Collaborative projects require that all participants have skin in the game. The larger the project, the more important it is that all stakeholders, project managers, product managers, owners, and creators are invested on some level. The more invested each participant is, the better the outcome. Conversely, if even one team member has divested themselves of responsibility, the overall quality of the project is in jeopardy — and somebody is going to be thrown under the bus for poor communication, not providing adequate training or not accepting the additional work left undone by the divested member(s).
So how do you ensure that all who accept responsibility, will continue to view themselves as responsible? How do you apply just enough pressure to hold all team members accountable without appearing to pass the buck? There will always be at least one individual who views themselves as too busy, too important, or perhaps unqualified (or inadequately trained) to contribute what they are asked.
The foundation for maintaining accountability is documentation of roles and responsibilities. Without a written statement declaring who is responsible for what and an acknowledgement that each role is important toward reaching a goal, there will be confrontations and those who decide that others should pick up their slack will have the leverage to slip in and out of the loop at will.
Training is the key to empowering each team member to complete the tasks they’re assigned, and it should be standardized, documented, consistent and readily available to all team members. Without formal training in place, it will be far too easy for some to claim ignorance of process or practice and lament, “I was never shown how to do that.” While lack of formalized training doesn’t constitute an excuse to divest from one’s role, it does create havoc at the point at which essential tasks are left undone and the team must revert to either ad hoc training or (worst case) must pick up the slack.
Project managers are the angels on everyone’s shoulder (though they often must play devil’s advocate). Because it falls on the project manager(s) to communicate status, collect and transfer data points and organize collaborative efforts, they are the glue that holds everything together. Their most potent weapon is communication, but they must be cognizant of the manner and frequency that is most effective for each member of the team.
Owners and stakeholders require concise updates on the big picture. Product managers need more frequent status reports on testing requirements, building progress and resource constraints. Creators must have regularly scheduled planning, requirements, testing results and feedback meetings facilitated by project managers who have recorded all data points diligently. Project managers must be able to push and pull with deft prestidigitation, step in and out of roles undetected and monitor the pulse of each team member to decipher developing pitfalls.
One of the major contributors to large or small scale divestment by team members is ineffective communication. This is not always in the form of poorly crafted messages. Communication confined to individual silos is a condition which develops into a disease that will slowly kill a project, taking a few team members down with it.
Open, honest and ubiquitous communication is the salvation for teams suffering the affliction of clandestine conversations. This is a responsibility shared by all team members and it should be the mantra that echos before every meeting and is implicit in every email. The flipside to this coin is openness to receive the message. If the majority of participants are dedicated to open communication and all the cards are on the table at all times, those who chose to avoid emails, dodge meetings and then attempt to push an agenda on the sly will meet with resistance (and perhaps comeuppance) at every turn. Motive is the gut check for all projects and when a team member’s agenda is discovered to be self-serving, their overall input will be minimized in favor of the common good.
The true motive for any project should be empathy. Empathy for each participants’ point of view. Empathy for the end user. Even empathy with regard to the company and the bottom line. And this is where maintaining a team-wide sense of having skin in the game comes into play.
Consider the auto mechanic. When our cars break down we begrudgingly seek out a mechanic who is (hopefully) trustworthy and capable. We then swallow our skepticism and leave them to their work. When we return to retrieve our vehicle we’re told, “well it was this and that and now it’s all good.” We’re assuming that someone in the shop took it for test drive and made sure the repairs are sound. This is because we’re also assuming the mechanic has some skin in the game. But the latter assumption is devoid of proof. The proof comes when we drive a few miles down the road and the dashboard doesn’t light up like a Christmas tree. Or the next day. Or a few weeks later.
This is the same for any collaborative project. The proof of enduring investment from each team member comes after the resulting launch. If the wheels fall off in short order, somebody’s heart wasn’t in the right place.