Communication is vital for any successful project. Not only do team members have to talk to the project manager; they have to talk to each other as well. The problem is that lately, effective communication seems to be more of an acquired skill.
So how can you encourage your team to start talking to each other? More to the point, how can you develop a team culture where updates are freely given, instead of having to pry them out like they were wisdom teeth?
Start the Conversation
You can always just order your team to stick to an update schedule and penalize non-compliant team members. But this approach will make you plenty of enemies on the team, and increase the chance of delinquent behavior.
Instead, explain to your team the reasons for your request and how this process will benefit everyone if they cooperated. Speak to things your team will find important, like more balanced workloads and better coordination between team members—especially ones whose tasks involve multiple dependencies. Take suggestions and incorporate the ones that would work best with your process.
You may have to go around prodding people for updates at first. But if you ask the right way, and make the experience as painless as possible, they will eventually come around and give you updates of their own accord.
Speak to a Purpose
Your project is going to generate a lot of status updates, and they’re all going to be clamoring for your attention. You need to make sure that your team is giving relevant status updates that are either a) actionable, or b) informative.
Unfortunately, having a schedule or system for updates will sometimes result in updates that are given just for the sake of something to submit. Educate your team on the difference between useful updates, and those that are just noise.
Bad News is Better than No News
This tip depends heavily on how you take bad news. Do you tend to freak out when you’re told about delays, or do you react calmly? The former will seriously hamper your attempts to build a culture of communication. If you can keep your head when faced with bad news, then your team will have an easier time approaching you.
Stress to your team that you’d much rather hear about problems as early as possible, so that you can work with the team to find a viable solution.