Over the years I’ve worked on a wide variety of projects and seen many times when things haven’t gone well. At times the problems were due to unexpected issues, other times they were due to things that were overlooked. There were even a few times when gaps were identified before they could wreck disaster on the project. Unfortunately too often people get caught up in the blame game; before, during or after a problem occurs.
On one project a problem was found prior to the deadline and the root cause was a found to be a system design flaw. Unfortunately the flaw was found right before our deadline so all we could do was implement a work-around initially. Since the flaw didn’t impact the primary process it was missed because not all the processes that used this part of the system were mapped. A couple of weeks before the deadline the gaps were found and the scrambling began.
At first there were a bunch of meetings about how this got missed and who was at fault. Fingers were pointed and blame was placed. This led the people who were blamed to spend time explaining how it wasn’t their fault and that they did their best. We lost a week or more to these pointless conversations. Negativity and defeat were prevalent. Finally the emotions calmed enough for the team to focus on what needed to happen to meet our deadline. In a few days we were able to identify fixes for all the gaps once the focus shifted to where we needed to go. Sadly even as we started making progress a few folks would start to vent their frustration that these issues were identified sooner. Negativity would start creeping in again.
Our project manager had to keep reminding everyone on the target – a successful implementation on our deadline. Keeping the team looking forward and focused on the key tasks at hand was critical to our eventual success. He set short-term and long-term priorities and kept us focused on what had to happen next and who could get it done. He shut down the negative talk and kept us looking at the end goal. As we came together to find solutions to the gaps we moved past the negativity and started to find the positive in an ugly situation.
We were able to be succeeded by following these three strategies:
- Shift the Focus: When you are looking at the problems all you see are problems. As you start to focus on possible solutions it becomes easier to find the positive in the situation. Success breeds success.
- Worry about Blame Later: It is important to determine what went wrong and how to avoid it in the future but solve the problems first. Once the issues are resolved everyone can learn from looking at what could be done better in the future.
- Check Emotions at the Door: In the heat of the moment it’s easy to let our emotions get away from us. When that happens, anger and frustration can take the lead side tracking progress and causing people to shut down. Keep things focused on fixing the problems and not fixing people.
Problems during projects are inevitable; however handling them well is possible. It requires the right focus and the skills to manage people well. When a team hits a challenge, the more time they spend on placing blame the longer it will take to get to a satisfactory solution. Identify the source, focus on the fixes and then worry about the lessons to be learned. Taking valuable time to find someone to blame is futile and counterproductive. Solutions aren’t found and people become defensive, overall the entire team can get stuck. Focus on moving forward and setting a positive tone. The results from your team will be astounding.
What tips do you have for overcoming the blame game to move forward to success?
Thanks to everyone who stopped by, commented and shared my posts this past year. Here are the top 5 posts from the year:
- 5 People Every Team Needs
- Defining Personal Productivity
- 10 Tips for Project Success
- A Leadership Parable
- Making Hard Choices
I’m looking forward to 2014 and sharing more thoughts with you as well as learning from your comments and feedback.
Let’s make 2014 the best year yet! Have a great New Year!!
If you would like help developing your project management or leadership skills contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I can help you create clarity around your goals, develop a strategy to reach them and support your during your efforts.
As the year winds down leaders and project managers review the performance and progress of their teams. If you find that your team is falling short of where you would like or need them to be it’s time to take action to correct it. By making those plans now you can set the stage for a more successful 2014.
What can you do to get things moving in the right direction? Here are 4 steps you can take now to build a plan for success.
- Assess & analyze: Where is the root cause of the underperformance? Is it lack of ability? Lack of capacity? Lack of commitment? Look at the team overall, including yourself and look at each individual. You may find that some members lack the needed skills while other lacks a commitment to the project/team which is leading to an overall lack of capacity to get everything done.
- Develop: Once you know the cause of the underperformance you can create development plans to address the gaps. If a particular person doesn’t have the skills they need create a development plan to help them build those skills quickly. Sometimes a team member needs to develop the ability to do more work by learning time management skills or working more efficiently. Look at what can be developed in each person to benefit the team.
- Trim the deadwood: After you look at each person you may find that there is someone on the team who just is not the right fit. They may not have the aptitude for the work to be done or they may not be able to develop the needed skills. Cut them from the team to make room for someone who can help the team achieve more.
- Encourage: It’s most likely the team knows they are not hitting their marks and that is very discouraging to people. Help them see that they can reach the needed performance and that you believe in them. Taking the first three steps will help them see your commitment to their success and will help them become committed to improving. A positive outlook will create a positive environment where people want to do better. Spell out the facts of the situation and build hope for a better tomorrow.
This will take some time to do well and yet it can yield amazing performance improvements that it’s worth the time. Underperforming teams can be turned around with time and attention. You need to figure out what can be done to meet your targets and how you can help the team get there.
While looking at the team’s performance you have to take a hard look at your performance relative to the team. Are you being the leader they need to achieve the project or team goals? Ask them how you can better support them and then listen to their feedback. Some of it may be hard to hear so just absorb the information. Take the time to reflect on what you are told and implement the changes that will help you grow and help your team succeed. Your willingness to change will help set the stage for them to change as well. If you want them to change their performance you need to go first, so model what you want from them. They will like you for it and will respond well.
Learn to be a coach that helps their team achieve more and accomplish great things. As you develop or refine your coaching skills you will grow as a leader and become capable of leading teams in any situation. You can become a better coach by working with a coach to grow your skills and abilities. Again, you will be modeling the behavior you want from your team and developing yourself at the same time. Win-Win
To get more from your team you must be aware of the gaps and be willing to help close those gaps by developing the team’s skills or getting the right people on the team. It’s up to you as a leader or project manager to make sure your team is set to deliver as required.
If you are curios on how a coach could help you click here for information on a special offer designed to help you get more out of your team in 2014. We can help you do more personally and help you prepare your team for a fantastic year.
As a leader in any form there is a real danger to knowing too much. That seems counter intuitive to most people. However, when we fall into the trap of assuming we know enough we will be blindsided by the unknowns that sneak up on us.
There are four categories of known information (Donald Rumsfeld addressed this issue in 2002):
- Known Knowns – These are the things we know that we know. This is clearly front of mind information.
- Known Unknowns – These are the things we know that we do not know. This can be found in data we need to collect to understand a problem, but we don’t have it yet.
- Unknown Knowns – This is the information that has become so ingrained we no longer think about it, we just act on it. Our unconscious mind controls this information. Consider tying your shoes, do you really have to think hard about how to do it; no you just tie your shoe.
- Unknown Unknowns – Here is the scary part of things, this is the information we don’t know and have no idea we are missing it.
As a leader you have to recognize that there is information you do not have yet. The trick is how you get that information. Succeeding at this is the key to risk management and ironically team empowerment.
Here are some tips for you:
- Understand your limits: Be totally honest with yourself and your team on what you know and what you don’t know. Remember there are things you are not aware of yet.
- Ask for input: The people on your team have different experiences and so have different knowledge. Ask them what they know about the situation and what else they think they need to know to be effective.
- Be open: Keep an open mind and look for subtle indicators of things that you were not aware of yet. This means that you must keep all your options open early on, do not narrow your choices too soon or you will limit the knowledge you gain.
- Question everything: Ask lots of questions. Great ones are “what else?” “What could go wrong?” “What else do we need?” “How can this be better?” “Could we be wrong?”
If you adopt these tips into your team planning sessions, whether it is for a project or a new product or just working more efficiently, you will find out things you were not aware of and get better solutions and ideas.
The more information you can gather the better you can handle the risks involved in any activity. You won’t eliminate all risks or even uncover all unknown unknowns but you will be better prepared when something happens. Thinking about contingencies will not minimize every risk, yet people become more flexible when they have explored other options. This allows them to adjust more quickly when a problem is encountered. Avoid analysis paralysis – you will never know everything you could about a situation, so if you get to 80% of the information you are good to go.
Another benefit of these tips is that you are engaging and including your team in understanding the situation. This is a critical component of effective teams. People will do more with less if they feel they have had a part in creating the solution. They will be more loyal and more responsive.
Remember that assuming you know enough is dangerous ground and will set you up for unexpected problems, your team will be less engaged and your risks are much higher. The best leaders know that they don’t have all the answers and they need help to discover the risks and better solutions.
Teams are great for accomplishing projects or complex operations / tasks. High performing teams can get more done more quickly than any one person. However, keeping teams on task and on track can be a real challenge. Even great teams can get distracted or pulled in the wrong direction. So how do you keep your team’s productivity up?
Here are 6 secrets to team productivity:
- Have fun. When people enjoy what they do and the people they are doing it with productivity will increase. Find small ways to break tension and stress by having some fun. Laugh at yourself in a team meeting, take a lunch break together that is different than normal (go out or bring in picnic foods, whatever works), create funny rewards for participation or ideas, or something else that will bring humor to the team without poking fun at anyone else. A couple of minute laugh break can get a meeting or work session back on track faster than pushing through it.
- Allow personal space. Working closely together can become suffocating at times. Create a way for people to step away and work independently for a while. Unwinding and working alone can make coming back together to share results and progress more rewarding. People need quiet time.
- Keep updates short. While reviewing individual updates, limit the time people can spend sharing their reports. Making sure this portion moves fast helps build a sense of momentum and eliminates boredom while others drag on. Use a template if needed, drive the discussion of tasks and hold people to the agenda.
- Avoid the blame game. Things will go wrong at times, instead of looking for people to blame focus on moving forward. If people are worried about getting in trouble for an error they are not working on needed tasks or assignments. Make it okay to make mistakes as long as people own their actions and bring solutions with them. Always be looking towards the finish line.
- Pick 3 things. Too often departments or teams have too many goals to focus on at any one time. Pick the top 3 or 5 things you need to do this week/month. Get these in the spot light and work towards them. When they are done move on to the next items. As the leader you need to set priorities for your team and help them know what is critical right now. Limit the number of critical items so they can be accomplished.
- Believe. If you believe your team can reach or exceed their goals and you communicate that often they will believe it. Holding people accountable is important but holding people capable is empowering. Show them that you trust them to get it done and they will surprise you with their results.
Some of these may be unexpected ideas, but creating an environment that encourages, supports and empowers people to perform well will get you the results you need. You can use measures and metrics to ensure things are being done on time and with the right quality level. Getting teams to consistently perform well requires the right environment and support.
What are your secrets to improving team productivity?
It’s clear that successful teams have diversity built in. They have people with different skills and abilities needed to complete the project. However, each team needs diversity in personalities as well. Here are five key people every team needs to help them succeed:
- Instigator – This is the person who jumps in and gets things going. Often they are the first person to offer up ideas in a brainstorming session. They will tackle the hard tasks so that progress is made.
- Revolutionary – Here is the person who loves to challenge status quo and will offer up the off-the-wall ideas that can spark true innovation. They bristle at “that won’t work” comments.
- Devil’s Advocate – This is the one who will question every idea and every suggestion, no matter who makes it. While this can be annoying it helps identify risks and will improve the final solution.
- Cook – They are the key to pulling together all of these different approaches and personalities. Like a great cook they can take all the different thoughts and ideas and mix them together to formulate a workable idea or solution. As well, they will help calm the chaos and dissension in the ranks.
- Chief – The team looks to this person for wisdom, guidance and arbitration. They are the ones who will resolve the conflict and make sure everyone is moving in the right direction at the right pace.
Team members may take on each of these roles at different times in a project. On some teams there are one or two people who stay in one role the entire time. It doesn’t really matter if people shift in their roles as long as things are progressing.
If not managed well, the revolutionary and the devil’s advocate can become problems within the team and derail the project. They play critical roles in finding new, innovative ways of accomplishing the goal. Unfortunately, since these personalities question everything and challenge every idea they can become a negative factor and create chaos. The cook helps bring everyone together but the chief must insist on problem resolution to keep things moving. If not balanced these two overwhelm the team and cause the instigator to start acting independently just to get something done. Now the focus has been lost.
Interestingly the project leader may not be the Chief, often they are, however if they have not earned the trust of the team or are weak in some area another person can end up playing this role. For the team and for the leader this is less than ideal, yet it will naturally happen. To see who is acting as the chief look at whom people are asking for help and guidance. The team leader needs to ensure that they are a safe place for people to share concerns and they must be willing to settle the disputes. Building consensus is critical for team success.
Enjoy and embrace the variety of personalities on the team. Encourage each member to assume one of these roles at varying times. Manage the conflict that questioning behavior can trigger to ensure success. By effectively managing and utilizing the strengths of each character you will help create a team that can achieve amazing results.
At one time or another we will all be responsible for managing a project at work. Often we get these assignments without really having any authority over the people on the team. This means to succeed we need to create a collaborative, welcoming and mutually beneficial team environment. It’s not as hard as it might seem.
Here are my top 10 tips for creating success:
- Solicit Input: Actively engage each team member in brainstorming ideas and options. Participation is a must not an option.
- Hold People Accountable: Require updates and hold people to due dates for tasks. Address performance issues quickly and professionally.
- Communicate Often: Provide progress reports to stakeholders often. Share status within the team. Let people know what’s happening and why it’s happening.
- Make Decisions: As team leader the final say is yours, so make the decisions. Even if your choice is not popular you must decide and act. Seek to get commitment, consensus is not required.
- Believe in Success: Show you believe the team will succeed to EVERYONE!
- Give Credit: Share the credit with the team, place them above your personal recognition.
- Celebrate Milestones: Take a moment or two to celebrate reaching key milestones. Long projects need the small wins to maintain momentum and enthusiasm.
- Track Progress Closely: Know the status of the project at all times. Regular updates will keep people moving forward.
- Lend a Hand: Help destroy obstacles, pitch in if someone is overwhelmed. Have your team’s backs.
- Learn to Say No: If the project scope is creeping up as team leader you must say NO. If someone is attempting to dodge work or bail on an assignment you must say No and hold them to it.
Project management can seem really difficult and it can be, however, mastering these 10 items will help you set the stage for a successful project. Keep your team engaged, support them, hold them accountable and celebrate the progress you are making and you improve the odds of success. If you can get your team to work well together it will be much easier to navigate the rough patches that will happen. They will know you are there for them and they will be there for you. Success is sure to follow at that point.
As part of a work team you often have several roles to play: instigator, critic, supporter, cheerleader, or ditch digger. Most of these roles are pretty clear cut you know each is unique and can tell who is playing which role at any given time. However, it can be a fine line between supporter and cheerleader. There are times when we think we are providing support when all we are really doing is cheering someone on. Maybe that is all the support they need, but what if they need more help.
The difference between supporting and cheering is in the meaning of the words and how they show up in teams. Support means to advocate, assist, help, corroborate, or maintain. Cheer means spirit, animation, welcome or something that gladdens. So when you get down to it supporting your team means getting your hands dirty (figuratively) and helping get stuff done. Cheering the team on can be a form of support when morale is low and people need some encouragement to keep going, however it may not be enough to really help move things forward.
My office was next to Judy’s and she brought a lot of life and fun to the department. You could always count on her to find something to laugh about and her energy level was so high she brought the rest of us up whether we wanted it or not. While she was great fun when we had projects to pull together and it was all hands on deck to help, she would be tied up with other duties or in meetings elsewhere. At times it was maddening because another set of hands would have cut our time down significantly. Another person in our group was Karla, who was a very positive person and would always look for the positive in any situation. Karla’s energy wasn’t even close to Judy’s yet she was in many ways the rock of the department. If you were tackling a big project, or working to figure something out you could count on Karla to show up and pitch in, often unasked. There were more than one occasion where Karla would set aside her work to help out; just to make sure things got done in a timely manner.
I can tell you I dearly loved working with both of these ladies, they were wonderful people and I learned from each of them. I can also honestly say that I would work with Karla any day and often wish she was around to help me get unstuck now. Judy was fun and enjoyable to be around yet I don’t find myself wishing she was on my team today.
Judy was a cheerleader first and foremost. Karla was a supporter before she was a cheerleader. While teams need some of both roles the supporters are the ones who are most valuable to the team. Anyone can be a cheerleader when it’s needed, however it’s hard for some people to be supporters. Thinks about your interactions with your team, do you support first or cheer first? Offer your hand to help more often than you give pep talks. That is just as encouraging and often more needed.
Now that summer has officially started have you partially checked out of work? It’s not uncommon for people to get distracted by the thoughts of time off, fun weekend activities, family events, etc. during the summer months. However, as part of a team you need to be fully engaged to get things done. When others are gone you might be covering their tasks in addition to your normal duties so you need to be on top of your game.
How do you get on top of your game when the days are longer and there is more to do outside of work? Here are a few tips to help you stay focused at work, get done quicker and enjoy your time out of the office.
- Plan your work. It’s always a good idea to have a plan for what needs to be done and when, but when you are covering for others it becomes critical.
- Work your plan. Now that you have a plan, follow it. Make sure you look at your to-do list each morning and at the end of the day to ensure you are on track.
- Block time. Create blocks of time, could be 30 minutes or 4 hours, to get the important things done on time. Schedule this time in your calendar so you know you need to focus and get stuff done.
- Stay flexible. Allow time for the unexpected and the new items that are sure to come your way. When you are covering for someone else there are sure to be surprises that need attention, so make room in your plan to handle those items.
- Know your limits. Be aware of how much is on your plate already so when you are asked to take on more work temporarily you know how much time you have to give. If you must cover and it will impact your own deadlines keep people in the loop.
- Get clarity. When asked to take over for someone, be sure you know in detail what MUST be done while they are gone and what would be nice to have done. Plan to handle the musts and if possible knock out some of the nice to haves.
- Be clear. As you ask others to cover for you, be clear on what needs to be done and by when. Focus on getting only the critical items dealt with in your absence. If possible get things done ahead of time, so there is very little for people to handle while you are gone.
- Take lunch breaks. When you are swamped it’s easy to skip lunch to get more done before quitting time. This just leads to additional stress on your body and mind. Take the break! Even 30 minutes away from the computer, phone and your desk will help you recharge for the afternoon push.
- Have fun. Remember getting away from work is a great time to relax, unwind and recharge your energy. Make time to enjoy the important people in your life.
- Show appreciation. Let the people who are covering for you know you appreciate it. We all like to know our efforts are noticed and appreciated.
If you show up and are engaged each day at work you will get more done and it will be easier to take time away to enjoy all the fun things summer has to offer. Avoid mentally leaving the office before you are physically gone. Be there for your team and they will be there for you.
Odds are that the people on your team have very different ideas and opinions of various topics. If so, celebrate it! This is a key to having a high performing team. When everyone thinks exactly the same way there are no new ideas and innovation fades away. The challenge is to find ways to keep the conflict of opinions from becoming negative or destructive.
Here are five strategies to help you celebrate the differences:
- Be Open. Keep an open mind and listen to their point of view.
- Show Respect. Remember that they have a right to their opinion as do you. Respect each other.
- Value Them. Tell them that you value their ideas and opinions, particularly when you disagree.
- Seek Commonality. Look for areas of agreement, even in the midst of differences. They will exist.
- Be Thankful. Thank teammates who are willing to disagree and look for new ideas or options.
If you follow these five strategies you are showing those around you that you value them as individuals with individual ideas and opinions. Giving them the freedom to express opposing thoughts will open doors to higher levels of creativity, trust and performance in any team. As well, if you are the team leader or boss your creditability increases because you include the team in the process. People will be more likely to admire and support you if you include them and their ideas.
Recently I had a conversation with someone whose thoughts were basically the exact opposite of mine. I’m comfortable with my take on the situation and he is highly committed to his position. In reality the topic does not affect our ability to collaborate, but if we couldn’t reach some level of understanding it would be out there as a possible sore spot. We both shared our thoughts and why we felt that way. At the end I told him that I admired his commitment to his position.
Be willing to listen to other’s ideas and opinions with an open mind. Take in their thoughts and then share your position without judging theirs. Keep it to facts and your feelings or opinions. This allows room for their position to be heard. Once the information is out there you can look for ways to reach some form of agreement so you can move forward. It maybe you agree to adopt their position, they agree to adopt yours, you find a new option that works for both, or you agree to disagree. All of these are viable solutions and keep the lines of communication open. As well you are celebrating the differing experiences, ideas and opinions within the team.
How do you celebrate different ideas with your team?