Virtual Communications: 5 Meetings for Better Teaming

Strong team communications are critical to project success. Whether building software, launching a program, or planning an event, there can be no team collaboration without communication.

According to PMI’s Pulse of the Profession, “Ineffective communications is the primary contributor to project failure one third of the time, and had a negative impact on project success more than half the time.”

When I was a new Project Manager, I had a project with development teams in Bangalore, Prague, and Rio. Miscommunication across the team was rampant and caused major delays and rework. It wasn’t pretty. Thankfully, I’ve learned a lot since then. By leveraging lessons from Agile, Kanban, and Waterfall, plus utilizing cloud-based collaborative and project management tools, I now can show my teams how to work better together and have fewer communications issues.

There are many ways to empower your teams for better communications and today I am going to share with you the 5 types of meetings I employ to build relationships, share ideas and best practices, and make sure that every team member is engaged and committed to project success.

The Short and Sweet Daily Meeting 

Daily meetings are not just for critical situations or Agile projects, they are my everyday wake up routine (after coffee, of course). Known as “Stand Up Meetings” or “Daily Scrums,” mastering the art of the 15-minute roll-call will keep your team connected. The way to keep the daily meeting short and sweet is by asking each person only 3 questions with 1-minute answers:

  1. What did you accomplish since our last meeting?
  2. What will you accomplish today?
  3.  What would keep you from getting your job done today?

As the leader, you need to be crisp and keep everyone moving along. Don’t waste anyone’s time. Stay focused. This is not the place for people to bring up new ideas or ramble on.  Set follow-on meetings with individuals or small groups if they need to discuss something or troubleshoot an issue. I pride myself on short meetings. Get everyone back to productive work as soon as you can.

The Required Weekly Team Meeting

To keep my team on the same page, and to ensure mutual support and collaboration, I insist on a weekly team meeting: its sacred to me. Though I set it for 1-hour, most of the time, we finish sooner. The meeting is always at the same time on the same day of the week. This is where I update everyone on company stuff (like corporate changes), people do updates on their projects, we share ideas, give recognition, get feedback, strategize for next week, and, this is where people can ask each other for assistance.

I run the meeting using a centralized project status report, which is kept on our cloud-based team collaboration site which everyone can access for weekly updates and status reporting. Having collaboration tools with direct messaging, file sharing, and screen sharing, like Microsoft Teams, or Slack, goes a long way toward better team communications too, but that topic will have to wait for another post.

Also during the weekly meetings, I have people do what I call, ‘show and tell.’  You learn a lot by demonstrating to others, so I try to get one person each week to show us something they are working on. This serves multiple purposes for the team: it gives individuals a chance to present their work in a comprehensive manner (which is a teaching/ learning moment), it gives the team member acknowledgement for their work effort (recognition is always good for self-esteem), and it highlights the individuals expertise (which is really valuable to other members of the team when they are trying to figure out who to call with a particular problem).

The Regular Touch Point Meeting

When I was at IBM, there were many different jokes about what the IBM acronym stood for. Those of us in the field used to say it stood for “I’m By Myself.”  Remote workers can feel very alone and out of the loop, even with lots of telephone meetings. To ensure my staff feels engaged, I have regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings with each of them. Since most of my staff is remote I use video chat, Skype or Cisco WebEx, when possible, which enriches the conversation with facial expressions and gestures.

The one-on-one touch point is a good time for me to catch up on personal things with the team member, which helps build trust in your interpersonal team relationship, but mostly, I use the call to listen to any new ideas or concerns and to provide mentorship on projects or professional development goals. I have found that by making time to listen to people and to ensure that they understand what is expected of them, they stay on the team longer (retention is important) and are more productive.

The Quarterly Team Meeting

Time flies, especially when your teams are turning sprints on projects in 1 to 3 weeks. Therefore, at least every 90 days (or 3 iterations of a project), it is important to look at what the team has done well and what they can do better. Every quarter, I turn one of the weekly meetings into two 1/2 day sessions (about 3 or 4 hours each).

Kind of like an Agile Retrospective Meeting, this gives the team a chance to focus on things that may have inhibited their success in the last quarter and gives us time to come up with solutions and ideas. To pull the team together, foster cohesion, and to help people focus on joint measurable goals, I instituted a process called Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) (spearheaded by companies like Google). The Quarterly meeting is where we review everyone’s contribution to the team. I am big on making sure that everyone feels part of the whole. Individualism, especially on collaborative teams, can kill sharing and cohesiveness if not managed properly.

The Annual Face-To-Face Team Meeting

With tight project budgets and extreme financial constraints in most companies, face-to-face team meetings are hard to come by. The benefits, however, of even one opportunity to get your team together goes a long way to building better team communications. I try to at least get those people within 500 miles in the same room. There are known limitations on the amount of emotional connection that can be shared virtually, so to create a tightly bonded team, even one physical meeting can speed up the process.

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Whether members are remote or local, effective team communications are central to project success. How do you ensure your teams are engaged and productive? Share your tips in the comments below.

 

OMG!! You Want Me to Open What?

Oh My Goodness!  Many Project Managers are cringing when I talk about their teams being more open and transparent and leveraging social technologies. Has everything we know about project communications changed?  I think I finally understand why they worry, but let me assure you, a good communications strategy is still a key to project success, you just need to tweak it a little.

Fear

I know that it may feel like trying to manage projects with transparent and open communications is the antithesis of everything that we were ever taught as project managers about communications.  Being open just feels risky (kind of like buying something off of Craig’s List and meeting the person in an abandon building).

The principles of social collaboration seem to challenge all the conventional ideas that we have as PMs for project communications. Traditional guidance on project communications tells us that one of it’s main principles, is identifying what information is to be shared, when it should be distributed, to whom, and how it should be prepared.  How do you control communications in the open?

Yes, social collaboration means that the team, and maybe even the client, might have access to the non-confidential information about the project that is being worked on.  But, there is a tremendous benefit to working project details out in the open.  This allows the team to participate, collaborate, and react in a just-in-time way.  As PMs we need to embrace the fast-moving business environment that we work in, harness the reality of the current technologies we deploy, and leverage the globalization of our project teams.

What Transparency Means

Our communications job as Project Leaders is to ensure the team and the stakeholders have current information (status) on what, where, and when.  Being transparent, in the project context, means having an open and honest dialogue on the current state of your project.  Many projects run behind and even fail, because teams don’t want to tell each other, or the customer, the truth about scope creep, schedule slippage, resource challenges.  But, that is the reality of the project and once the team can embrace being real, all the time, in real-time, magic happens.  Being transparent is not about getting positive or negative feedback on an item, it is about disseminating information quickly so that all players can digest it, discuss it,  and react to it.  Some examples of transparent communications are:
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  • Open planning sessions to discussion and gather new ideas
  • Show milestones so everyone knows where you are going and can comment on their parts
  • Open discussions about issues; ask the team to comment regardless of if they are part of that subteam or not (solutions come from many places)
  • Show schedule and dependencies and let others own their commitments instead of being bottle necked by the PMs weekly status round-up.
  • Open your status meetings and let the extended team comment. Status now becomes ubiquitous.  There is no longer a need for lengthy status reports because it is up-to-date all the time. (Gee, I love this as a PM because it sure makes my reporting easier.)

Business today is very agile and the old top-down communications models don’t always work anymore.  The new social technologies allow teams to provide a continuous loop of feedback and ideas at the speed never before possible.  This transparent feedback loop can help a project manager, or the executives of a company,  make quicker course corrections, which means better response time to customer requirements or industry changes.

Recently, I was moderating the webcast of a global panel on Social Project Management (with 4 speakers and over 700 participants) for IBM. With only 4 weeks to put it together, all the planning, scheduling details, resource needs, were coordinated through a Lotus Connections Community.  Everyone knew what was going on, what was needed, who needed what, when, and even, how we did after the event.  Though the panelists sat in different countries throughout the world, that caused no problems because everyone checked in and chimed it, at their convenience. Issues were handled immediately (like people dropping out, or equipment not arriving).  And, except for one conference call before the event (yes, I still hang on to some old school needs like making sure people are not robots – LOL), everything was discussed, resolved, and documented in our open space.  We had a 98% participation satisfaction rating.  I know this wasn’t a big project example, but I wanted to give you a flavor of how it works.

Just try it on a small subproject first.  Let me know how it goes.

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Keep up the good attitude. See you next blog.

– Lorian

Email: thedigitalattitude@gmail.com

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lorianlipton/

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(All the Social Butterfly’s views are her own)