5 ways to make or break your team



They're probably not going to come right out and tell you, but there are certain things about working for you that your team members really don't like. Take all those meetings you think are so vital to corporate strategy. Let's just say your team members see them differently. And those sudden changes in project plans you pass along at the very last minute? Well, they have some choice words about those, too.

Whatever the issue, project managers need to pay attention to their team's concerns and figure out a response—or face the consequences. Here are five of the more common complaints, along with some tips on how to avoid an uprising.


Team members are called into yet another meeting—just like yesterday. Only the PowerPoint slides have changed. And here's the truly twisted part: Most of these mandatory meetings only have tenuous links to the deliverables people could be working on if they weren't being held captive.


Give the people what they want—nothing more, nothing less. Keep team meetings targeted and stick to the point.

Project managers should go in armed with a clear idea of what the meeting is actually about—and what's in it for the attendees, says Kelly Doyen, PMP, project lead, research and analytics at retail chain Best Buy, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.

“Nothing kills a mood like a meeting that nobody understands the value or purpose of,” she says. “Always have some sort of an agenda or introduce [the meeting] with how people are going to benefit from it.”

Ms. Doyen also recommends restricting the number of attendees, especially at bigger companies.

“Best Buy has 5,000 people on its corporate campus so there are many people who don't know each other. Limit the numbers. It establishes a comfort zone, especially with big project chartering meetings where you're setting up a project community.”

Set the ground rules—or you could end up with 50 people.

“How do you have a productive meeting with that many egos in the room?” Ms. Doyen says

One way around the dreaded cycle of seemingly never-ending meetings is to hold a two- to four-day kick-off—and then promise to never do it again.

The project planning can be done as a group in an initial meeting and from then on, status meetings can be limited to 30 minutes each week, says John Patton, PMP, CEO of Cadence Management Corp., a project management consulting and training company in Portland, Oregon, USA.

To keep on target, project managers should state the project objective in less than a minute—just to set context— then go down the line of active tasks and get an update on the open ones.

“People can say during their status updates that the task is red or green or they have an issue,” Mr. Patton says. “If it's red status, or there's an issue, it means they need to stay to work on their problems. Everyone else is free to go back to work.”

Of course, every meeting should be structured to the audience at hand— and not everyone necessarily minds lengthy meetings.

“It depends on the reason for the meeting,” says Yukio Kohara, PMP, director of the project management office at Fujitsu Advanced Engineering Ltd., Tokyo, Japan.

“We might dislike a half-day staff meeting but that isn't because of the long hours,” he says. “It's usually that there's a disconnect between the 'power players’— the project manager, the boss and oth-ers—and the team members.” For example, stakeholders and team leaders will want to hit milestones and get the project done, while team members may focus on aspects of the project that can further their own careers or expand their skill sets.


Team members have been putting in the overtime, but they're willing to make the sacrifice because all that hard work is about to pay off. Oh wait, management has decided to go with a new more cutting-edge initiative. It's all right there in the memo.


Team members can—and should—be able to deal with change, but it would be nice if you offered some kind of explanation. Project managers can alleviate the resentment, irritation and low morale that can come with a sudden switch in project priorities by listening and keeping the lines of communication open.


We might dislike a half-day staff meeting but that isn't because of the long hours. It's usually that there's a disconnect between the “power players”— the project manager, the boss and others—and the team members.

—Yukio Kohara, PMP, Fujitsu Advanced Engineering Ltd., Tokyo, Japan

“When we're going in one direction and we change mid-stride, and we don't understand why there are these changes in scope, it makes people feel really bad,” says Azwin Abdul Ghani, PMP, customer project manager, Ericsson Global Delivery Center, Selangor Darul Ehsan, Malaysia.

Often changes in project scope are simply unavoidable. As special assessor of strategic projects for the Brazilian government, Jorge Ronaldo Moll, Ph.D., PMP, must juggle months of political maneuvering and public commentary against four-year budgets.

“Time and quality and scope are pushed by political demands, then the budget's management is interfered with,” he says. “You want people to deal with it but it's really difficult. You have to be open with both the team and the board of directors.”

And the closer a project is to completion, the more painful the transition.

“If the life cycle is beyond 50 percent, then it's really difficult,” Mr. Ghani says.

Too often, he explains, project managers get bogged down with tasks and may forget that team members have invested time and emotion in the old project direction.

“The way to manage that is to give the team an explanation: Why are we changing? Is it a critical requirement? Teams will go where you want if you tell them upfront why these things are happening.”


The team met the deadline and is feeling pretty good about their accomplishment. Then, the client comes in with a 12-point list of revisions. And they're going to need those by tomorrow—end of day is fine.


Don't overextend your forces. Speak truth to power, explaining cost overruns based on project changes or detailing scope scalebacks from diminished resources.


“You have to manage your clients and team by providing communications between the two,” says Seng Rimkapone, owner of Production On Demand, a commercial production company in River Forest, Illinois, USA. “Team frustration comes from lack of direction and clarity. My job is to protect the team. My team doesn't care if we're charging the client more money. They just want a clear direction and the freedom to finish their project without constant picking and changing.”

Project managers need to sit down with team members and figure out what can realistically be done by the deadline. Then, she says, go back to the client with some options and a starting point for collaboration.

And sometimes it helps to put it down on paper.

“Everyone's spinning their wheels because everyone's trying to get their own goals met,” says Andrea Infelt, counselor and executive coach, Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Chicago, Illinois, USA. “You've got to check your key members carefully and spend a lot of time upfront talking about what you're trying to accomplish. We're not trying to boil the ocean here. I try to get everybody to concur on a written agreement. It sounds formal but it usually isn't. Once you put something on paper, there's more accountability to it. We specifically spell out the things that we're not trying to do in order to keep the project focused.”


Whoops. Some little planning glitch has managed to push the project off schedule. Team members are starting to lose their cool and turn on each other. It's getting ugly and someone better do something fast.


Focus on full disclosure. Discover the issue, resolve it and move forward.

“If you find a mistake in the planning, you have to be truthful as to why it was a mistake,” says Mr. Ghani. “It's not a matter of finding a scapegoat or finding who made the mistake. You have to rectify it, and the sooner it is known, then the more time you have to make the necessary actions to rectify and assess the impact to the overall deadline.”

On one project last year, Mr. Ghani's team forgot to include an item in the timeline. The mistake “basically derailed the project,” he says, but the team had to forge ahead.

“Delays sap people's energy,” he says. It's up to the project manager to rally the troops and get them working toward a common goal.

“When there's a problem you have to tell the truth and you have to be in sync with your team so that you won't lose their respect. If there are any changes or any problems, they'll be behind you 100 percent because they know they can trust you,” Mr. Ghani says. “The project manager has accountability for the project, but he or she can't do it alone.”


Two arch rivals have declared war and they don't really care about collateral damage. The rest of the team waits it out, ducking the crossfire.


There's no time to waste. Project managers should schedule a face-to-face meeting and convince the warring parties to iron out their differences for the sake of the project.

“The project manager must be willing to move aside every obstacle, including interpersonal ones, to get the project done,” says Mr. Patton. If there is a conflict, he tries to get the two team members to work together.

When there's a problem you have to tell the truth and you have to be in sync with your team so that you won't lose their respect. If there are any changes or any problems, they'll be behind you 100 percent because they know they can trust you. The project manager has accountability for the project, but he or she can't do it alone.

—Azwin Abdul Ghani, PMP, Ericsson Global Delivery Center, Selangor Darul Ehsan, Malaysia


If that doesn't work, he says, “I would go into the room one-on-one with these two people and I would say, 'We've made every attempt to get you guys to work together, I'm going to ask you one more time: Can you give up your personal differences to work for the rest of this project together?'”

If they still can't resolve their differences, it's time to divide and conquer.

“If one of them says, 'no,’ then I say, 'Okay, I want to talk to you about your continued participation in the project, and at the end of this meeting, my objective is to eliminate one of you from the team,’” Mr. Patton explains.

At the same time as this process occurs, he works to get the support of management in deciding who goes. “The one who gives the most value to the project would stay and then we would find a replacement for the other,” he says.

“Taking action to remove one person or the other is usually perceived with a sigh of relief by the other team members,” Mr. Patton says. After all the drama and wondering what's going to be done, at least now they have an answer.

“They want a project manager who will commit to leading the project.” PM




Related Content