We all have things we’re known for. In my case, you give me a team that’s completely demoralized and dysfunctional, and I’ll turn it around and get it working effectively again. To that point, someone asked me a couple days ago, “Geoff I hear you’re really good at getting people to work together. How do you do that?” I have to admit I was somewhat surprised by the question, and I started to answer, and then stopped short. “I…er…you don’t?” It was a lame answer but I had never really thought about it before.
Over the next little bit, as much for my own benefit as yours, I’m going to try to articulate some of the things that I do in this area that seem to be successful.The first thing that comes to mind, is (shocker) roles and responsibilities. Do your people know what’s expected of them?
It seems like a dumb question, especially in a room full of project managers, but you’d be surprised how often I speak with people who are vague about their job. In this article I want to put us in the shoes of someone who’s struggling with that.
Has a sponsor or stakeholder ever thrown you to the wolves with no background or advice, locked the door behind you, and muttered, “just deal with it”? If they have, you know that’s a very unsettling experience. When you walk into a situation you’re not clear on, you intuitively know there’s a million ways it could go badly, and you get scared. You also know that the reason you’re there in the first place is because the jerk who threw you there didn’t want to deal with it himself.
While it’s upsetting, it’s a one-off scenario, and you get to walk away from it with bruises and cuts and go have a beer later to calm down. But what if every day were like that? What if the people you were working with were, for whatever reason, unable or unwilling to give you the information you needed to do your job? Does that mean you’re incompetent? Does that mean you were a terrible choice for the position you find yourself in?
No. It sure as hell doesn’t.
When fear of the unknown occurs day in and day out, it stops being fear. People can’t sustain the kind of adrenaline required to remain in a heightened state of uncertainty five days a week for eight (ten / twelve) hours a day. So what do they do? They adapt to protect themselves. Generally these adaptations aren’t helpful to your project.
If people on your team have spent too much time unsure of what they’re supposed to do, you might observe things like this:
- apparently lazy behaviour
- lack of interest or participation in meetings
- anger, resentment, hostility
- quiet tension in the work environment
- lack of collaboration
- sloppy work, and little interest in discussing it
When people behave like this, we tend to punish them. After all, it’s not much fun working with someone with a bad attitude. The question is, which came first? The bad attitude or the prolonged uncertainty (or some other factor)?
Bad attitudes are hard to fix. Uncertainty isn’t. And it’s surprising how fast people who know precisely what to do will rally to their calling.
So how do you eliminate uncertainty as a blocking factor on your team? More on that in an upcoming article!
(That’s a cliffhanger bwahaha)