The last thing a project manager wants to hear is that their team is lacking or losing communication. A breakdown of a team talking is generally the first sign of project failure. There’s no way you can accomplish tasks if your team is headed for total dysfunction and once you are there, it is a deep hole to crawl out of.
Fortunately, there are some ways in which you can recognize this crash course before the train wreck occurs. Communication issues must be addressed immediately to prevent any core problems occurring—and it is up to the project manager to patch things up fast.
To do so, you must be able to recognize some of the common warning signs that there has been a breakdown in effective team communication and the project is in trouble.
Lack of Trust
The foundation for any successful business venture, big or small, is trust. Your team must have foundational trust for each other or it is going to be hard to get accountability from people. Where there is a lack of trust you can bet there will be a lack of communication.
Teams that don’t trust each other can typically reveal themselves through a variety of behaviors such as:
- Avoiding spending time together
- Not asking each other for assistance
- Being late to meetings
- Lack of employee morale
- Assuming negative intentions
Project managers can begin to build trust by creating a culture of vulnerability in which it is okay to ask questions without retribution, leading by example and most importantly, rewarding people when they are honest.
Continuous improvement cannot occur without ongoing team communication. If this is happening, there is no reason why there should be any unresolved issues within the team. Conflict between team members is common and should be expected when you have a mix of personalities and behaviors. What is not normal is for a project manager to let this continue without resolution.
It is your job as the primary leader of the team to ensure peace and order and that everyone is equally heard. Resentment amongst team members can lead to a failure to perform and you want to be able to address these challenges before it gets to that point. Some common signs that your team is having communication issues related to conflict include:
- People are missing deadlines or failing to accomplish tasks
- Cliques or sub-groups are forming
- Gossiping or complaining is happening on the sidelines
- Sub-par quality of work and poor performance
In some extreme cases, bullying can even occur amongst team members and it is at this point your project is in serious trouble. Do not let behaviors affect performance. Make sure everyone is professional and feels comfortable about communicating their problems openly and at any time.
It is important to understand that team communication can go the opposite direction too. When teams become too comfortable with each other, rather than diverse thinking and claiming of roles, communication often comes in the form of what’s called “groupthink.”
Productive teams need multiple perspectives and sometimes when teams are getting along a little too well, roles are blurred and effective team communication is lost. When issues arise, no one wants to create waves and everyone agrees on everything—essentially creating an echo chamber. In order to get back on track, teams must understand their set roles and challenge each other. Project managers can help teams stay focused by reviewing the objectives of each role and how they can best operate within the group.
A successful project manager knows not to ignore their team when they need help the most. This shouldn’t be once sales or profit is already plummeting, the warning signs come much sooner than that. A dysfunctional team will show signs early on that they are not performing to the best of their abilities. Team members that ignore each other, refuse to work together or communicate ineffectively must be dealt with immediately and with zero bias from leadership. Workloads should always be as equal as possible and the project manager should see to it that everyone has a voice.
Conversely, the project manager should also ensure the team doesn’t get too comfortable and forget their individual roles while falling into groupthink. If a project manager can be aware of the signs early on, they should have no issue setting the train on the right track before the crash even occurs.