Project Team Communication: How to Optimize Project Success

In mulling over a number of issues that are occupying the time and focus of company managers recently, the common thread weaving its way through each of them is communication – lack of, poor or misguided communication. I find it interesting that the thing we each do every day, communicate, can be at the core of what causes us problems most often.

Certainly, we do not operate in an isolation chamber. We partner to get things done and the best teams are those that are “in sync” with each other. The dictionary says that to be “in sync” means to harmonize, or to “be in agreement in action, sense or feelings.” I think that to be an effective communicator on a project team, for example, the team needs to maximize the number of times it is “in agreement in action, sense and feelings.”

To be in agreement in “action”, we need to make sure that our action is at least not contradictory to the actions of others on the team. If I design an architectural element a certain way, does that change the way we are buying it? Does it change the mechanical design? If we’re optimizing our communication on a team, we are anticipating how what we are doing affects others on the team.

To be in agreement in “sense” means that everyone is pulling in the same direction with the same goals and priorities. If the team is under the gun trying to meet a deadline and one team member gets distracted by another issue, the efforts of the team can fail. This is a frequent issue on teams as individual priorities are often in conflict. It is incumbent on management to communicate priorities and mitigate conflicting priorities quickly and clearly. 

To do this well, a good manager has to search out where there might be a conflict. Some people, due to very good reasons, have a hard time saying “no” to a request even when taking on another task makes it difficult to meet their commitment to the project team. Or, as so often happens, problems arise on the project and there is not enough contingent time allowed to address the challenges due to conflicting priorities.

But the greatest challenge is often the most subjective. To be in agreement in “feelings” is where there is the greatest risk. When there is discord among the team members due to personal conflicts, being in agreement in Action and in Sense is more of a challenge. Personal chemistry is a random science. Peoples’ feelings are affected by so many variables and can impact the way a change in the project, a comment or a challenge is interpreted.

Personal trust among team members is important to minimize the chance for discord to seep into the team chemistry. Hence, the selection of a project team is critical to its success. Teaming people with the capacity to team, to trust each other and commit to a common goal is important, if not often very difficult.

Clearly, a fully integrated team has a better chance of optimizing project communication because they have worked together successfully before on projects. They are part of the same organization and therefore have fewer chances of competing priorities, and they can relate to the same core Values – as long as the Company exhibits the Values openly and without compromise.

So, the next time an issue crops up on a project, analyze the root causes of the issue in terms of communication – and see how the issue can be mitigated in the future through better communication.

“To listen well is as powerful a means of communication and influence as to talk well.”

John Marshall

“Many relationship problems are rooted in a communication break-down. These can be as simple as not really hearing what the other person is saying, because we get caught up in our own fixed perspectives.”

Sumesh Nair