Talk the talk
Candid, forthright feedback is the lifeblood of most successful projects. So when a project manager is faced with a team that's happy to keep mum, shaking things up isn't only suggested—it's essential. We asked practitioners:
by Betsy Medvedovsky
Create a Feedback Loop
“One of the most frustrating things for team members is to spend time giving feedback—and then have nothing happen with it. Too many suggestions go unacknowledged or unused, so over time people get disillusioned, and feedback channels—and ideas—dry up. But acting on a good idea and giving credit to the team member who suggested it can be a great motivator for others to speak up.
Project managers should use a variety of methods to solicit feedback: one-on-one sessions, group meetings, informal lunches. They should also set up a formal process of logging all feedback received, along with action items showing what's being done to address each issue or idea. If you don't have a plan to track and use team feedback, don't start soliciting it.”
—Kris Arvind, PMP, vice-consul and foreign service officer, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C., USA
Keep Meetings on the Same Level
“People hesitate to open up when supervisors are around, so split sessions into smaller groups of people at the same level, such as subject matter experts, group leaders and directors. With virtual teams, use video conferencing rather than telephone conferences. It allows you to watch body language, which facilitates open communication by making it easier to see when team members are confused, have questions or disagree.”
—Giora Lavy, PMP, quality director, Amdocs, Ra'anana, Israel
“From the project's first meeting, if possible, the manager should reassure team members that candid feedback will not result in any negative consequences. You need team members to trust that their candor won't be met with recrimination, and removing that fear or discomfort is the first step to honest feedback. The next step is explaining to team members why their feedback is so important. In my experience, once team members understand the context of what's being discussed and how their participation might help resolve the issue or identify a better alternative, then participation levels are much higher.”
—Rahul Sudame, PMI-ACP, PMP, director of engineering, Faichi Solutions, Maharashtra, India
Consider the Issues
“I try to keep my opinions out of any discussions, at least at first. Focus the team meetings on facts, deliverables, dates, action items, etc. As team members begin to trust each other, they'll open up more.
If they don't, you have to ask: Is there anything toxic going on in the background? Is there an issue no one wants to bring up but everyone knows is there? All the facilitation tips in the book won't help if there's some prior factor that needs to be dealt with and hasn't been.”
—Douglas L. White, PMP, program manager, Covidien, Boston, Massachusetts, USA, via PMI's Career Central LinkedIn Group
“Team members can lose focus very easily. It helps to structure the feedback you're looking for. Especially during a lessons learned meeting, asking for ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’ on what happened with the project can make getting objective feedback much easier.”
—Roberto Cadena, PMP, CEO, Global Project Solutions, Zapopan, Mexico
Draw Out Wallflowers
“With introverted team members, you have to first make them comfortable. Meet in a private environment, without other team members, until they seem confident giving you feedback.
If they're still hesitant, help them understand why we as project managers need to know how they are ‘living’ the project. The most confident, candid feedback always comes from people who understand its purpose.”
—Carlos Urrea, PMP, IT services manager, Proyekta, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Anatomy of a Highly Communicative Team
Communication is as much about how people speak as what they say. Sociometric Solutions, an offshoot of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Human Dynamic Laboratory, developed wearable badges that can sense and track more than 100 data points—from body language to tone of voice. Over seven years, researchers analyzed data from 2,500 people at 21 organizations and found that communication styles—more than intelligence or skill— predicted productivity levels.
In this diagram of one team's communication patterns, engagement skews heavily to the same three people (A, B and C). “The team within the team is where the engagement is,” Sociometric Solutions chairman Alex “Sandy” Pent-land told The Harvard Business Review. “Those three people may be higher up the ladder or simply more extroverted, but that doesn't matter. This pattern is associated with lower performance because the team is not getting ideas or information from many of its members.”
Sociometric Solutions uses this mapping technique to identify “invisible” team members so team leaders can get them more involved. Other team leaders use the communication map to act as a “charismatic connector,” bringing members who might not talk to one another together to share ideas across the entire group.
PM NETWORK JUNE 2013 WWW.PMI.ORG