Over the last 10-15 years in both the global project management world, as well as my own practice, it has become more and more clear that people management is not just the most complex, but also the most important responsibility of a project manager. Gone are the days where the project manager was the subject matter expert, who gave orders to everyone and then followed up everyone. In the modern environment, and especially in a Covid 19 struck and suddenly more often virtual world it is more important than ever to build relationships, manage people and their interactions and build trust in your team. If you get this right, then accountability from each team member will be the result. They will want to be accountable so as not to let the team down.
Over the last 10 years I have been learning how to do exactly that. Since my environment is still very hierarchical and project managers often think they need to be or are expected to be the person who is a subject matter expert and tells everyone what to do, I have often been looked at as being inefficient and not the “leader” they think is needed. However, my method has worked and I have been able to build strong teams that work well together and want to deliver. Let me describe a few steps that have helped me make people trust me, become active team members and want to be accountable:
- Pull your team together
Remember Tuckman’s model of forming – storming – norming – performing – adjourning? It does apply for every project afresh, unless your team has not changed at all. Hence, at the beginning of each project you need to work deliberately to pull your team together and rally them around the “cause” = your project vision. In the case of project teams this means simple things that you can start during the internal Kick-off of your project. Usually you will not have a budget to do formal team building, but that is not necessary if you can’t do it. Doing some deliberate efforts to make the team to get to know each other and let them learn to work together will go a long way to pull them together. The best time is usually when you have the project team together for the first time. Finish the handover and brief on the project and then request those who handed over the project to you to leave. Now you have your team together for the first time and how you use this time is essential. Doing a few simple internal sessions can be the turning point for your team to become a performing unit:
Have this session collocated if possible, so that people can see each other. If it has to be a virtual meeting, ask everyone to turn their camera on.
- Start with a short ice breaker, make it relevant to your project
- Follow up by introductions, let people share something that has nothing to do with their professional life. For example, you could each share what you are passionate about outside of work. You lead by example and share first. That way you not only set the example, but also make yourself vulnerable and become a more genuine leader to them.
- Then work together on a team charter – this is an internal document that defines who is in the team, what role they play, how they want to interact with each other. It should include how you behave during meetings and a short section about how you want to resolve conflicts. This document is not shared outside of the team. Let everyone sign the team charter and put it in a place where everyone can see it. In case of a virtual team, place the team charter where everyone from the team can access it.
- If during this session you realize there is someone who tends to dominate the conversation, then have an informal one-on-one chat with that person, where you get to know them and start building your relationship. Make sure you tell them, how much you value their input and then appeal to them to also give those who are a bit shyer and introvert encouragement to express their opinions and ideas
- If you realize there is someone who is very quiet and withdrawn, then also have a session with them where you try to draw them out and become comfortable talking with you. Do NOT tell them that they are too quiet, but instead ask them what ideas they have and how the project could be improved. Often by simply asking them for input you already make them feel valued and get them to open up. Sometimes it does take a bit more effort, but don’t give up.
- Involve the entire team in the creation of any project management document. Creating them from scratch as a team does take a lot of time. That’s where I found it easier to draft a document, then ask them for input. I usually do it in 2 steps. First, I share the document in share point, google docs or teams (what ever is available to the team) and ask them to comment on the document before the next meeting. Request them to simply place comments and not do any changes. Then you have a meeting where the document is discussed together and the team decides on the final content. This will help them not only feel part of it, but they actually will own the document. If the teams owns their project plans, then they will want to be accountable.
- Build relationships
When you build true relationships with the people you work with, or even your wider stakeholders, then it will be much easier to resolve conflicts and find solutions for issues. Relationship building requires you to open up yourself, allow yourself to be human and vulnerable. Then use your EQ to understand your individual team members and work on building a relationship with each one of them. Find something that you can connect with for each person. With one person this may be your common love for a certain sport or activity, for others it may be the common love for arts or the fact that you have children the same age. Bond with each other on these common factors. Also find out about the person’s background, while you share yours. Knowing their family background and their religion and traditions will tell you a lot about them as a person. Once you have this bond, it will be easier to exchange ideas and give positive criticism. Once you also are ready to accept positive criticism from your team members they will learn to trust you even more. You will have built lasting relationships.
- Make sure roles & responsibilities are clear:
Most conflicts in project teams come from roles not being clear and team members working with assumptions that have never been discussed. During your first team meeting discuss what everyone’s role & responsibility is. I usually even include the short form in the team charter. Then as you go along clarify roles and responsibilities whenever necessary.
- Build trust
Building trust is essential for a team to become a performing team. If you have built your relationships, you have already laid the foundation for mutual trust.
- Set the example by being open and honest. You are the one who sets the tone.
- Apologize if you have done wrong, or forgot to do something
- Let them know that you appreciate everyone’s contribution individually
- Give all team members chance to give input and voice their ideas and opinions
- Create an atmosphere where everyone feels free to open up, by setting the example. You may want to spend time with those who seem to withdraw, not fit in or seem to be the odd one out. Get to know them over a cup of tea / coffee, even if it has to be virtual. Always make sure they know that you appreciate their contribution.
Once people realize they can talk openly about anything without being judged and that you have their back, you will build lasting trust.
- Celebrate together
As a team you need to celebrate together:
- Celebrate wins in the project
- Celebrate milestones achieved
- Celebrate issues resolved
- But also celebrate family events and holidays
Here in Kenya we always work in multicultural teams, since the country is very diverse. Getting to know about each other’s cultures, traditions and religions can be a lot of fun. It will bring you also closer as a team. I have often found a chance for little celebrations. It does not need a big budget. A cake and a few bottles of soda brought onto a construction site can make a world of a difference. And your team may become the envy of the others, who see it. Bringing some Diwali Sweets during a team meeting during Diwali season and giving the Hindu(s) on the team a chance to talk about how they spend Diwali, will make them feel accepted and proud of their religion. Bring a surprise cake to the team meeting for someone who has just graduated or achieved a certification. You are getting the gist, use your creativity to come up with ways to celebrate. Let the team come up with ideas.
- What to do if a person rubs you wrong
When dealing with people never forget you also have your weaknesses and there are some characters and behaviors that can rub you wrong or irritate you. You need to deal with this and remember the problem may not be them, but you yourself. A first simple step is to find positive things to say about this person. Praise their work and remind yourself of the contribution this person makes, when negative thoughts come up. Some times this is enough. You have changed your inner attitude and you may find that whatever irritates you about the person fades into the background. However, there are of course incidences where a person’s behavior is not acceptable. You need to deal with this quickly and if necessary include the team to address it. I was once in a team, where one member actually started bullying me and bringing up all kinds of accusations. It really pulled me down and blocked me from functioning properly within the team. Thankfully 2 of the team members spoke up at different times and said clearly and openly that the behavior is not acceptable. This helped me to get over the hurt and the feeling of having failed. I then was able to address this with the Senior Management, whom this person was reporting to. Very soon the person was also found to bully others and was quickly removed from teams and dealt with at another level.
This taught me to speak up and not accept unacceptable behavior in a team. As much as you need to try and solve your team issues yourself, once it goes beyond a point where it can be solved in the team, you need to escalate it.
These are the foundations of a team that can perform well together. If you follow the above-mentioned tips your team will most likely enjoy working with you and each other. The more they enjoy working with you, the more effort they will put in their work. This will automatically bring accountability with it.
At the same time, if you have built the open atmosphere and team culture, where everyone feels free to report and bring issues on the table, the team will hold each other accountable. During team meetings members should feel free to talk about where they or others are falling behind and the team should then come up with a solution. You do not have to provide solutions, allow your team to come up with them and you will see accountability increasing. Team members who enjoy their job and feel part of the team, will want to be accountable. Team members who feel accepted and feel they can bring up failure, issues or forgotten things without being judged or publicly shamed, will willingly be accountable.
In my eyes making people be proud of the team they work in is the best way to make them want to be accountable for what they do. Have fun while building such high performance team.
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Principal Project Manager at Redtie Consultants (Strategy, Business & Project Management)
Change Manager * PMOs * Mentorship * Trainer * SDI Facilitator
Well versed in the Healthcare Sector, both private & not-for -profit and the IT Sector in East Africa. Excelled in developing systems, processes, tools, templates and methodologies and implementation of the same. Has personally managed projects of a value of up to $1.2M Experienced in setting up PMOs (Project Management Offices) within a corporate set-up
Looking for Consulting Opportunities. Experienced Trainer, Mentor & Coach, SDI Assessment Facilitator
available for pro bono consulting & mentoring in Project Management and PMO set-ups