Voices on Project Management offers insights, tips, advice and personal stories from project managers in different regions and industries. The goal is to get you thinking, and spark a discussion. So, if you read something that you agree with--or even disagree with--leave a comment.
While project managers often talk about building a virtual team, they rarely discuss disbanding one. I recently adjourned the virtual team I'd led for the past four years. As a dispersed team, we initially experienced some issues around cultural differences. But we came together eventually and produced the expected results for the organization. When the time came to close the project and disassemble the team, a different kind of challenge arose.
The first issue I encountered was that some team members didn't want to leave the team. Over the life span of the project, we'd built a strong bond. And there was another layer of complexity as team members' cultural traditions and values informed how they expressed their disappointment.
As I helped the team to reach closure, I discovered the more "face-to-face" time, the better. I tried to reduce the distance that separated us with video conferences. During these meetings, I would explain that team adjournment wasn't a loss, but rather an opportunity to meet new people and take on new tasks. With some team members, an impromptu call before the adjournment meeting worked fine. With others, I scheduled a conference before and after the meeting to ensure they would be okay.
The second challenge was preparing team members for their next project assignment. During the transition process, it was important to see their reactions, so video conferences were helpful here as well. I also tried to keep the focus on how team members could leverage their experiences in our project for their next assignment. Finally, I introduced some team members to project managers in need of skilled resources. Two of my former team members joined projects this way.
In the end, the team members understood that our strong bond wouldn't end just because the project did. We're always just an e-mail or a phone call away.
As a virtual project manager or team member, what challenges do you face during team adjournment?
Postmortems are an integral part of virtual team adjournment, particularly when approached from the perspective of improving some aspect of the project or a similar one in the future. It's important for managers and team members to take stock when a project ends and assess what went well and what didn't, so the next assignment benefits from this knowledge. In my work with global and virtual teams, I find that this is often overlooked or forgotten.
So how is it best to do this? First, communicate the reason for conducting your review or adjourning the project and what you hope will result from it. Stress the need for honesty, and reassure people that punishments and rewards are not forthcoming. Generate a discussion about what went well (or note), and what the team would do differently if we had to 'do it again' so everyone can learn from this shared experience. I suggest doing what I call +3/-3 process when conducting postmortems and adjourning projects. Discuss three things that went well and three things that could have been improved. After the meeting, summarize key points and share with all team members so that everyone can learn and appreciate the experience.
I concur with your comments about the actions to be taken in a project postmortem activity. In my personal experience it had worked better a project phase postmortem where the areas of opportunity for improvement can be addressed promptly. That includes highlighting of what went well and what needs to be improved.
As projects are temporarily endeavors by nature, the team adjournment will be intrinsic to the end of the project. The purpose of the post is to explain how you as a project manager can deal with the reactions of the team members from different cultures, which in my personal experience can be managed as a separate activity of project postmortems