Tips & Tricks for a Project Manager in Working with a Team

Tips & Tricks for a Project Manager in Working with a Team

The Author:
Oleksiy Shebanov
Oleksiy Shebanov,
Trainer & Managing Partner @E5
Director. Head of PMO @ Intellias
Certified PMP, ICP-APM, TKP

The success of the implementation of any project depends on the team – a group of individuals united by a common goal, functioning as a single organism. It’s important that it includes diverse professionals with different competencies.

In project management, this is called a “cross-functional team.” Its value lies in the personal contributions of each member to the overall development and proper structure of the project.

For example, for software development, the team should include:

  • Front-end developers,
  • Back-end developers,
  • QA engineers,
  • Testers,
  • DevOps specialists,
  • Project managers.

Similarly, in other industries such as construction, you would need: Painters, Electricians, Plumbers, Construction workers, Supervisors, or managers. Indeed, as you can see, for each specific process, personnel with the corresponding expertise are required. It’s the collaboration of different specialists that constitutes a team.

Team through the Lens of Trends: Representation of Managers in Projects

Let’s briefly examine the trends that set the direction for the entire management industry. There are 5 key positions highlighted:

1. Emotional Intelligence: It should not only be present in the leader (project manager) but also in all team members to enhance cooperation effectively. The ability to perceive emotions and work with the emotions of partners is a valuable skill that enables achieving incredible results.

2. Virtual/Distributed Teams: Hybrid and remote work models have become commonplace during the aggressive spread of Covid-19. Starting from early 2022, they turned into a necessity due to the war. To maintain work effectiveness, a team must maintain a proper level of communication, regardless of how far apart team members are located.

3. Cross-Functional Teams: To create a top-notch product (in IT and other industries), a team needs specialists from all fields. Moreover, it’s essential to establish their collaborative work to achieve full synergy in creative or technical processes. Most importantly, teams should be formed from the outset rather than shifting specialists between projects.

4. Automated Team Management: Artificial intelligence and automation even allow for forecasting potential future developments within teams. At least, that’s what industry experts are saying. Indeed, in an ideal scenario, technology assists in risk assessment and planning for various scenarios. For instance, whether a person will stay with the team for a long time or leave at the first opportunity. Profiles of team members are input into the system, where algorithms process them and provide information about possible developments within the team.

5. Leadership: The key characteristic of a manager as a leader is the ability to unite the team around a common goal, inspire, and motivate all employees. This is what modern management often lacks or, more precisely, what is frequently overlooked. It’s not enough to simply build a rigid hierarchy and work algorithms (excluding police or law enforcement structures). Managers need to be able to unlock the potential of their employees and transform them into leaders within their niche.

Indeed, leadership is at the core of the entire subsequent material. It is this characteristic that enables the effective development of a team and the quality management of projects. However, leadership primarily allows for the proper construction of a team capable of handling tasks. We will explore several methods of organizing cooperation further.

Team Composition: Creating a Unified Organism from Diverse Specialists

In general, when forming a team for performing specific tasks, the most important aspect is creating the composition. That is, determining who will be involved in working on certain components, how many people are needed, and what their professions should be. This is one of the primary tasks of a leader.

Regarding project management, the situation is somewhat different. First and foremost, you should prepare a plan in which you specify when and who needs to be hired to perform certain tasks.

Here, you should specify when the specialist’s work begins and when it ends. This is an important component of the team formation process, which is essential for any project. Operational routines are needed to establish a structure onto which the soft and hard skills of specialists will later be applied.

After planning the organizational structure and work direction, a team charter/canvas is created. Its purpose is to describe the process of interaction between the leader and the team, among the team members. This is done before the development process begins, regardless of the methodology used by the manager. This template includes certain rules – communication, operational, etc., that team members are expected to follow.

Next, let’s briefly examine the types of behavior people exhibit within a team, as the choice of interaction model with them depends on this. We’ll also discuss issues that may arise at the beginning of work.

Types of Behaviour Among Team Members

Understanding a person’s temperament and potential, it’s important to assess the situation and choose a specific interaction model that helps build relationships. Of course, you should also formulate a strategy for further improving communication with all project participants.

You can even use a gamification model by suggesting that team members take on certain roles. This is an interesting practice that can help solve many communication or organizational problems.

In addition to the above, it’s worth noting the model by the renowned business expert Adizes, which is widely used in managerial circles. It will help you quickly assign roles within the team and promote the execution of specific tasks by responsible individuals.

And once roles are clear, the next step is to understand who is capable of what within the team. To achieve this, we propose using a delegation model with elements of gamification.

The key is to understand the capabilities of team members and methods for task distribution among them. It’s recommended to apply a shared leadership model: a specific expert takes on responsibility and literally leads their mini team towards the project or its phase’s goals.

Project Management Case Studies: 5 Examples of Solving Common Issues

Let’s briefly review a few situations where we’ll highlight the best methods for resolving them.

New Manager in a Team with Problems of Unknown Origin

There are situations where a manager, unfamiliar with the team, encounters coordination and communication problems. How to act in such conditions?
Before attempting to resolve anything, take a pause and observe the behaviour of each team member. This will help you understand who is who, and act accordingly to the current situation.

Decisions that the Team Disagrees With

Imagine that your ideas (technical or organizational) for solving problem situations have been approved by higher management or the client, but the team doesn’t support them. What should you do?
Ideally, before presenting ideas to senior management, you should discuss potential changes with the team and adjust the plan. However, if this has already happened, you can use the ambassador method, which involves promoting the benefits of the decisions through opinion leaders. Nevertheless, it’s better to prevent such situations through facilitation:

  •  No emotional reactions during discussions.
  • Acknowledgment of all points, ideas, and suggestions.
  • Asking questions and seeking clarification.
  • Explaining unclear aspects.
  • Brainstorming.
  • Setting achievable goals.
  • Summarizing the discussion.
  • Gamification of the process.

Using Tuckman’s model can also be useful for managing work and emotional processes. According to it, a team goes through 5 stages: forming, storming (conflict arises), norming (each person starts to appreciate their colleagues’ skills), performing (people are motivated and fully immersed in the project), and adjourning.

So, within a team, negative processes often occur, stormy situations and conflicts may arise among team members, and so on. Then, the system stabilizes and transitions into a productive mode. The manager’s task is to maintain healthy relationships and continually optimize internal operations.

Issues with Specific Employees or Discipline in General

Systematic violations, deviations from schedules, and missed meetings… What can be done to stabilize the situation?

  • First and foremost, identify issues with people’s motivation and understand why such a situation has arisen.
  • Conduct a survey within the team, highlighting motivation priorities for each team member.
  • Focus on team building, which is the foundation for forming healthy relationships among team members and a stimulus for improving project efficiency.
  • Establish personal communications, as it helps identify issues with specific team members and minimizes them within the framework of cooperation.
  • Measure the team’s level of happiness and satisfaction to identify critical areas for process improvement.
  • Prevent team burnout and individual burnout to address the problem in its early stages.

All these methodologies help mitigate potential problems and improve work efficiency, discipline within the team, and each employee’s performance.

Disruptions in Cooperation

You can build the perfect team, but from time to time, critical situations arise. They happen for various reasons: workload, issues in coordinating processes, or cooperation problems among team members. This is a common occurrence in virtually all organizations, regardless of their profile.

The key here is to prevent stormy situations in advance and address them appropriately.
A leader should inspire employees by setting an example, rather than demanding something beyond their capabilities. Demonstrate the qualities you want to see in your subordinates, foster two-way communication, and actively participate in the team’s corporate life.

Toxicity Within the Team

The most critical team problems involve toxic relationships. This can include bullying, aggression, unfounded criticism, and so on. It’s worth noting that such behaviour is not considered normal in a corporate environment and is usually addressed immediately. However, there are situations where such behaviour becomes habitual towards certain team members or is characteristic of only a few employees.

In any case, you cannot ignore this toxicity; it needs to be completely eliminated. Even if it requires drastic changes, such as removing the source of negativity by letting go of an employee.

In theory, it’s possible to prevent the emergence of such situations. To do this, it’s advisable to periodically measure the stress level within the team. As soon as the first symptoms of unhealthy relationships manifest, they should be addressed immediately. Whether you handle this personally or delegate it to qualified personnel is a secondary question. The key is to react promptly and mitigate all potentially negative consequences.

Let’s summarize
Working in a team, and especially leading a team, is a responsibility that falls on the shoulders of every team member. However, the project manager, who forms this team, bears the greatest burden.
Most of the problems discussed in this material can be solved using the described methods, such as direct or general communication, identifying and localizing irritants, analyzing behaviour models, and gamification. However, in some cases, more radical solutions may be needed.

If violations of corporate behaviour norms occur on a regular basis, and toxicity within the team becomes systematic, then the sources of the problems need to be first identified and then removed. It’s not the most popular solution, but it may be necessary, especially if traditional team-building methods are not working.

According to recent trends, leadership prevails in teams instead of typical management. This means the ability to collaborate with team members and lead them toward a common goal while addressing stressful situations.

To effectively work with a team, focus on developing leadership qualities within yourself and encourage team members to develop in that direction.

Learn to apply the best project management practices and tools and organize the chaos of any degree on your projects in our Project Management course.