As a project manager, your job is very similar to the team leader from one of your favorite spy caper movies: putting together a team that has all the skills to get the job done. You will need to deal with many issues that rarely come up in a spy movie, however, such as characters who dodge work and complain about the difficulty of the job. This article will help you deal with some of these problems. It is excerpted from the book IT Project Management: On Track from Start to Finish, Second Edition by Joseph Phillips (McGraw-Hill/Osborne, 2004; ISBN: 0072232021).
Teams develop over time, not instantaneously. As a project team comes together, there are likely people on the project team who have worked with one another before just as there may be people on the project team who have never met. Because projects are temporary the relationships among project team members are also often viewed as temporary. The project manager can see, and sometimes guide, the natural process of team development.
The goal of team development is not for everyone to like each other, have a good time, and create life-long friendships. All of that is nice, but the real goal is to develop a team that can accurately and effectively complete the project scope. Within team development there are four stages the project team will pass though:
Forming This stage allows the project team members to come together and learn about each other. They feel each other out and find out who’s who and what each other is like.
Storming This stage promises action. There’s a struggle for project team control and momentum builds as members vie to lead the project team. It is during this phase that people figure out the hierarchy of the team, and the informal roles of team members.
Norming In this stage, the project team’s focus shifts toward the project work. Control on the project team has been established, and people learn to work together.
Performing In this stage, the project team members have settled into their roles and are focusing on completing the project work as a team. During this stage, a synergy is developed; this is the stage where high-performance teams come into play.
Project Management Is Not a Democracy
Despite what some feel-good books and inspiring stories would like to have you believe, project management is not a democracy. Someone has to be in charge, and that someone is you, the project manager. The success of the project rests on your shoulders, and it is your job to work with your team members to motivate them to finish the project on schedule.
This does not mean that you have permission to grump around and boss any member of your team. It also does not mean that you should step in and break up any disagreement between team members. Among the team, you should allow some discussion and some disagreement.
This is what teams have to do: they have to work things out on their own. Team members have to learn to work together, to give and take, to compromise. Figure 6-6 shows the power of team decisions. Step back and let the team first work through disagreements before you step in and settle issues. If you step into the mix too early, then your team members will run to you at every problem.
Figure 6-6. Teams can make decisions on their own.
Ultimately, you are in charge. If your team members cannot, or will not, work out a solution among themselves, you’ll be forced to make a decision. When you find yourself in this situation, there is an approach to working through the problem. Here are recommended steps to conflict resolution:
Attention Meet with both parties and explain the purpose of the meeting: to find a solution to the problem. If the two parties are amicable to each other, this meeting can happen with both parties present. If the team members detest each other, or the disagreement is a complaint against another team member, meet with each member in confidence to hear that person’s side of the story.
Listen Ask the team members what the problem is, allow each to speak their case fully without interrupting, and then ask questions to clarify any of the facts.
Resolve Often if the meeting takes place with both team members, a resolution will quickly boil to the surface. Chances are that you won’t even have to make a decision. People have a way of suddenly wanting to work together when a third party listens to their complaints. They both realize how foolish their actions have been and one, or both, of the team members will cheer up and decide to work together.
Wait If this is not the case in your meeting, don’t make an immediate decision. Tell the team members how important it is to you, and to the project, that they find a way to work together. Sometimes even this touch of direction will be enough for the team members to begin compromising. If they still won’t budge, tell them you’ll think it over and then you will make a decision within a day or two—if the decision can wait that long. By delaying an immediate decision, you allow the team members to think about what has happened and you give them another opportunity to resolve the problem.
Act If the team members will not budge on their positions, then you will have to make a decision. And then stick to it. If necessary, gather any additional facts, research, and investigations. Based on your evidence, call the team members into a meeting again and acknowledge both of their positions on the problem. Then share with them, based on your findings, why you’ve made the decision that you have made. In your announcement don’t embarrass the team member who has been put out by your decision. If the losing team member wants to argue his point again, stop him. Don’t be rude, but stop him. The team members have both been given the opportunity to plead their case, and once your decision has been made, your decision should be final.
Dealing with Personalities
In any organization, you’ll find many different personality types, so it’s likely that there are some people in your organization who just grate on your nerves like fingernails on a chalkboard. These individuals are always happy to share their discontent, their opinion, or their “unique point of view.” Unfortunately, you will have to find a way to work with, or around, these people.
Here are some personality types you may encounter and how you can deal with them:
The Imaginary Leader
These individuals think they are managing the project this week and will be running the company next week. You know the type, always first to raise their hands in school and remind the teacher if she forgot to assign homework.
These people really do want to lead— they just don’t know how! Give them an opportunity by allowing them to conduct an occasional team meeting or organize upcoming activities. If you can, try to show them how to lead with tact instead of their rudeness.
These individuals are afraid of doing any activity on the project without explicit directions from you. They’re so afraid they’ll make a disastrous mistake, they require your guidance on each part of their work.
Encourage these types to take charge of their duties. Tell them that you have confidence in them to do the tasks that you’ve assigned to them. If they do make a mistake, work through it with them to build their confidence.
Your Favorite Uncle (or Aunt)
This persona is the office clown. Always playing gags, streaming toilet paper around someone’s cubicle, telling jokes, and sharing stories around the office. Not only are these types of people great fun, but also they’re great time wasters.
Often these folks don’t have enough to do, and so they assume everyone else is under the same workload that they are. Give these people more assignments, and they’ll have less time to kill. If that doesn’t work, politely share with them that their jovial activities are appreciated, but not always necessary.
These people love excitement. They are happy to try anything out (like rebooting a server mid-morning) just to see what happens. Their experience may be great, but their swagger, ten-gallon hat, and stunts aren’t always well thought out.
To deal with the Cowboy types, encourage their enthusiasm but discourage their ability to make on-the-spot decisions without thinking about the results of their actions. These individuals are generally smart and eager to help, but need a touch more guidance from you.
These sourpusses are as much fun as pocket full of thumbtacks. They don’t care about your project, think the technology sucks, and take their hourly breaks every twenty minutes.
Granted, these folks are hard to work with. They’ve got more problems personally than the project you are managing. You can start by befriending them and then sharing the value of their work on the project with their superiors. This transfers some responsibility of the work onto those Prunes. And tell them to smile a little