Collaborative Execution: How to Improve the Effectiveness of Your Project Team

By Mark Woeppel


Is your team being surprised by last minute problems?

Are you relying on “heroes” and their heroic efforts to bring your projects in on time?

Finding it hard to get the right people engaged to solve problems?

Too much drama on your team?

Project teams want to work together, but most of the time, there is no simple method for them to do so.

The result is that problems are identified very late. Communication is delayed. The right problem solvers arrive too late for prevention, leading to rework – additional work – into the process. Capacity is consumed doing the wrong work, and when the right work shows up, the whole project is delayed. Budgets are busted.

Dysfunctional teams are often blamed on “communication”. Well, I don’t buy that; we’re communicating all the time! It isn’t that we don’t talk to each other; it’s just that we don’t say the right things.

Superior execution demands informed collaboration, where individuals and teams can communicate the right information easily. There can be no disagreement about the status of the project. The project or process and its status must be transparent. There can be no disagreement on who is going to do what. The roles and accountabilities of each team member must be clear. They shouldn’t be arguing about the past, they should be planning what needs to be done now and tomorrow.

So first, get agreement on the process and the situation.

As you’ve heard me say in other articles, making the work visible helps the entire team see the big picture as well as see where their work fits into that picture.. Working with this tool makes it obvious to the team what is the final goal, facilitating alignment on the purpose of their work. They have a “road map” showing where they are versus where they are going.

Second, now that you have a map, you need a clear set of rules around collaboration. Just like in any collaborative activity (even a game of monopoly), you must have the rules and roles spelled out. Collaboration is not an accident; it does require leadership and structure. To create a collaborative team, you must create an atmosphere of trust and accountability. The team needs to have mutual accountability to ensure follow through.

Don’t make it complicated; make it simple. Here are some guidelines that we use.

One, focus on what is to be done, not what has been done. History debates are for analysis, not collaborative execution.

Two, answer the question of who has the hand off from one task to another?

Three, what happens if we disagree?

Four, who sets the work priorities?

Just these rules and guidelines helps you bring the right communication to the forefront to get your work completed quickly.

Following these simple guidelines will transform your teams. You find that:

  • People communicate regularly, as part of their work process. Not just having coffee, but around the work to be accomplished.
  • Teams are focusing on what needs to get done for the project to move forward, not on the past.
  • You will find that the team is engaged, solving problems. When challenges are encountered, the entire team will pitch in to overcome them.
  • Last, there are no “heroes” and you don’t need them.

Collaborative execution is not an accident. By setting up the collaboration structure with simple rules, you can synchronize work, identify problems early, improve team communications and make your work go faster. With far less drama.

About the Author

Mark Woeppel is the founder and President of Pinnacle Strategies International, a management consulting firm focused on operations management in production, project management, and supply chain management.

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