Translator. Diplomat. Ambassador. Peacemaker.
When you started your career as a Project Manager, you might not have expected these titles to apply to you. Business groups, departments and divisions can each have their own distinctive culture, language, and focus. Within IT, Server, Database, Development, Security, Network, Desktop, and Telecom teams sometimes function in isolated silos.
You’ve got projects to manage. Somehow, you need everybody on the same page, moving in the same direction, working effectively as a unified team in an efficient and reliable manner. Leading and managing disparate teams is sometimes more art than science. Following industry standard practices and methodologies for team and project management is a great start. Sometimes, however, you need just a little bit more. Here are some things I’ve picked up along the way.
- Know your audience – Try to understand the unique culture, terminology, and critical drivers for each group. In many cases, communication difficulties can be averted when you can speak to a group using their terminology and demonstrate awareness of their concerns. As the Project Manager, you may be uniquely positioned to translate between two groups within the same organization merely because you made the effort to understand each of them.
- Keep the big picture in sight – Even if individual teams are focused on technical or business minutiae, bring the awareness back to the Big Picture as appropriate. Often, people can get lost in the details and a quick “You are Here” moment can help to restore a common understanding of the context.
- Authority is demonstrated, not mandated – Some people or even some groups may have strong feelings about past collaborative efforts. It’s common to come in as an “outsider” to manage teams including resources from multiple companies, divisions, and practices. I once walked into a volatile situation where one of the team leads informed me that they would not allow me to manage their activities. Rather than attempt to establish dominance, I agreed and said that I would facilitate their success. Six months later, they realized I had been managing them all along with excellent results. It’s not about hierarchical rules or titles. It’s all about completing the project by meeting the business requirements on time and within the estimated costs.
- No whining! – Things don’t always go perfectly. External forces impact our timelines and resources. Deadlines, Requirements, Designs, and Products are subject to change. It’s easy for some groups to drop quickly into a cycle of complaining, blaming, and whining. As Project Manager, you need to nip this in the bud. If you have certain individuals who typically fall into this pattern, give them alternative strategies to cope with their disappointment. Encourage problem solving rather than complaining. Use humor to pull people out of a slump.
- Truth, nothing but the truth – Nothing will engender suspicion and distrust like the sense that someone may not be telling you everything. There is no room for shading the truth between project team members or in status reporting. If there are issues, be open about it. Too many projects get into difficulty because of a lack of transparency within the team or between the team and key stakeholders. Excruciating detail may not be required, but information should be readily available at the appropriate level.
- Don’t hesitate to escalate – If a situation is beyond your ability and/or authority to resolve, prepare to escalate accordingly. Delaying asking for help may result in wasted time, dollars, and/or effort. (If you must escalate, remember the no whining rule.)
These are just a few items. What are some of your tips for managing disparate project teams? What scenarios have you encountered where you learned a valuable lesson?