Once the team’s goals and mission have been established, the project team members’ roles must be clearly defined. What is expected of each individual, and by when? One common problem is that team leaders think they communicate information on goals and roles clearly to team members, yet team members remain fuzzy on these critical areas. Communication, communication, communication. Have I stressed this before?
The problem is that we fail to solicit feedback from team members to be really sure that they understand their roles and responsibilities. To compound the problem further, team members themselves are sometimes reluctant to admit that they don’t understand. This reluctance appears to be a result of our tendency in school to put people down for asking “stupid” questions. So, as adults, rather than admit that they don’t understand, people interpret what they have been told and try to do the best job that they can with what they think they know.
Project managers must establish a climate of open communication with the team, a climate in which no one feels too intimidated to speak up. The best way to do this is to comment on the problem: “I know some of you may feel reluctant to speak up and say you don’t understand, but we can’t operate that way. Please feel free to be candid. If you don’t understand, say so.” Team members must be clear on the fact that if they don’t agree with something or don’t understand an assignment or task, it is critical that they speak up. It is your only hope for success. You’re lucky to have the time to do the job once. It’s not likely that you’ll have the time – or budget – to do it over again without a severe impact on the project and customer satisfaction.
As the project manager, it’s fine to show some vulnerability yourself – especially if it will help the team open up. If you don’t understand something – admit it. It will only make the team that much more comfortable coming forward for clarity if they don’t fully understand their role or an assignment or task. If you project an air of infallibility, no one else is likely to admit a weakness. But then, who wants to deal with a demigod? A little human frailty goes a long way toward breaking down barriers. I know this contradicts what some managers have been taught. The macho notion of infallibility has been with us for a long time, and it is probably the cause of many of our organizational problems. Now may be a good time to abandon it for reality.