Herding Cats

Herding Cats

Sometimes leading project teams feel like you are trying to herd cats.  Each team member working independently but not collaboratively.  What’s a project manager to do?  

Sometimes the primary role of the project manager isn’t to manage but to lead the team.  It is challenging especially when the project manager does not have functional authority over them.  It requires a plan on how you will bring these individuals together.  Without this structure, they will perform as individuals and not as a cohesive team.  Risks will include missed hand-offs, unclear areas of responsibility and duplicated work effort.  Some of the key steps to leading a team start before the team is fully identified.  How you structure the team is just as important as identifying the right resource competencies.  Here are some things to consider…

Team Structure:  Have you thoughtfully considered the team structure and hierarchy that will increase the likelihood of project success?  The team structure should reflect the needs of the project.  Some questions to think about are:  How large will the project team be?  How complex is the project?  How many disciplines or departments will be included?  Will the team composition remain relatively constant or constantly change?  A simple model is to structure the team along the same lines that you structured the project work.  Which organizations / departments are responsible for which work deliverables?  This approach minimizes overlaps and helps to establish clear areas of ownership.

Reporting Relationships: In small teams, every project team member reports directly to the project manager.  There is no need for multiple layers of management.  However when the project team is larger, it may be necessary to have at least one layer between individual team members and the project manager.  There are a few benefits of this approach.  First, it forces the project to establish a core team of constant players that form the inner circle of responsibility.  All other team members are grouped as defined by the project team structure and will report to team leaders.  This approach will automatically build in escalation channels that must first go to the designated team leader and then to the project manager.  Second, because the core team will tend to stay relatively constant it has a greater opportunity to mature as a team.  It also improves continuity and communication within the project. 

Kickoff meeting:  Shortly before the project execution begins, it's time to get the team together for the official kickoff meeting.  It should be a structured meeting designed to familiarize the team with the goal, vision, approach and challenges of the project.  If possible, the sponsor should attend as a show of support.  For many team members, this is their first opportunity to meet each other and perhaps the first time they get to see you, the project manager, in action.  The subliminal message that you need to be aware of is this… How you lead this meeting is how the team assumes you will lead the project.  Are you confident?  Well prepared? Organized?  Approachable?  

There are many people challenges in projects.  Many can be effectively and efficiently dealt with if approached right in the first place.

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