Managing large team at multiple locations

Practical Scenario - As a project manager , you manage a project that is being executed from two different offshore locations. You are leading a large team and estimated time to complete the project is 10 months. Thankfully 50% of the project team works from the same location as yours. During project initiation phase both locations were given resources with relevant experience and expertise.

Now 8 weeks have elapsed in the project. During the status meeting you realize that the two locations seems to be working in silos and conflict is emarging. You get uncomfortable as the team has not settled down and is not performing at its peak efficiency. Your key job is now to ensure that the whole project team starts performing to the peak of its efficiency. How do you ensure this. ?

Solution 

Organizations exists because they are able to execute projects for their client which deliver business results.. A team is formed when a project is started and it gets dissolved when the project gets over. Between its formation and its dissolution, a project team is expected to perform to its optimal efficiency to maximize the chances of success of the project. But project managers should be cautioned: people in their teams take time to settle down and start performing. The sooner they settle down, the better they serve the interests of the project. This is where project managers can exhibit their leadership capabilities: they will have to show the way and help the team to settle down quickly. So let us understand , why do project teams take time to settle down? what are the factor ?

  • ·         Time needed to understand the project context and requirements.
  • ·         Project goals and objectives may be ambigous and lack clarity. 
  • ·         Team members may be new to domain or technology and need time to come upto speed. 
  • ·         Time take to understand each other and work as a team. 
  • ·         Past experience between the team members may not be as good. 
  • ·         Roles are responsibilities of team members are not clearly defined and confusion increases the settling time. 

There will be similar other reasons which can be quoted which may result in teams not performing. When you have a team which is  distributed across multiple geographical locations, the problem becomes even more complex. Complexity increases as number of locations increases. As project manager you must anticipate that there will be an initial period of instability and play a role of a leader to ensure team settles down quickly.  When selecting team members, you can check if team members are carrying any past bitter experiences, which will impact their efficiency on this project. 

Project managers should take the effort to ensure that all team members have understood the project context and its requirements.

It might not be a bad idea if the entire team works from the same location for some time during the initial stage of the project. This helps team members know each other and foster team spirit. Last but not the least, ensure that all locations have competent hands to drive the project and that there is no overt dependence on one location for knowledge or competency.

Roles and responsibilities must be clearly defined early in the project. This will address any confusion related to who does what and who reports to whom. One of the reasons for emergence of power centers in a team is lack of clarity on who does what and who reports to whom. Publishing the project organization structure would go a long way ensuring that there are no power centers in the team. Defining roles and responsibilities has to happen in consultation with the team members. Just as people have their strengths, they also have preferences. For example, one often hears of people who say that while they would want to shoulder more responsibility in technical matters, they would prefer not to be saddled with administrative responsibilities. But what if they have to assume such responsibilities, given the project context? Project Managers must discuss with team members and have their sign-off before they are made responsible for something.

Ensuring that a project team sustains its performance throughout the project requires a continuous effort from the project manager. This calls for regularly reviewing the performance of team members and giving feedback. While giving feedback, it might be pertinent to point out the golden rule: praise in public and criticize in private. If budget allows, key team members could travel to other locations from time to time and work from there.

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