The project is kicked off. Work is in progress. Results are being seen. Everything is Awesome!! Until it’s not.
As the project leader, you want to be the first stop for team members when issues and conflict arise. This will require you to have a higher level of EQ (emotional quotient, or intelligence) than the average, the ability to resolve conflict quickly, and celebrate the wins when milestones are met or the project completes. These are never easy tasks.
Interacting with the Team. I want my team to feel comfortable interacting with me at any time. To do that requires building trust. I have found trust doesn’t come until after the project starts. Once resources are assigned, the kick-off usually happens almost immediately after. Getting time with individual team members comes once work is in progress. There are 5 areas which I focus on when interacting with my team:
- Be Open & Approachable: No one likes a grumpy PM. Even if you’re having a bad day, keep it inside when a team member comes to you. If you’re not approachable, they may quit coming with issues or concerns.
- Be Present: Team members can’t talk to you of you’re not around. I’m in meetings literally 6-7 hours a day, but I always find time to swing by and talk to my team. I frequently have remote workers, so will ping them via instant messenger or email just saying hello and checking in.
- Be Consistent: This really focuses on EQ. I don’t ever want a team member to ask themselves “What’s he going to be like today?” Try to handle situations the similarly every time.
- Deliver on Commitments: When I commit to do something for a team member, that commitment becomes my priority and I intend to deliver ASAP. I keep them updated on progress if I can’t deliver right away.
- Be a Gatekeeper from Distractions, Without Being One Yourself: Don’t be afraid to pull out the “Scope Stick” and beat away stakeholders who come in asking your team members for different things. Keep the office politics away if you can. I’m also a recovering control freak who has lapses. I do my best not to get into the weeds of someone’s work unless I absolutely have to.
Conflict. Conflict is what I like to call a “Growth Industry” in that it never goes away and you can always get better at handling it. Conflict comes in all shapes and sizes, but I’ve boiled it down to two categories; Professional and Personal Conflict.
Professional Conflict: Have you ever seen two Enterprise Architects try to agree on how a new major system should be setup? Or an Architect and Designer agree on a new building concept? Those conversations can get pretty heated and you’ll get some elevated voices. But look at the intent; they both want what’s best for the project and feel their approach is better. This is Professional Conflict, and it’s actually one that I don’t mind having!
Most often, resolution comes with having an adult conversation. Listen to both sides and try to understand their points. Sometimes they want the same thing but say it different. Other times they can agree on an approach. If needed, bring in a third party expert who can help render a decision. There are times where it’s not a win-win situation for the conflicting parties and that’s OK; your job is to deliver the best results for the project.
Personal Conflict: Let me run down a real conversation I once had with two employees (names are changed to protect the innocent, and guilty) who were working in a co-located area:
- Me: Tell me what’s going on.
- Dan: This whole team is stupid. Everyone. I have to do all their damn work because they’re incompetent.
- Emily: If you’d just let us do our jobs instead of checking out our code, making updates, and checking it back in we’d be further along.
- Dan: I do that because I know if you did it, everything would be wrong. Like I said; stupid.
- Emily: You don’t have to be so mean to us all the time either!
- Me: Dan, have you seen issues with the rest of the team’s work?
- Dan: No, but I know they’ll screw up and I don’t like them.
- Me: You just answered my question. [excuse Emily]. Check in your code, pack up your shit and move back to your area. I’ll let your manager know you’re off this project and get someone else in to replace you.
- Dan: You’ll fail!
- Me: I think we’ll be fine, maybe even better.
Personal conflict comes from a team member, or members, not like others “just because.” They can’t justify it. This needs to be killed immediately, including removing a team member. Personal conflict can destroy morale. As for Dan, he ended up leaving the company soon after I removed him and the team flourished with his departure.
Celebrate! I can’t stress celebrating enough. It doesn’t have to be much, just showing recognition to those who have done the work. On many
projects, I tell the team once we hit a milestone, I’ll bake a cake and use my 2nd grade level
art skills to put something on it. Here is an example. I’ve also had happy hours and lunches to celebrate and invite the sponsor and/or key stakeholders when possible. This also brings the team together and strengthens relationships among the members.
This concludes Team Dynamics. Next, I’ll go into the People vs. Process paradigm.