Suppose a leader assembles a group of people with the objective of bringing a concept from imagination to fruition. At this stage, the task seems straightforward. After all, the main objective is to accomplish the project in line with company goals.

However, when calling upon the collective capacity of a team, leaders must be aware that there are additional dynamics involved.

A Shifting Target

Many of us have experienced what it’s like to be called upon to contribute our best efforts to a team project, only to have the scope or direction of the project change dramatically at some point along the established timeline.

Projects are placed on indefinite hold after a considerable investment of time, creativity, and monetary resources.
Projects are brought to a point of substantial completion, only to have the scope then change, shifting the expectations placed upon those who already worked so diligently to meet the original mark.

The most challenging aspect of these types of adjustments is that changes are often mandated unilaterally and without input from the group completing the work.

Understanding the Impact

An organization’s lifeblood lies in their ability to bring projects to successful completion, on time, and within budget. Doing this sometimes requires substantial modifications to the original vision. Leaders must be mindful of the impact these modifications will have on the team.

Communication is paramount. With open lines of communication in place, modifications occur in cooperation with the team instead of being imposed upon the team.

Moving the goalposts without internal communication and team participation can deeply diminish the team’s trust and respect in their direct leader and in corporate leadership as well. Leaders might not mean to do so, but simply imposing a change without communication can:

  • Send a message that they don’t value the work of the team members
  • Result in the current project achieving less than optimal results
  • Reduce the willingness of the team to invest their best creative energy in future endeavors.

The resulting reticence to fully invest one’s best efforts in the next collective project can create resistance within the system that’s not only difficult to identify but even harder to overcome.

A skillful leader can turn an unsuccessful outcome into a learning opportunity that can be used to build the capacity of their team. Initiatives that sputter and simply fade away create a lingering sense of mutual failure that’s much more challenging to move beyond. When a leader allows something of stated importance to move into a realm of uncertainty or neglect, team members begin to wonder whether the project was ever of any importance. In an absence of communication, they’ll likely assume the worst-case scenario.

Communication Encourages Empowerment

The first step in honoring and appreciating the investment of time and effort your team members put into a project is making sure you take the time to carefully plan, frame, and communicate the scope of a project. This should occur before the project ever begins. It is also critical to define:

  • The parameters of team input and participation
  • When and where such communication will take place
  • The eventuality that the project may undergo modification should the market or the demands of the customer change
  • Foreseen challenges and how to plan for them

By clearly defining expectations, the leader can then empower the team to be creative within their purview.

Managing the outcome of the project for the customer is the main goal. Leadership’s task is also to manage the outcome of the project so the team can move forward with increased capacity to deliver in the future. An essential part of internal culture is trust. Team members must trust that their leaders will include them in processes where necessary and do it in an authentic manner.

High-functioning teams establish norms and values for communication internally. It is very important for the leader to understand the significance of communication with the team as a whole, and the importance communication has on the capacity of the team to deliver moving forward.