Your marketing team is creating an eBook. Seems simple enough, right? But, take a step back and think about everything involved in that process.

When your content team has finished the bulk of the writing, they pass it to the design team. After the design team has worked their magic, they pass it back to the content team for another review—before it’s handed back to the design team for some tweaks.

From there, the web development team takes over to build a landing page where people can download that handy eBook of yours. The SEO team steps in to make sure people can actually find that asset. And, when all of that’s done? Everything gets passed back to the content team for one final check.

Do you feel like you’re watching a ping pong ball bounce back and forth across a table? Yep, that’s pretty much the way a standard project goes.

Here’s the thing: When you have this many players on the field, it’s challenging to coordinate seamless project handoffs between team members, let alone entire departments.

Wires get crossed, important messages slip through the cracks, and before you even realize what’s happening you have a real mess on your hands.

However, there are some teams that have completely perfected the art of the handoff. Look no further than some of the soccer teams competing for the World Cup. They know a thing or two about teamwork—as well as a tried and true handoff strategy known as Tiki-Taka.

All About Tiki-Taka: What You Can Learn From Soccer Teams

You might think that the only thing you have in common with soccer teams is that you’re both goal-oriented (pun very much intended).

But, take a minute to picture the game of soccer (or football, as most of the world calls it).. The ball starts with one player, and then is passed back and forth across the field between various team members until they can (hopefully!) get it over the goal line.

This specific process of short and quick passes between team members is known as Tiki-Taka. It’s a style of play that’s primarily been associated with FC Barcelona, but has since been adapted and refined by Spain's national team,  and helped them win the World Cup in 2010. While some sports analysts blamed “excessive” reliance on Tiki-Taka for Spain’s loss to Russia in the 2018 World Cup series, it’s a popular technique that has revolutionized soccer and worth studying.

Check out the below video to see what Tiki-Taka looks like in action:

So, why these short passes? They enable the team to advance the ball down the field in smaller increments, decreasing the likelihood of a misguided pass and increasing their chance of maintaining possession. They have greater control, while still working toward the goal line.

Not so different from what your own team does, right? Even if you’re not on a soccer field, your team needs to be able to quickly and effectively “pass the ball” to one another (just like Tiki-Taka!)—without things falling apart in the process.

That latter part is where things can get a little sticky. So, let’s dive into some tips to make those project handoffs a little more streamlined.

Passing the Ball: 5 Tips for Improved Project Handoffs

1. Start With a Solid Kickoff Meeting

One of the main reasons that Tiki-Taka works so well is because it’s a shared strategy. Every single team member is in the loop that it’s going to be their approach during the game.

It speaks to the importance of getting your entire team on the same page before you actually get on the field, so to speak.

So sit everyone down for a kickoff meeting before you roll up your sleeves and get to work on that project. During this meeting, you should make sure to touch on things like:

  • The overarching goals of the project
  • The smaller tasks that fall under that umbrella
  • Who owns each of those tasks and assignments
  • The projected timeline for the entire project, along with milestone dates for those smaller tasks
  • What additional information and tools are needed to complete the project

In Project Management Institute’s 2017 Pulse of the Profession Global Project Management Survey, a whopping 37% of executive leaders said projects failed because of a lack of clearly defined objectives and milestones to measure progress—making it the top factor responsible for project failure.

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To ensure project success you need to host a successful kickoff meeting to get your entire team up to speed on the goals and timelines of projects before you have anyone lace up their shoes and step foot on the field.

2. Encourage Team Members to Keep Their Eye on the Ball

That kickoff meeting is important. But, if you think that one sit-down is all you need to keep the entire project on track, think again.

Scroll up and watch that Tiki-Taka video above one more time. You’ll notice something: Even when team members aren’t anywhere near the ball, they’re keeping a watchful eye on where it is and what’s happening.

This is because handoffs are much easier when everyone can see the ball at all times. On the other hand, they become increasingly difficult when only one person or team has exclusive ownership over the project for an extended period of time. For example, your content team has been elbow-deep in the specifics of that eBook for ages—the changes in direction, the roadblocks, the important nuggets that cropped up from partners and other stakeholders.

Now, the design team is supposed to swiftly step in and take all of that over without missing a beat—despite the fact that they’re missing all of the context that the content team has come to take for granted.

That’s overwhelming, and—in many cases—it’s impossible.

Handoffs are far smoother (not to mention way less intimidating) when all team members are staying up to speed on what’s happening with a project—whether it’s currently on their plates or not.

This doesn’t need to be complicated or overly burdensome for your team members who aren’t presently responsible for that project.

It can be something as simple as a monthly half-hour meeting to provide a status update or answer any questions. Or, maybe you’ll institute a policy of sending a regular update email every Friday to keep everybody up to date on that project.  

You can also use a project management tool (like Wrike!). A shared dashboard and workspace make it easy for everyone to see the status of every task within a project and who that task is currently assigned to. You can also receive real-time notifications about important milestones and updates.

It’s a simple and centralized way to keep everyone in the loop—so they don’t have to face that overwhelming task of getting up to speed in a matter of minutes.

3. Keep a Centralized Playbook

Keeping things centralized deserves some additional emphasis—particularly when it comes to seamless project handoffs.

Knowledge transfer is one of the biggest hurdles you need to get over during a handoff. There’s tons of previous communication and supporting documentation that goes along with a project that suddenly a new team member or department needs to get familiar with.

That’s far easier if you use collaboration software that allows team members to have total visibility into conversations, tasks, and attached documentation at all times. Even further, it prevents that frantic scramble to find important details that could be scattered through instant messages, emails, and various documents.

This is one of the biggest benefits that Wrike customer Unbounce noticed when they started using collaboration software. “I no longer have to search for project details across notebooks, Google docs, spreadsheets—everything is in Wrike,” says Chelsea Scholz, Unbounce’s Marketing Manager of Brand Promotion.

By keeping all relevant information centralized and organized, team members can more easily keep an eye on where things are with that project (even when they’re not the ones with the ball!), and also have access to all of the information they’ll need when it’s their turn to take over.

INSIDER TIP: When you start using collaboration software, create a simple communication policy for team members to abide by. This will ensure team members are posting any need-to-know information within the software, so important project materials or dialogue doesn’t get lost in private messages and never-ending email chains.

4. Standardize Your Game Plans

Preparation is one thing, but let’s talk about the point in time when you actually need to pass off the project. Your goal should be to make this as standardized as possible to eliminate as much confusion as you can.

Let’s go back to the eBook example. Perhaps the content team is ready to pass the draft over to the design team. Create a standardized request form or creative brief that requires the content team to fill in next steps for the project, provide any necessary details or context, and share any other information the design team might need.

Doing so serves as an “official” transfer point so that a team or person can know when the ball is actually within their possession, and it also empowers them with the information they need right away—without having to chase it down.

Additionally, if there are projects that you’re creating on a regular basis, create templates for those so it’s far easier to recreate success.

For example, if putting together webinars is a recurring project for your team, templatize not only the materials (slide decks, notes, etc.) but also the workflow that dictates where handoffs occur, who those tasks are assigned to, how long they should take, and any other necessary information.

Using templates for whatever you can saves you time, eliminates tons of guess work, and makes your entire project (including the handoffs!) run that much smoother.

5. Maintain Your Regularly-Scheduled Huddle

Reflect on the last time that you handed off a project to someone else. What did you feel? Were you overcome with relief that it was finally off your to-do list and onto somebody else’s plate?

That’s a common emotion—in fact, the handoff of a project is often looked at as the end point for whoever is making the pass. They’re done. It’s not something they need to worry about anymore.

But, the most seamless handoffs occur when the entire team stays invested in seeing the project get over the goal line, and not just off their own plates.

Just look at Tiki-Taka. Just because one player passed the ball doesn’t mean they stop playing. They stay engaged and alert, and—in many cases—the ball gets passed back to them.

Your team needs to work this same way. This means those regular status updates or check-in meetings we mentioned earlier shouldn’t conclude once a handoff is complete. They should continue until the entire project comes to an end.

These meetings will remain a chance for everyone to stay on the same page, for departments or members to provide clarification on work that’s already been completed, and for questions to be answered.

Be aware that it’s easy for these meetings to quickly transform into glorified catch-up sessions where nothing of real substance gets discussed. And, additionally, employees can feel as if every step of their work is being scrutinized and micromanaged.

In order to make these regular meetings as valuable and supportive as possible, Teresa Amabile, Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, and psychologist and independent researcher Steven Kramer say that it’s important that you recognize the difference between checking in and checking up.

“Checking in is really about collaboration; checking up is about suffocation,” they state in their article for Harvard Business Review.

They recommend using that meeting as an opportunity to ask questions like:

  • Is there anything you need to get this project done?
  • Is anything getting in your way?
  • What can I or the team do to help out?

“In this way, you can check in with people and find out how their projects are going without making them feel as if they are under constant surveillance,” they add.

Treat these meetings as a chance for your team to put their brains together, clear up any confusion, and solve problems. Doing so means they’ll stay engaged and own the end result of the project—and not just their individual contributions. That’s true teamwork. Of course, it's also important to foster team camaraderie — so schedule regular informal catchups with remote team building games

Implement These Tips and Score!

Project handoffs can cause plenty of headaches and hassles on your team. But, rest assured, it’s totally possible to coordinate seamless transitions—particularly if you’re willing to take a cue from soccer teams and their effective Tiki-Taka passes.

Put the five tips we’ve discussed here to work, and you’ll rally a team that sticks together and gets that project over the goal line.

Are you adamant you don’t need project management software—even after all of the benefits we discussed here?

If you’re currently using spreadsheets for everything, grab our free eBook about the hidden costs of spreadsheets. We bet you’ll be humming a different tune in no time.