Tuesday, May 29, 2007

May 29, 2007 – How to Ruin a Perfectly Good Team

One rotten apple can spoil the whole bushel. Imagine the speed with which it can happen if that apple is the project manager? It doesn’t take long before the rot starts to spread and any chance of success dwindles. So how do you keep from ruining your perfectly good team? Here are 5 sure fire ways to accomplish it.

Demotivate Them. I remember a specific meeting in which I got shot down and how small it made me feel. It was already a rough time for the team I was leading and I was having a passionate (read “heated”) discussion with our new manager. He said something to the effect of “How can I make changes to this group if I have to argue everything with you?” I remember apologizing and not saying anything else. Clearly what I had to offer wasn’t what he wanted to consider.

If you have blown it with one of your resources you will need to set things right. Unfortunately it is much easier to demotivate than to re-motivate. A nice poster with an inspiring saying probably isn’t going to cut it. Try these suggestions:

  • Meet with them individually to start recreating a foundation. If you said something stupid, apologize and leave the “but you…” out.
  • Catch them doing something right and praise them for it. It doesn’t have to be public, just let them know you appreciate what they do.
  • Reset the vision of the project and their role in it.

Say Stupid Technical Things. It has been a while, but I used to program in C. One of the great aspects of the language is the ability to separate the common shared variables from the code and use them in multiple programs. My manager challenged me on why I didn’t use a single file for easier version control and storage. That statement failed to inspire confidence in her abilities to manage me.

Recently I have had to oversee the connectivity set up for our offshore team. When I started I suspected a NAT wasn’t the same as a URL but couldn’t have proven it. When I find myself short on technical knowledge I start a lot of questions with “help me understand something….” It frees me from pretending to know it all and allows them to show their expertise. If they can’t explain it either I start to get nervous.

Drop Your Support. Hanging your team out to die isn’t likely to win you manager of the year. I recall one instance in particular where I had to fall on my sword for the team. Action wasn’t being taken to finish off a couple of key tasks and the client wasn’t very happy. A large part of me wanted to blame the team and their ability to take ownership. In reality I was responsible for not driving it harder and the email I sent stated it that way.

Ignore Them. Sometimes it is easy to neglect you team, especially if they appear to be working together well. Things are moving smoothly when suddenly you start hearing complaints. Soon a couple of team members resign for positions elsewhere and the rest of the team is left floundering, trying to absorb the extra work. Even productive teams need cultivating. Remember to:

  • Recognize their effort both individually and as a team. It doesn’t have to be big, but it should be real. Generic praise will fail. You won’t be able to get away with saying, “great job doing whatever it is you do.”
  • Keep them informed. Connect them to the bigger project picture including business goals, discussions and decisions. Let them know how their piece fits in and how the overall project is progressing.
  • Keep things positive. Address issues, but don’t resort to yelling. And certainly don’t make the business out as the bad guys.

Assume. Always assume your team members know what you are thinking. If no one is bothering you, assume everything is fine. No need to check up on anything. Your team would tell you if you needed to worry, right? This is one area I have to watch out for. As project managers we worked our way up because we work independently. We either figure out what we need or we ask questions until we get it right. Trouble starts when I assume that my team is making progress and I choose not to confirm it.

Even a great running machine needs to be oiled to keep the friction down and things working properly. You’re the one with the oil can so get busy.

No comments: