Topic 10.4: Evaluating teams

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In traditional modes of management, there is a heavy reliance on formal methods of performance appraisal to keep work flowing smoothly.

This is a process whereby the manager schedules a time to sit down with an employee and review their performance over the last period – usually three to six months – and to set goals for the new one.

This is not required as much in project management, as goals are largely predetermined by the project management plan.

Time period planning
Does this look familiar?

The WBS describes what needs to be done, the schedule stipulates when it needs to be done by, the budget says how much money is available to do the work, and the risk management plan even suggests what to do when things go wrong.

Therefore once the project is in delivery mode – the point where you have the greatest number of active participants – there should be no real need to negotiate outcomes.

That is not to say there is no place for formal performance appraisal, especially among core team members on larger projects; in fact your own performance as a project manager may be formally appraised quite regularly.

You might also formally appraise team performance:

At key gates / decision points (for example, when the business case or project plan is complete)

When milestones are achieved (for example, when a critical task is delivered), or

If the project is failing to deliver on its plan due to team or cultural issues.

Nonetheless, as a project leader you will need to drive regular, visible, informal methods of engagement if you want to motivate the best performance out of your team.

So what should that look like?

Almost every time a project manager comes in contact with a team member, the occasion arises for an informal appraisal of performance.

Whether the team member solicits feedback, by asking ‘How do you think this looks?’ or whether the manager volunteers it, by making suggestions as to how performance of a task might be improved, there are a few common principles that the leader should apply.

A man holding a big sandwich with smile
A nice sandwich is often a reward in itself

My favourite metaphor for providing feedback is the praise sandwich.

This protocol involves praising first, offering a critique next, and finishing by recommending an action that leads to desired result (couched as positive praise again).

A few other points to note when providing informal feedback:

Choose your moment – don’t interrupt group activities or non-work time to provide individual appraisal, especially negative feedback

Ensure that the team member understands what you have said and has a clear course of action to follow. Whenever possible, invite them to solve the problem before you resort to directing them

Focus on actions the team members can change, and take responsibility as a leader for ones outside their control. In other words, if you need to escalate issues or delegate them elsewhere, give your team member confidence that you will act on their behalf

And make sure you follow up. Make a mental or diary note to check in on their progress (or update them on your own) once an action has been agreed.