When you monitor your projects, you assess all the facets of your project’s timeline and scope and dependencies. You fastidiously communicate project status to the team and your stakeholders. You’ve dotted more i’s and t’s than you care to remember, so what’s the problem?
Project managers are masters of control. It’s inherent in the profession. It’s in their blood. And therein lies the rub. Confidence can blind us to the truth—and the truth may be that your team is no longer operating at its best. In fact, if you’re not monitoring your team’s warning signs, you could soon encounter an out-of-control team.
So, what does an out-of-control team look like?
1. They Procrastinate
When you check the task tracking software, you see that nothing is getting marked as complete. The timesheets that your project team completes include the minimum amount of hours. While it isn’t good for people to be regularly working more hours than necessary, you sense that the motivation to get things done has dropped off and you realize that the team is procrastinating.
Procrastination means that the project team are putting other work first, or simply not bothering to get your project tasks done. They might pull out all the stops and get tasks done before the deadline, but it’s much more likely on a project that they fail to hit deadlines.
2. They Miss Objectives
Your project team are missing their objectives. They have been asked to complete work by a particular date and they don’t (or can’t or won’t) do it. This has massive implications for a project. If you start to miss critical dates and fail to complete project objectives along the way, then it’s a sure sign that you won’t be able to meet your final delivery date and achieve your overall goal.
3. They Upset Stakeholders
Some project team members are (let’s face it) better doing their defined tasks than they are managing the relationship with customers – whether that’s another department in your company or an external client. Many of those people would be the first to admit that they aren’t comfortable in a customer-facing position and would rather not do client presentations or deliver training, for example. But some of them feel they could do a great job but actually simply end up alienating or upsetting stakeholders.
Generally, I’ve had the good fortune to work with amazing people. But from time to time I have had to ask myself the question: “Should I send this person to a customer meeting?” That’s great if you have the foresight to ask that question. But if your project team members are upsetting stakeholders right now, you have a deeper issue.
How do you know if they’re wreaking havoc with clients? Think back to assess client responses to recent meetings. Are there higher-than-usual numbers of frustrated emails? Did a team member approach you about their concerns about a client meeting? Are people actively requesting to not attend client meetings with particular team members? These are signs that some members of your team are not effectively handling clients.
4. They Create Silos
Your project team should be a complete, cohesive unit. You are all working towards the same common goals and you are all on the same team. So there shouldn’t be any need for silos or cliques or any other grouping that is detrimental to the project overall.
However, I have seen this in project teams, especially those that are just starting to become dysfunctional. Project team members create little groups of one ‘clique’ against another and they work for each other’s interest instead of the company or the project as a whole.
5. There Is Too Much Conflict
Conflict is a necessary part of projects—and is often a sign that you have a healthy project environment. Lots of creative debate and differing opinions is good, especially when you want to establish the solution or come up with answers to problems. However, conflict can be distressing and dangerous when gone unchecked and can lead to the team sprialling out of control.
A poorly performing project team will blame each other for problems, and individuals will fail to take ownership for their own part in any issues. I’ve also seen people take credit for work that their colleague has done, and you can imagine the bad feeling that this created. Conflict that isn’t channelled appropriately or managed well can quickly turn an out of control team into a full on battle ground.
What to Do about a Wayward Team
Your first goal is to try to rein in some of these behaviors. Make sure that team members know what is expected of them. Call them out on their behaviors and actions, especially when it comes to missing project deadlines or failing to complete tasks in a timely manner. Let them know that sort of behavior won’t be tolerated (and make sure that you have some sanctions that you can apply such as talking to their line manager about reducing their end of year appraisal score).
Deal with conflict to the best of your abilities and promote and reward teamwork while discouraging silos. Keep difficult team members away from stakeholders and explain frankly why you have done that. If they are disappointed by your decision, then work with them to produce an action plan that will result in better performance and greater control on their part. When you are satisfied that they are up to the task, let them attend meetings again.
There are loads of great resources out there to help identify and manage your team. Babson College put out a great “survival guide” for project teams that outlines more problematic behaviors and helpful solutions in detail.
Dealing with a team that is on the verge of being dysfunctional is challenging and not much fun. However the feeling you get when you know you have turned them around is amazing. It’s much better to try than to write them off as unsuitable project team members – you’ll be well rewarded if you succeed!
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