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.

 

Want Team Engagement? Embrace Ambient Awareness

team1Project Management, by its nature, is social. Communications is at the heart of what we do as project managers. We project managers are constantly talking to people. influencing, proposing, negotiating, mediating and, our favorite, updating. We are über communicators, and that will not change – but HOW we communicate, at least on my projects with my team – has.

Liz Pearce, CEO of LiquidPlanner, recently wrote a post on “How social tools work for project management, saying “Good project managers communicate, build consensus, persuade, and influence others to achieve goals. With the rise of social software platforms, many of them are coming to believe that transparent collaboration and planning make for faster work flow, better results and happier teams.”  And at the end of the day, adopting social project management practices means more engaged and happier teams which translates into better delivery and happier clients.

Using social software with your project team makes a difference. Mostly because of what the psychologist’s call  ambient awareness. User experience designer, Leisa Reichelt, says that ambient awareness “is about being able to keep in touch with people with a level of regularity and intimacy that you wouldn’t usually have access to, because time and space conspire to make it impossible.”[1] If you missed it, I first talked about ambient awareness in my post on Solving the Project Managers Social Dilemma – Part 2.

Using social software on projects allows teams to experience a level of connectivity never before realized, even in physical co-location.  Reality theorist Sheldon Renan calls it “loosely but deeply entangled.”  It reminds me of the Jungian psychology concept of ‘collective unconsciousness,” where a part of the unconscious mind is shared by a society, a people, or all humankind.  I’ll call what happens to the project team. the ‘collective present.‘  Everyone on a project collectively participates in the dynamic flow of the information and is accountable for their parts in a way they never were before.  They are responsible for creating and keeping up the data flow.  And, as part of this ‘collective present’ on a project, the connections are wider and contain more possible touch points for interaction.  The team, the client, the stakeholders, all those that are part of the collaborative process through social media, now are part of the ‘collective present’ of the project and have data-driven information (and accountability), elevating the project knowledge to a new level of engagement.

teensTo help you visualize this concept of ambient awareness, think about young people today and how they use their mobile devices.  They are in constant contact with their cohort.  They know where everyone is almost all the time because they ‘check in’ on social networks[2], they ‘Geo-tag,’ and they Tweet. No one has to update anyone on the who, what, where, and how, because ‘they just know.’ This new awareness is bringing back the dynamics of small-town life; where everybody knew your business and therefore, you had to be genuine and honest.  Think about it: you probably know more about your Facebook friends than you do the neighbor down the street, unless of course, the neighbor is on Facebook.  You know what is going on from your News Feeds [3], and you can pick and choose what to act on (“Gee, I need to call my sister about that”) or not (“Do I really care that Howard’s kid winning the science fair?”).

Incorporating the work styles of the digital generation into the more traditional business models, even into project management, is showing good rewards.  Ambient awareness improves the communications and project knowledge of the team, which in the end, translates into better delivery of the project. Being ‘in’ the project versus being ‘told about’ the project, changes the speed of understanding and the sense of personal engagement.  Seems like a ‘win’ to me.

Still don’t believe me?  Think about the traditional project manager – usually the single point person that updates the plans and milestones, creates Gantt charts, holds endless status meetings, and updates the team and client, maybe weekly. Now think about the social project manager – whose team collaboratively updates the milestones and activities as part of the project process, reducing the need for status meetings (since status is known by all ambiently) and where team members follow what each other are doing, subscribe to each others feeds, and basically, work in the ‘collective present’ in a new and improved way.  Team time is now for greater collaboration and development.  Even clients could be updated through the social process.

communications 2In Social Project Management, the project itself becomes the center of all things. It is the ’email hub,’ the ‘inbox,’ the ‘file archive.’  All data and information flows through the digital project center.  And, since every team member is working in this transparent way, the personal accountability is very visible.  How perfect for project management!  How refreshing to really be projectized and have everything organized around the actual work tasks and not the tools used to communicate (email) or store information.  When using social software for a project, the work assignments are clear to everyone, each team member sees what other team members are doing, the team gets out of ’email jail,’ tasks are maintain and supported in a collaborative manner, and, most importantly, working this way allows people to determine the appropriate level of engagement that they need to get their job done.

When I managed traditional co-located teams on projects, I noted that we would build a certain team awareness.  We were in constant communication and sharing mode.  We ate lunch together.  We spent time white boarding and brainstorming and sharing ideas, good and bad.  We moved as a team.  We had shirts and hats with our team logo. We knew the state of the project because we lived and breathed it every day, sometimes 7 days a week. But even in this scenario, we only knew the information that we shared with each other in status meetings or in the elevator.  Communications depended on physical meetings or emails.

As team size grew and my projects became global, multicultural, and more and more complex, I noted that time and distance between team members started to become a problem.  The co-located dynamics that made us feel like a team of course were gone.  I also noted that communications started to become more and more compartmentalized.   People only paid attention to their tasks and were less concerned with the whole project.  Information flow was a battle and email overload started to become a nightmare.  Many good virtual tools became available, but getting the dispersed teams to perform at the high level that was needed to deliver on time and with quality, got more complicated.

Enter Social Media.  I feel like Social Media has given me back team spirit and team vitality. Ambient awareness, which is only recently being applied to distributed teams and work flow, has given my teams and my clients, a sense of connection to the end goal, and to each other. This is not your old project management process translated into something social – social project management is a way of working that you and your team have never experienced before.  Once you take the leap into the collective present of project management, I assure you, you will never go back.

Are you connecting with your teams and clients using Social Media? How are you leveraging your ‘collective present?’

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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/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LorianL

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

References

  1. Disambiguity — Leisa Reichelt’s Professional Blog. October 2011
  2. “Three Best Ways to Use Location-Based Social Media”. Riva Richmond, The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, Inc., September 10, 2010
  3. Brave New World of Digital Intimacy, Clive Thompson, The New York Time Magazine, September 5, 2008