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Strategies to Improve Communication and Follow-up to Team Members

Getting the Most from Your Project Staff
Part 3 of a 3 Part Series

As a Project Manager you are tasked with getting work done through others.  It may seem simple, after all these individuals are assigned to the project team and just need to do their job. But this is not reality. 

What is reality is that project resources are often assigned work beyond your project and may even be involved in other projects.  It is typical in the popular matrix project organization that team members do not report directly to the project manager, but rather a functional manager.  This makes it even more important that the project manager have the skills to get work accomplished through others. Even the most experienced project managers continually report this as one of their top challenges.

In this three part series you will learn techniques that will maximize your ability to get the most from those individuals assigned to your project.  The strategies presented will provide a solid approach that can be used immediately with your team. 


Part 1: Tips to gain commitment from your project team

Part 2: How to be comfortable with escalating when work is not being completed

Part 3: Strategies to improve communication and follow-up to team members

If you have read Part 1 of this series, then you have established the guidelines to gain commitment from your project team members.  However, the work does not end there!  You need to keep up efforts to maintain the best possible dynamic for those involved in your project.  This article discusses strategies to improve communication and follow-up to team members.

Schedule: Where are we going, when do we need to be there, and who is driving?

  • The schedule is not just valuable for planning, but should be maintained. This will provide a mechanism to keep team members up to date on any changes to their assignments. 

E-Mail: Can’t live without it, so let’s make the best of it.

  • Minimize volume of messages – keep it short and simple.
  • Make sure the content is clear and organized.  Re-read before you send so you are sure it’s accurate.
  • Don’t include individuals who are not necessary to the message.  We all wish everyone would do that, don’t we?
  • Include dates for any action items you are including in the message.
  • Highlight names and dates if possible.
  • Consider the message subject so that messages can be sorted, or located easily.  Be consistent with all of your messages.
  • Utilize the e-mail message as a follow-up to an informal meeting or agreement.
  • If you have details, consider storing it elsewhere and reference the details in your message; or you can place details at the bottom of the primary message and direct those interested to that section. 

Issues: We all have them.

  • You should utilize this as a primary tool for keeping problems and action items in sight and on track.
  • Be sure your Issues log is kept up to date. Team members should be able to refer to the log and rely on it’s accuracy. 
  • Share!  It’s great to share your issues, but sharing your issues list is even better! 
  • Be certain that all of your issues have a due date and an assigned resource!  As a note, ASAP and TBD are not dates!

Meetings: Respect the time of your meeting attendees.

  • Plan your meetings – this is not an overrated concept:
    • Consider what you really need to accomplish at the meeting.  This will help to build a tight agenda and dictate the format necessary for the meeting.
    • Think about who you need in attendance, and when.  Inviting resources to the ‘part of the meeting’ that is relevant to them, rather than expecting everyone to sit through the full meeting, can minimize frustration when individuals have other work to accomplish.
    • If possible, build the agenda for structured attendance time such a ‘reverse pyramid’ styled meetings or holding small subgroup meetings.  A reverse pyramid meeting includes topics of relevance to all attendees at the start then the agenda works down to more specific topics allowing attendees to dismiss when their areas of interest are covered.
    • Contemplate placing team members who may not be needed for a specific meeting to be ‘on-call’ for that meeting.  This will provide them the opportunity to work from their desk, but be available to the meeting if needed.
  • Review the agenda and objectives at the start of the meeting.  If you are incorporating any of the strategies above, inform the attendees so they are clear on how the meeting will flow and why other members may not be in attendance.
  • Schedule recurring meetings so attendees are in the habit of knowing when meetings will occur.
  • Start on time!  Arrive on time!  End on time (or early!)
  • Cancel if the meeting if it is not necessary to meet in person. 
    • If you choose to do this, send an update to the team so they have a status.
    • It is not recommended to cancel often.  Your team members may come to expect this and plan not to attend.  Also there is always value in human interaction and discussion.  You may have individuals with something to contribute and they will not have a forum for that input if meetings are cancelled.
  • Keep on track, we all appreciate it!  If a topic goes astray, consider sideling the topic for follow-up or if all attendees are engaged and it is valuable discussion, consider adjusting the meeting to allow for further discussion.
  • Meetings don’t have to be 60 minutes.
    • Consider starting ‘off the hour’, such as 11:10am.
    • Hold 15 minute status meetings when possible; it’s amazing what can get done when you have a short window of time.
  • Make your team aware that you are being considerate of their time!  Take credit for being respectful of their time and let them know so they will shower you with appreciation!

Meeting Minutes: Not fun, but inevitable…

  • You should have already determined requirements for project meetings and documentation and have this stated in the project management plan
  • Make every attempt to have minutes distributed by the end of the next business day
  • Minimize content as much as possible.  Minutes, with few exceptions, should not be transcripts of a meeting.
  • Minutes should be written as statement of facts
  • Action items should be including with due dates

Hello!  Stop, Talk, Stroll…

  • Stop by your team members desk, have a chat, ask how it’s going.  This will show your interest in them, and their work.  It will provide a little one-on-one opportunity for them to bring up any questions or concerns. In some cases it may even minimize deviations from the work schedule. 
  • Pick put the phone and say ‘hello’.  Again, keeping in touch is invaluable for your relationship with the team.

You are probably thinking by now that this all sounds like more work! Yes, you have figured it out… but it is promised that the end result will pay off.  You will experience more engaged team members who are clear on what is expected of them (you will make it easy for them!) and it will minimize the need for continual follow-up, ultimately saving you time and frustration.

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