4 Components of Effective Project Team Communications

Why is Communicating Effectively Important?

You spend countless hours creating a Communications Plan for your stakeholders.  You identify and prioritize them and create an extensive strategy regarding what, when, and how often you’ll communicate with them.  But what about your project team members?  Do you know what Josh is working on, where Chrissy sees risk, and the fact Shannon hasn’t been to work for a few days?  The rigor you apply to project stakeholders should also be extended to the team.  In fact, I’ve found it is often more important to be thorough and strategic in communications planning and execution with team members than stakeholders outside the team.  Remember, without effective project team communications, what are you going to communicate with the other stakeholders?  Incorrect, incomplete, and possibly inappropriate messages? 

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1. Identify Your Audience

When I’m thinking about how to communicate with my project team, I use the same systematic and strategic planning I use with all other stakeholders.  I think about who (prioritization of team members), how (methodology), when (frequency), what (the actual message), and why (my intention communicated in a manner that addresses their issues and concerns).  I’ll expand on each topic below, and then provide some tips and tricks I’ve used throughout my project management career.

Just as all stakeholders are not created equally, neither are project team members.  Especially if you are leading a large multi-national project team.  You must create a communications structure to reinforce consistent communications throughout the team.  Structure your communications by having regular meetings with your project team leads.  Then, request your project team leads meet with the team members who are supporting them.  By doing this you’re mentoring your team leads on how to effectively motivate and delegate tasks.  If applicable, you may wish to have a team lead attend one of your meetings with your sponsor.  This should be seen as recognition for an accomplishment and a reward for a contribution made.  Don’t require the team member to make a presentation (unless they want to, and it is part of their development plan).  But it’s a great way to help a team lead learn how to effectively communicate with a sponsor.

Once you’ve decided who you are going to meet with, the next thing to determine is how you’ll meet with them.  Given most communication is non-verbal, try to have your key communications meetings face-to-face.  If everyone can’t physically be in the same location, use the teleconferencing capabilities of your organization (or find a reliable one to begin using).  If this isn’t an option, utilize communications software with web camera capabilities.  Finally, in the worst-case scenario, if you can’t get the group together consistently, travel to meet with your team members.  

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2. Hold a Successful Kick-Off Meeting

Probably the most important team meeting you’ll have is your project kick-off meeting.  Be sure to put it in the budget to make sure it is in-person.  Plan activities away from the actual meeting so the team may start to bond.  Any activity where they need to do something together, which isn’t directly aligned with the project, is a good activity.  The key is to get people working together for a common goal in an entertaining and enjoyable activity. 

During your kick-off meeting, facilitate a discussion to create a Team Charter.  Include ground rules for effective communications and team meetings as part of your Team Charter. Align expectations to all the specifics regarding when and how the team will meet.  Make sure part of your team meeting ground rules address agenda items (you should have one and publish it before the team meeting), note-taking, and action items. Your team meetings should culminate with notes being disseminated to team members, and they should become part of your project information and summarily lessons learned.  I have found team meetings which focus on the project baselines, issues, risks, and recognition are the most useful.  I typically ask for activity and deliverable statuses to be collected and documented before the meeting.  The purpose of the meeting isn’t to collect status reports, it’s to understand how the project is progressing and make decisions regarding the next steps. 

3. Establish a Meeting Frequency

How often should you meet with your team?  Many project managers feel you can’t meet often enough.  I disagree and believe in “quality” over “quantity.”  In my experience, I’ve landed on bi-weekly project team lead meetings and monthly meetings with the entire team. I also think you should meet with your team leads individually on a bi-weekly basis as well.  The cadence of meetings is dictated by the level of activity and complexity of the project and the phase you are in (earlier usually means more).  The key thing to remember is to ensure when you meet, you meet with a purpose; an agenda needs to be disseminated, notes should be taken, action items are identified, and team members are held accountable. 

4. Communication Best Practices

Once you have the audience selected, the meetings scheduled, and the purpose defined, how can you optimize the communications experience for all the participants?  Some key strategies to ensure effective communication with your team includes:

  • Ask the right questions: Make sure you don’t monopolize the conversation and get to understand “what” and, most importantly, “why.” If you’re talking more than half the time, you’re missing an opportunity to learn.  Lyndon B. Johnson once said, “you can’t learn while you are talking”.  This is very true for project managers.
  • Listen with your eyes and ears: Communication is effectively useless if you don’t listen to and comprehend the responses you get regarding your message. Listening isn’t just using your ears to collect sounds. You need to understand the things being said to you in such a way you can form a coherent and knowledgeable response.
  • Enthusiasm is important: When you are communicating, one of the easiest ways to get someone to respond to you in a positive manner is to be enthusiastic about what they are saying. No one is going to want to talk to you if you sigh, roll your eyes, or seem otherwise impatient or bored while they are trying to convey their information.

Project communications is more than the manner, structure, and approach.  It’s about developing trust, and trust can only be nurtured through effective communication.  The best project teams are the ones who trust each other.  And trust must be earned, starting at the project kick-off meeting and extending throughout the lifetime of the project.  It’s said many projects fail due to poor communication. I contend projects fail due to a lack of trust created by inefficient, ineffective, or nonexistent communications.  If you succeed in communicating with your team, you’ll develop the trust needed to manage a successful project. 

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Erin Aldridge, PMP, PMI-ACP, & CSPO
Director of Product Development at
Erin Aldridge, PMP, PMI-ACP, & CSPO