So, here is a question for you to ponder, do you have communications equality in your project? does your project and corporate hierarchy, structure and access to communications tools and technology match your project’s communication aims and processes…
Many projects make bold claims of being open to input and contributions from all members of the project team, no matter how high or low in the organisation chart they may sit. They claim to have empowered personnel and open management styles, and, I know many project managers who genuinely believe and commit to these goals. Yet, many companies and projects do not walk the talk when it comes to the actual implementation of this openness.
Developing Communications Equality Through Openness
Developing openness is relatively straightforward to pursue when the project is conducted in a single location. Here, team members should have easy access to their managers and to the project management team as a whole, though even here some of these managers can be extremely difficult to meet with through time pressures or, on occasion, simply being evasive if they know they will not like the question. However, when the project is conducted in an international or domestic multi location or virtual team model, access to the top management for personnel located away from the managers home office, even for relatively senior personnel in remote locations, can be at best sporadic and at worst impossible. Superimpose on this the additional challenge that many cultures either do not encourage, or do not want a ‘western style’ open door policy, preferring the cultural comfort of a manager who dictates the way forward rather than a manager with an inclusive, decision by committee style, and things get even more complex.
Structural Barriers To Communications Equality
Additionally, many projects, often as a result of their parent company policies or cultural impacts, have developed a set of structured communications protocols whereby an employee has a fixed chain of command to follow. These policies are usually, though unintentionally, culturally biassed and, for instance, may establish a situation where personnel are discouraged from communicating with anyone above their immediate manager, who in turn has his own chain of command to follow, often making it virtually impossible for the professed openness to function in reality.
On top of this, there may well be limitations in access to communications tools, again often as a result of the parent company’s policies. On some projects, many personnel may not have easy access to communication tools often taken for granted in other circumstances; remote sites may not have reliable telephony, computers may be restricted to managers only and email may be similarly restricted. I have personally worked in projects where only the senior managers had telephones on remote sites and, where the same senior personnel are provided with company laptops even through they may not travel more than once a year, while their junior project personnel may be away from home for many weeks or months in a year but are not given the company laptop or phone as they are not ‘senior’ enough…
Embedding Communications Equality
For projects where communications equality and openness is talked about, my suggestion would be to ensure that what is included in the project charters, and any espoused communications plans are put into real effect. If a project claims to be open it must live up to its claims, put systems in place that reflect the level of openness sought. They could consider suggestion boxes, question boxes, systems for employees who may not feel comfortable asking their questions directly to have access to anonymous messaging systems, and, for those who are happy to ask face to face, provide office times to allow them to meet with the relevant manager. Of course, if there is no intention to provide any level of openness within the project, don’t say there will be, at least you will not have to live up to false expectations.
Share your experiences
Do you have any experiences with establishing communications equality within a virtual team environment you would like to share? If so, we would love to hear from you.
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