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The Alternative Board Blog

Project Management for Small Business: Monitoring the Team

Feb. 8, 2013 | Posted by The Alternative Board
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Project Management for Small Business XIV

In terms of completing a project, team members are your most important asset. Even though we'd all like to have teams where everyone's content works well together, a team that doesn’t run into any problems is the exception and not the rule. If your approach to team issues is "why can't everyone just get along?" you're going to struggle as a project manager. Personnel issues are complex, and each situation is unique. In this post, I'll share some experience-based best practices for establishing the best team-oriented culture, and how to address team issues when they arise (and they will).

Establishing a Team Culture

Here are two questions that I like to ask in job interviews:

  • How do you accept critical feedback on your work?
  • Are you someone who celebrates the successes of fellow team members?

Since we are focusing on projects for small businesses, and presumably projects where team members are already hired, you may not be interviewing new staff. However, chances are you are assembling a new team. Unless you know someone really well, these are good questions to ask for all team members. If someone doesn't give you an enthusiastic yes, this might not be enough to pass on them for the team, but it should raise red flags to be on the lookout for.

 

300px-US_Army_51324_Safety_Team

 English: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers staff members pose with the contractor safety and management team at the C4ISR project at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. The Corps's Philadelphia District, project manager for the Army, recognized the contractors with a safety award. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 Regardless of the responses to the above questions, get an upfront agreement from each team member that they will accept critical feedback from you, and that they will share in the success of other team members. This verbal agreement grants permission to give critical feedback to all team members. Also, even if team members do not give you the responses you’d hoped for, these questions do a great job minimizing negative behaviors related to feedback and team success.

At the first team meeting, discuss team culture as the primary agenda item.  You should talk about culture even if your team consists of what you believe to be the most positive, team-oriented individuals that you could possibly assemble. You want the team to be working as a unit, and it’s my experience that you can’t over emphasize teamwork and the acceptance of criticism.

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Once the project starts, adopt a philosophy of MBWO: Management by Walking Around. Steve Jobs was a MBWO master. He would wander around the project team, and ask questions about what each team member was doing. He could be quite harsh. This worked for him, but I recommend being more positive. It's important that you also discuss that you will use MBWO in the first meeting so none of your team leads feel threatened. Have a consistent management style for the entire project- otherwise; your team will think that something is wrong.

Finally, meet with each team member or team lead one-on-one throughout the project. Your meeting schedule should depend on your project size. Personally, I like working through my team leads. But different project managers have different styles. MBWO is a good middle ground since you don't need to have scheduled 1-on-1 meetings with each team member, but you will have significant direct interaction with all team members.

If despite all of these efforts you have a motivation problem, or team members are not getting along, what should you do? This is a complex topic that is very situational. I don't claim to know the best way to handle each situation. However, I have been managing projects for many years, and I’ve seen quite a few challenging team dynamics. Here are a few experienced-based recommendations that I can make:

  • Don't Overreact: Make sure that you’re able to observe directly – or at least through multiple reliable sources – that there is an issue detrimental to the team that you need to address.
  • Don't Ignore: Personnel issues are the most difficult part of management. These issues are never fun, but, they won't just go away if you ignore them. Even people that you might perceive as good at personnel issues do not like to deal with them. They have learned that the best outcome occurs when they confront the issue directly.
  • Be Mindful of Jim Collins' Advice: In Good to Great, Collins advises to hire slow and fire fast. Maybe you don't have to fire someone from the company; you can start by removing them from the project. Either way, if you conclude that an individual is jeopardizing your project, removing that individual not only removes the issue, but you also gain respect in the eye’s of other team members.

Just one more thing: how to deal with prima donnas. These are individuals with the best skills and an ego to match. This is a tough one, and this problem frequently occurs on technology projects. You have a team member with the best skill; this team member knows they are talented, and they want to have a strong influence over direction of the project. I have always embraced prima donnas, and made these workers lieutenants. As long as they are not counter-productive, they can have a very strong influence on the project outcome. If you have prima donna management advice please share…

 

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Written by The Alternative Board

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