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How Project Sponsors Can Manage Virtual Teams in 2021

Australian businesses have experienced more change this past year than anyone could have predicted. And one of the major seismic shifts is the transition to the virtual work environment many of us now inhabit. 

In this article, we’ll look at remote work environments from a project sponsor’s perspective. As the link between the project and the overall business, a project sponsor’s role is critical, perhaps now more than ever, in making sure working conditions contribute to projects’ success.

But before we get down to the details, let’s look at the project sponsor’s overall role.

What Does a Project Sponsor Do?

Project sponsors tend to their organisation’s goals. They have responsibility for gaining stakeholder buy-in and championing the project within the business. In many cases, a project sponsor is a manager or executive who has overall accountability for the project but doesn’t operate as a project manager. Instead, they ensure that the project delivers the agreed-upon benefits and plays a critical leadership role in several areas. Here are some key tasks:

  • Provides expertise and guidance to the project manager and the rest of the team
  • “Sells” the project throughout the business, making sure it receives adequate funding and support
  • Acts as an escalation point if the project manager needs to make decisions that are beyond his or her authority
  • Provides a line of communication between team members, clients and other stakeholders
  • Serves as a link between the project, the business community and executive-level leadership.

Project sponsors are in a perfect position to help create optimal conditions for teams that are working virtually in 2021. With their bird’s-eye-view of the situation and access to required resources, they can help provide strategy and implementation help as well as troubleshoot any problems.

Mixing Remote and Face-to-face Work in 2021

Many businesses are experimenting with a mixture of remote and face-to-face work, trying to balance employees’ needs with organisational priorities. For project sponsors, there are several key considerations to work through as we adapt to evolving work environments. Let’s look into six of these potential roadblocks.

1. Practical Challenges

Maintaining effective contact with stakeholders and project teams can be challenging in a virtual environment, especially without the immediate contact and collaboration that face-to-face meetings provide.

Training people on new technologies and communication methods is essential to ensuring efficiency among project teams.

2. Gaining Project Buy-in

Will you be able to secure project buy-in without face-to-face conversations? If you’re nervous about your ability to sell ideas without traditional meetings and appointments, focus on the content of your messages. Try to make sure you cover the following points:

  • Awareness of the need and benefits of the project
  • Desire to participate
  • Knowledge about why the project is important
  • Ability to implement required skills, techniques and theories
  • Reinforcement to help the project succeed.

With specifics reinforcing your messaging, you can help everyone understand the importance of the project, even when you’re not all sitting in the same room.

3. Maintaining Effective Contact

Project sponsors must also foster a strong sense of community among their stakeholders and team members to avoid any sense of disassociation when working virtually. What can you do to maintain strong ties?

Now is the time to over-communicate. Establish regular check-ins to keep everyone connected and on-track. Do you have a good personal relationship with the project manager? If not, take some “coffee breaks” together, even virtually, so you’re comfortable enough to address difficult issues when they arise.

Instead of always resorting to email, pick up the phone or send a Zoom link. Hearing a real voice can make a big difference when people feel isolated, and it’s often easier to make your points clear with these methods.

4. Securing Project Funding

Business budgets may have shifted during all the upheaval of the past year, and project sponsors may find that they have to get creative in their efforts to secure funding for critical objectives.

Talk to upper-level decision makers about ways resources might be shared with other projects, or discuss budget items that might no longer be needed, now that more people are working remotely.

5. Incorporating New Aspects of Leadership

Serving in a leadership role during 2021 is taxing, to say the least. You’re having to learn new skills and technologies on the fly and then teach them right away because others are seeking your guidance.

According to Brené Brown, “Leaders must either invest a reasonable amount of time attending to fears and feelings or squander an unreasonable amount of time trying to manage ineffective and unproductive behaviour.”

Keep in mind that uncertainty has taken its toll on people in every position in your business. Show your leadership by attending to their concerns and guiding them through this new phase.

6. Adapting Emotional Intelligence to New Ways of Work

As you improve your professional credentials, work to develop your soft skills as well. While you work to manage virtual teams this year, practice your listening and communication skills, conflict resolution and persuasive speaking competence. 

No matter what the future holds, these soft skills will serve you well as you act as the intermediary between project teams and stakeholders. 

It’s certainly a challenging time, but it’s exciting as well. Some of the efficiencies developed during 2020 and 2021 will improve business environments for years to come. For assistance with managing your virtual teams or any other concern, reach out to us at MetaPM. We’re here to partner with you in creating successful solutions for your organisation.

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