Team Members Frequently Missing Deadlines

Here's a typical scenario. All members of a 10-24 person project team have many assignments that have to be completed outside of the meeting environment and then brought to the team for review and final approval. This is the only way the team can meet deadlines. In this scenario, the majority of the members have failed to bring work to the group on time for the third time in a row. What's a PM to do?

With a team size of 10-24 people, individual accountability intervention is initially contraindicated in this situation. My approach would be three-fold:

  • Review and revise the plan to handle simultaneous responsibilities that was (hopefully) established in the project kickoff meeting. During this exercise, I will likely learn the root cause of non-performance. By now, more trust has probably been established and the team members will have more honest discussion and debate about the plan, resulting in more commitment. It is imperative that the detailed plan be written down on a white board during this session, to obtain the clarity that is essential to commitment.
  • Set up a meeting with the supervisors of all team members and work on acceptance of the need for change, and communicate to them the revised plan for handling simultaneous responsibilities. Enlist their support and help in enabling the team members to have success, focusing on the root causes I learned in the step above.
  • Work on a full organizational campaign to raise awareness, importance, and prestige of the project.

Assuming that these methods start to work and the number of team members missing deadlines is in the minority, I would initiate an individual accountability exercise every month that I borrowed from Patrick Lenzioni.

First, I ask each team member to write down the answer to two questions about each of the other team members: a) What is the single most important behavioral characteristic or quality demonstrated by this person that contributes to the strength of our team? b) What is the single most important behavioral characteristic or quality demonstrated by this person that can sometimes derail the team?

Next, starting with the highest ranking leader in the team as recipient, I ask each other team member to read their answer for the first question (the positive one). Once all members have provided their answers, I ask the leader for his general reaction. Then, I ask the other team members to answer the second question about this team leader. Once done, again I ask the team leader for his general reaction. Once done with the team leader, each person on the team gets his turn in the hot seat.

In the end, all team members are generally flattered by the specific positive feedback and amazed by the clarity and simplicity of what they all need to do to improve the performance of the team. Any people still missing commitments will get the message loud and clear, and know that this will be revisited again, so they better commit now.