This meeting sucked. The organizer had lost complete control. Discussions went from factual to emotional. Three conversations were happening at once. And then, a crier.
I knew the crier well. She was on my team and I had worked with her over a year. She was solid; able to take on any issue quickly and get it resolved. She could talk to anyone about any topic. She was a rock star on the project and very valuable to her team in operations. But something this day made her crack. I never saw it coming.
Noticing the uncomfortable silence in the room, we quickly ended the meeting. I asked her to stay behind as did one of our executives. She said after working 60 hours a week on the project as well as her “day job,” she was fried. She tried to stay positive at work but her family was paying the price when she came home grumpy. We all knew she was the “go-to” person and the more she talked, I began to appreciate the stress she was under.
To the exec’s credit, he took over. “I know you’ve been working a lot with no break for a few months. I also know you’ve been filling in for others who are back from vacation. Now, you’re no good to anyone if you’re burned out. I want you to document the status of your projects and daily work, and delegate tasks to others. I need you to detach, get some perspective for a few days and come back more refreshed.”
We all get stressed. Some of us can handle it better than others. But eventually, we all hit a limit. When that happens, you need to find a way to detach and gain perspective. Some people take a “mental health” day, others need a vacation, and others work themselves into being sick and stay in bed a couple days. Any way you look at it, sometimes you have to take a step back, review your priorities, refocus on what’s important, and take time for yourself and those you love.
As for the employee, she was able to spend a few days with her family. Because of work, we found out she had missed some kids events and was feeling like a failure as a mom. But after a few quality days, she had a renewed energy and was back to her superstar status!
I was fortunate to participate in a webinar where project managers were asked to give real-world advice to business people, many of whom were faced with project challenges. Topics ranged from selecting the right project to invest in, to advice on saving an initiative that was in trouble. Some people were angry (thus the “Culture of Success” posts), and others were hopeful our advice would save them time and money. The questions and comments ranged from simple to the complex. I enjoyed every minute of it. However, the greatest takeaway for me was something I learned from a fellow panelist.
This co-presenter is the VP of Project Management and New Product Development for a global company of 800 people. He views project management processes as a corporate asset and a key competitive advantage. They are a strategic, core competency within the organization. Everyone in the company adheres to them; from the executive steering committee right down to the person doing the tactical tasks. The process is part of a new employee on-boarding process (level of training is dependent on their role). Changes to processes go through an approval committee and broadly communicated. Feedback is requested from different teams so only the right processes are needed and those seen as too bureaucratic are eliminated. He admits it’s not perfect, but it was better than the ad-hoc “shoot from the hip” approach the company had when he got there.
As a PMO manager, I thought and continue to think a lot about what was said. We have processes and because of the compliance & quality nature of our projects, protect those processes from deviations. When someone does do something outside the process, which has happened a few times, confusion ensues and I have to confront the offender with an uncomfortable discussion. My team continues to update processes and create new as our product line expands. But once approved, these processes are expected to be followed.
To be competitive in the market, companies need to deliver effectively, efficiently, and have some level of organizational agility given the speed of change. It’s a challenge, but one that I feel is key to organizational success. Your process is an organizational asset and should be followed and protected. Do so, and no one gets hurt!
I thought hockey parents traveled a lot to tournaments until one of my kids joined swimming. There are a lot of weekends sitting in uncomfortably hot bleachers waiting for potentially hours to watch a 50 second swim. Though long days, if he loves it, how can I say no?
At the start of every meet, the entire swim team gets together, arms around each other, and sing a song to get fired up. Everyone participates, even my son who can be shy at times. They sing, sway, jump and holler as a team. Given they swim as individuals, this is the one time the team can get together ahead of their competition.
This got me to thinking; does my team have a battle cry? Yes, most I’ve been part of do. Currently it’s “Happy to Help” (or H2H), then there was the Overall System Health Information Team (OSHIT), and from way back the “Gladly Pay You Tuesday for a Hamburger Today” team. Each team was different. Each had their own unique personalities. But ultimately, we somehow created our own group name, a battle cry, that followed us throughout the course of the effort and sometimes beyond.
So what is your team’s battle cry? What makes your team stand out, yet brings everyone together? What gives you identity? Though not a critical success factor for the team, it certainly is fun.
I wrote 10 blog posts called “Culture of Success.” Even though there were a fair amount of people who read those, someone sat down, read them all in one sitting, and emailed me. The subject line was “Need Help: Bad Corporate Culture Equals Bad Team Culture.”
In it he expressed the corporate culture was cut throat and mean. Most people were out for themselves and you spent as much time doing CYA work as actual work. Now the company is starting a large project and he was brought in on a contract basis to help lead it. His team is “dedicated,” in that they’re on the project 100% of the time, until their functional manager says they’re needed to fight an operational fire.
I can appreciate his nervousness. I’ve been at companies where “duck and cover” is the norm and you’re scared of termination. There’s finger pointing & blaming at all levels. Someone has a “Dead Pool” list to see who’s going to get fired next. Employees don’t trust one another. It’s a place you dread. At the same time, I learned a lot from these places.
After a couple email exchanges we called each other. I told him though he had to be aware of the corporate culture, make your team culture awesome. It won’t be easy, but it’s possible. Here are the tips I gave:
A “Come to Jesus” with the sponsor: since this team is dedicated, they should be dedicated and not pulled off the project daily to deal with other issues. If it becomes common practice, ask for the sponsor’s help in stopping it. Yes, I know you’re a contractor, but you’re also accountable for delivery and the sponsor needs to be accountable too.
Build trust WITH the team: meet with each team member individually, talk about non-work stuff first and build a rapport. Ask what makes them nervous about being on the team and look for common themes. This is the most important thing you will do right away…and it NEVER stops.
Build trust AMONGST Team Members: this is tougher than building trust 1:1 and takes time. It starts with the kick-off and clearly defining each member’s role and reinforcing that along the way. Have daily stand-ups that foster communication (this wasn’t a Scrum project but good practice anyway). Request co-location. Negotiate for team lunches or happy hours. Bring in treats when a milestone is hit and make sure everyone is there. Find ways to celebrate as a team.
Create a safe environment: again, takes time. Let the team know you’re there for them and you’re watching their backs so they don’t have to. Give them the credit when things go right. Fall on the sword when they don’t. Ultimately, be a servant leader.
Deliver on commitments: if a team member asks you for help, make that your top priority. If you can’t get it done right away, let them know where you’re at. This goes back to building trust.
If they have to leave for awhile, re-program them upon return: one of his biggest concerns was when a team member got pulled into an operational mess, they’d come back with their minds flipped to corporate vs. team culture. I recommended when they do come back, have a 1:1 with them, find out what happened, and provide an update on the project. Even if they’re only gone for a day, it’s good to have a quick chat.
On-board new members: at certain intervals of the project, the core team have to bring in others. Once there’s a team culture, acclimating others can be a challenge. Though I don’t have a secret ingredient for this, my recommendation is have a 1:1 with them and invite them to some stand-ups before they start. Build relationships early so when they are on the project, they’re going into an environment they WANT to be part of.
I understand a corporate culture that sucks, but that doesn’t mean your team’s culture needs to. It’s not easy. I told him he’ll spend more time relationship building, especially at the front end, than doing other work and it will lead to some long days. But, in the long run it will be worth it. Your team will have an awesome culture and one they want to come to everyday.