In 17 years of managing projects, I saw my fair share of projects succeed and fail. There are countless reasons why projects don’t go as planned, and what I’ve found is that there’s usually a very unique set of qualities that make projects special. It’s a mix of communication, trust, and good leadership; all soft skills that can be honed and refined. Here’s my list of five ways to set a team up for success:
1. Set up The Rules of Engagement Early
A project manager will often set up “stakeholder interviews” early in the project, and when you’re assigned as a PM (or Online Business Manager, or and kind of lead on a project), I highly recommend speaking with as many team members as you can. This ranges from the “stakeholder,” or the person that is championing the project at a corporate level, all the way to the people will be “resources,” or those people who will be doing the day to day work on the project. As soon as someone is assigned to the team, set up time to speak with them. This will give you a great chance to get to know them, to introduce yourself, and give them a little time to ask questions. Second, it sets up rapport. Not every project manager does this, and so it also sets the tone that this project is different, and that as a manager, you’re different. It says you care about each of the team members as people, not just as a person in a status meeting.
I’ve since learned that there’s also a life coach term for this kind of rapport building, and it’s called “Defining the Alliance.” In essence, each party is defining how they want to work with the others, and the larger team is defining itself. In each individual discussion, you’re finding out how to best work with this individual so that you can help them play to their strengths in the larger team. Here are some of the things you might ask in this meeting:
How do you prefer to provide updates on your progress, and how do you prefer that I check in with you for status updates? (developers may prefer email , while some VIPs prefer a face to face meeting).
What role do they see themselves playing in this project?
What are their strengths as it relates to their role?
At what point in the project do they want / need to be involved?
What concerns do they have about this project? What solutions or suggestions do they have about how to address them?
What has worked well for them / the company / this team in the past? What hasn’t worked well?
The information gathered in these rather informal meetings often helps paint a picture of how to best communicate with each team member, and how you can leverage each person’s strengths. It may also highlight potential issues before they arise, and give you insights on how to avoid them.
Even if you are not managing a project, consider modifying this idea in a virtual way, and look for ways to “Define the Alliance” of anyone you are working with. I’ve encountered difficult working relationships that benefited from asking a colleague to coffee, and asking how we could work better, together. I’ve also asked a new boss how he or she might like to get updates about progress, and status on projects. Defining these key pieces of any relationship helps to set them up for success. If you are managing people, look to find out how your virtual team members prefer to work, and prefer to hear feedback. Look for ways to support them in a way that works for both of you.
2. Define the Roles of Everyone on the Team
People do better work, and feel more confident about themselves, when they know what is expected of them. Teams do better work when everyone knows who is doing what, and when it’s happening.
And, everyone on a project team will benefit from having a very clear “decision maker” identified, up front. While these seem like fairly simple, straight forward truths, I’ve seen many projects suffer (and the people trying so hard to make them work) because roles are not clearly defined.
To set everyone up for success, make a clear list of who is responsible for each part of the project. You can list it out by department, if you want (meaning, put a name next to who is responsible for “marketing”) or by role (“HTML coding.”) It’s especially helpful to name who is responsible for what in areas where more than one person will be doing the work. Strive for clarity, before the project is underway, to avoid confusion later.
You should also get a single person named as a final decision maker for the project itself. If questions arise it’s always good to have a single voice to make a decision, and for everyone on the team to know who that person is.
If you’re not managing a project, you could lift this idea to help define roles on a given team. Get clarity around what tasks are your responsibility, or if you are managing people, be clear on what roles you are assigning to them. The clearer you can be about expectations, the more likely your team will be to meet those expectations.
3. Uphold the Roles
Once each person is named to the team and their role is defined, one of the biggest boosts any leader can give a person is to honor their role. Hold each person accountable for rising up to their assigned task. Again, this may sound mind-bogglingly simple, but I’ve seen many teams where either:
a person is named as the resource for something, but someone else swoops in and does it for them (sometimes this is even the boss)
the person doesn’t do the task because they are intimidated / scared / overworked
the person is not truly honored as the “expert” on the task and the team undermines their knowledge by questioning or ignoring what the person is recommending.
None of these help a project move forward, and none of them create an atmosphere of respect, trust and open communication.
Show Your Strength as a Leader
Here’s where you can show your strength as a leader and set a stage for trust and respect. Simply honor that each person has been hired because they have the skills and expertise it takes to do the job.
You will see that once a person is named as an expert, and has the trust of the leader, they change, and the way they are perceived by the team changes. Present each expert confidently, and encourage them to own their role. People will rise to the occasion, even if it’s something that might be a stretch in their abilities or available time.
If you’re not managing a project, you could take this idea and look for ways to help others own their given role in an organization. Encourage them and point out that they have true expertise in an area. Give people room to really own their role, and fight the urge to rescue them or fix things. When people fail, they learn, and that is often better for the team then micro-managing an outcome. If you’re shy about owning your own expertise, look at those who you consider experts. What about their background gives them an “expert” title? What makes someone a true “expert?”
4. Practice Consistency
Once a project is under way, and the team is working on creating something, it’s important to provide a consistent backbone for the team. This usually means you’ll be having weekly update meetings and capturing any decisions to share with team members afterward. It’s a good idea to ask team members about any challenges getting in the way of completing a task. In creating an environment where updates and challenges are welcome and discussed, it furthers the basis of trust and respect. Team members will be more encouraged to bring up challenges increasing the likelihood that changes can be made to get back on track.
If you’re not managing a project, think about how you can set up a team to have consistent communication that leave room for all kinds of updates. Be the kind of leader that shares information with the team, regardless of how it might be perceived. Look for ways to change the way that “negative” updates are perceived. Set a precedent that it’s all just data, and when teams have more data, they can react accordingly.
5. Celebrate Wins
Have a launch party after all the work is over. It’s a great time to celebrate! I also love having a celebration for smaller wins, and thanking people as milestones are hit or progress is made. People feel better about themselves and the momentum of a project when they can see that there is tangible progress underway. Team members love to be recognized and named as they do something that helps the project. You can continue to grow upon the trust and respect you’ve started in the project when you acknowledge the hard work and progress being made. I’ve found that people are willing to work harder when they know it’s being noticed, and when they feel appreciated.
These wins can be celebrated with a small thank you note or email, a public “thank you” or a small gift (and likely considered a business expense!). It does not have to be a big gesture or cost a lot; the point is to celebrate and acknowledge.
If you’re not managing a project, how can you celebrate your wins, or the wins of your team? Is there something you’re working towards that you could make a point of celebrating? Is there someone you could send a thank you note to? Add to your weekly or monthly routine to let your team members know you appreciate them. It’s easy to let the time pass, and forget to say thank you. Even a belated thank you gets appreciated. Decide how to make it easy for yourself to take time out to celebrate with your team.
Guest writer: Paula Jenkins is a project manager turned life coach and podcaster focused on transforming lives at Jump Start Your Joy. From working one on one with coaching clients, to writing, and hosting a weekly podcast, she is dedicated to bringing more joy into the world. Get a free guide to finding more balance in your life.