I start one of my more popular presentations with this line. And while it's meant more to get your attention, the reality is people really are an interesting, funny species. But until the robots rise up and replace us, people are begrudgingly required to be a part of your projects and process improvement team.
We all know that as people are added to your project team, the complexity of that project rises exponentially. This is because of the need to incorporate many different personalities, many different levels of experience and backgrounds, the varying agendas of each individual, the relationships between each individual, the aspirations of each individual, and the specific role that each individual is intended to play within that project environment.
So how can you, as a leader integrate these complex, usually self-interested, organisms into a fully functional, rational, and high-performing team?
While certainly not an exhaustive list, here are nine actions you can take to ensure that your team is on the path to becoming a high-functioning unit.
You, as a leader, should draft a clear team charter or statement or document or manifesto, to set the proverbial platform on fire, and to give everyone on the team a very clear direction and rationale for why the initiative is being undertaken, and why they would want to be a part of it.
The last thing you want on your team is someone who is either unwilling or unable or uninterested in contributing. You should look to fill your team with key members that are both interested in the work that you're doing and available. You don’t just want a warm body, which means taking whoever is available at the time that you need them. It may mean a delay in your project, but having the right people in place at the outset will make the entire project that much easier.
This is not just getting your team in place and prepared, but also getting any project stakeholder or impacted party ready for the change you are aiming to bring, to ensure that you have their support. The last thing you want or need is some rogue stakeholder killing your project at the last minute.
Building on the previous point, you want to ensure that you've got lines of communication open, not only within your team but amongst all of the stakeholders, so they can communicate any problems, issues, or concerns that they have in advance of it becoming an issue. Typically, those people that communicate more often with you support you, whether explicitly or implicitly. We often mistake criticism as being negative, whereas criticism simply implies a stakeholder who is fully engaged and wants to see a positive outcome. Being open to feedback and communication is also critical to your success as a leader. You want people to feel that they can trust in coming to you to address any challenges that they may face.
Before the project begins, everyone should be very clear on any specific approaches or methodologies that are to be used. There's a big difference between agile methods and waterfall, just as there is a big difference between PMI project methodologies versus Prince 2. So are you using lean or Six Sigma or Lean Six Sigma (yes, there’s a difference) or the Deming cycle or design thinking or some other methodology. It's important that this is known to your team at the outset so they can use this to guide their decision-making process.
Everyone has a role to play in a project team. It's important that everyone understands the role that they play, and how they contribute to the overall success of the initiative. I generally try to stay away from sports analogies when I'm talking about business, but I think it's very apt here. A soccer, or football, team has 11 players, each with a very distinct role that they need to play in order to make the entire unit successful.
Further, you've got folks on the bench that can come in and play spot roles, to fill in any gaps that may be missing or lacking from the starting 11. If all you had on the field were centre forwards, or goalies or left midfielders, there’s no way you’d be successful. There are individual players, or team members, that combine to make up more than the sum of their parts. This is really what it differentiates the average, or good teams from the great ones.
The best teams that I've had an opportunity to be a part of are those which build the level of trust and camaraderie amongst the team members. By the time your team gets to the Performing stage in the Tuckman model, this level of trust and cooperation should almost be effortless. Now, there are number of different ways that you can accomplish this; team outings, lunches, other social events, that remove each team member from the context of work and allows them to get the other get to know the other team members in a more social setting, which often has the intended benefit of having them work more collaboratively. People will often make extra effort for friends versus colleagues.
Conflict will happen on your team. There’s no avoiding it. In fact, in the Tuckman model, it's actually one of the four necessary stages; the storming stage. What's important here is that you deal with conflict as it arises and don't allow it to fester. The last thing that you want for your team is to ignore inappropriate, aggressive, and generally unacceptable behavior. Tensions can often run very high amongst your team, particularly as a project draws to its conclusion. It is therefore of critical importance that you manage the tension between team members, and not allow it to negatively impact the overall objective.
Just as everyone has a role to play in a project’s success, everyone can negatively impact their project and play a role in its ultimate demise. Missing assignments or deliverables, missing meetings, showing up late, not bringing your best effort, or avoiding responsibility and accountability all together. All of these things can negatively impact your ability to deliver. As a leader, it's imperative that you own these failures should they occur. But you should also own holding your team accountable. Everyone has skills and assets that they bring to a team, but everyone also has weaknesses are drawbacks. It's on you to ensure that you're using your team to the best of their ability, which often means holding them accountable when they're not delivering their end.
These 9 Keys should help you in managing your team, and get you moving through the maturity model put forth by Tuckman, so that you can ultimately be successful the success of the leader is also the success of the team and everyone wants to be a part of something positive. This will lead to more opportunities for you as well as more opportunity and advancement for your team members.
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