If so, we would love to hear from you.
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