Post-Pandemic Project Team Performance: Winners and Losers
Whoever you speak with or listen to these days – politicians, journalists, friends and colleagues – you are likely to talk about the unprecedented and uncertain times we are living in today. However, as Emma Griner [an organizational design expert] points out, “the world was not stable before the pandemic. We were already living with uncertainty, facing new organizational shifts and addressing workforce challenges”.
I am sure most of you will agree that we are just moving closer to a post-pandemic phase which will require us to live with and tackle new and existing levels of uncertainty.
The swift change brought about by the global COVID-19 pandemic is unsettling but has brought about some temporary changes many companies and organizations were forced to make within their workforce and organizational structures to get work done over the past fifteen months. Many of these changes will become permanent. Some of the structural and operational changes will negatively affect organizational performance as well as the performance of particular professional disciplines.
I believe that the overall performance of two professional disciplines I have worked in, studied and written about for years may be significantly impacted if senior organizational leaders ignore the possible causes of the performance erosion and do not make the changes required to address them — the two disciplines are Project Management and Project Leadership.
The most significant impacts will not be associated with the lack of talented project professionals or the lack of project managers who can step up and make the daily management and leadership changes required. The performance erosion will be primarily caused by senior organizational leaders who fail to step up and champion the structural and operational improvements needed to maintain and improve high-performing project teams, that is — maintaining a high level of project team dynamics. As you know, team dynamics are the unconscious, psychological factors that influence the direction of a team’s behavior and performance.
We all can agree that the pandemic did not affect the competence and competitiveness of most project team members. However, due to possible post-pandemic effects on a team member’s psychological well-being — managing and leading project teams will require some additional attention and focus.
The extra attention is required because more team members are working remotely and there is the increased potential for pandemic caused at-home detractions. There is also the requirement to communicate the swift changes in work structure, performance monitoring and expectations.
I believe that the “winners” will be the organizations and project managers that pay attention to these realities and make the necessary adjustments to accommodate and support effected team members.
I believe that the “losers” will be the organizations and project managers who fail to make the necessary adjustments and will only learn too late in the game that reversing the performance erosion will be very costly in personal, organizational and reputational capital.
I suggest that a good place to start is by tasking your Human Resources team or an outside consultant, who has the required skills, to accurately assess your company or organization’s post-pandemic performance status for all professional disciplines.
In this case, an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure.
I have included below a summary of four leadership imperatives that I have focused on and have found to be effective preventative measures to help maintain and improve project team dynamics, especially in unsettled work environments — such as the post-COVID-19 environment our world will most likely be living in for some time to come.
Communications – Undoubtedly, effective communications are vital for successful project performance. In addition to the normal distractions associated with remote work, many organizations with an increased number of projects working remotely at this time will have team members bearing more stress and more work distractions than normal. The increase in distractions will be associated with personal struggles to regain pre-pandemic levels of home-life normalcy. This has the potential of temporarily affecting normal work focus and concentration.
- Be cognizant of this reality. Be patient. Determine adjustments to communication styles and timing. Remember – one size does not fit all.
Motivation – During times like these, some team members may require a little additional motivation. As you know motivated team members are excited to contribute and will find ways to maintain concentration and get the work done. Unmotivated workers, at best, do just enough to avoid criticism. The use of incentives to motivate your team to work together well will still work. Remember that the pandemic’s impact was wide-spread and may have caused many individuals some level of emotional concerns which may take time to fully be resolved.
- Don’t be afraid to provide team members with special talents and pandemic related concerns alternative paths to success.
Innovation – Innovation can be an emergent group phenomenon, meaning it arises from the communication dynamics of the entire team, not just from the rare, brilliant individual, according to the book “New Directions in Group Communication,” by Lawrence R. Frey. When post-pandemic problems arise, a team-based, supportive climate can elicit outside-the-box thinking that leads to novel solutions.
- The key to creating an innovative atmosphere in post-pandemic environments is to ensure that “you” and “your team” remain positive and supportive, avoiding negative comments and cynicism.
Efficiency – Also, as you are aware, effective team dynamics allow each team member to serve in his or her best capacity. Most team members find themselves working longer hours and accomplishing more at home than when they were commuting back and forward to the office. The unique skills and varying work habits of individual team members can complement one another, leading to a more efficient approach to “on-time” project deliverables.
- Remember – improper team dynamics, such as those that give rise to cliquish behavior, the isolation of certain team members and forces a “one size fits all” approach to work, limit the entire team’s ability to get the job done.