Practical team management

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[edit] Adapting management styles situatively, assigning tasks

A project always has its authors. In the case of the Theodor-Heuss-Kolleg, these are the ones who had the initial idea during the summer seminar. Then, new members join the team, while others back out.

The model of group development emphasizes that every new person and every re-assignment of tasks initiates a small phase of re-forming. At this moment, the management style also has to be part of the discussion if everyone’s participation shall be ensured. If the press contacts, for example, have been the responsibility of the project manager so far, then there are several ways of how to deal with a new person in the team who has press contacts: the person can be seen as a threat to one’s own position – or one can integrate the person and hand over responsibility. This example demonstrates that tasks are not only related to functions but also to management. This becomes especially evident if there are considerable differences in terms of experience within the team. If an inexperienced member joins the team, she or he will be indeed only assigned with those tasks that correspond to her or his experience. This often happens unconsciously and under time pressure. But in the long run it is much more effective and motivating if a more experienced person advices and thus hands over responsibility to members with less experience gradually.

[edit] Access to information

The motivation and the identification of team members with a project depend on a sense of participation. Everyone wants to contribute to the project’s success. But participation is only possible if one is well-informed. Hence all team have to be informed about modifications of the goals of the project, about processes running, about realized provisional successes, but also about occurring difficulties in the course of the project. A team member that has no close relation to the stakeholders will have a completely different idea of what happens during a meeting or seminar than somebody who was present. Therefore, the person requires detailed information on what exactly happended or on how the application has changed – the project manager’s exclusive claim on the organization is of little help in this. For the same reason it makes sense to approach absent team members during difficult phases of the project: It is also their idea on which one works during a project meeting.

[edit] Addressing trust and mistrust

True democracy within the project team and a satisfying collective work cannot dispense with an atmosphere of trust. In every project, both on the large and small scale, there are two sides to this: Those who act should, by means of transparency and sincerity, invite others to maintain a healthy suspicion. This way everyone benefits from critique and suggested improvements. A humane way of cooperation, on the other hand, demands respect, fairness and trust. In this sense access to information for team members serves to build trust. Then again project managers might consider this a one-way street. In an extreme case they may feel misunderstood or unappreciated owing to critical remarks. This can be a serious burden for collective work – starting from endless processes of coordination through to the refusal of work or the resignation of individuals. Thus it is important to keep the aspect of mutual trust always in mind and to address it if necessary. Because what counts is not only the result of our work but also the way we deal with each other. See also: management styles.

[edit] Utilizing communication width

Communication problems often arise because statements are misinterpreted: An email lacks the sound of a voice, gestures and facial expressions. In order to minimize this problem, it can already be helpful to change the medium of communication, for instance, by using a phone or Skype. An example from an international project: Team member Anna has been waiting for a reaction by her colleagues for two days. Already two days ago she was supposed to forward the arrival times as agreed upon. But for this purpose she still needs info from the team. Anna thinks to herself: “At least they could reply quickly! What do I need a team for if this won’t even work?” But her assumptions could possibly be wrong: Maybe her colleagues abroad are on a holiday or unable to access the internet? Maybe they are unable to contribute something to a solution and therefore do not answer? Maybe they also consider time to be more plenty than they thought during the planning meeting? One can get faster to the bottom of this if one calls or meets each other. It helps to agree upon rules for the communication beforehand and to exchange phone numbers and other contact details.

[edit] Don’t be stricter with yourself than with others

In principle, one often has the highest expectations. And it can be a painful experience if those are not fulfilled. The more important it is not to apply overly strict standards to team members: Those who regularly attend planning meeting have already accomplished more than those who are not interested in the project at all. You depend on your team and should therefore behave ‘decently’ towards it. Even if you are thinking, “once in a while he could do more than chatter and wait for a task”, you should accept that others cannot participate in the project as actively as you do. “Decent” means in this case that you should facilitate mutual feedback if you want to continue but also change the way of cooperating.

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