What do the Olympics have in common with a Project?

If you are like me (and millions of others) you have been watching the SOCHI Winter Olympics.  It is exhilarating to watch women and men, who have trained for years, put their skills to the test in order to win a medal.  It makes me think about our staff and how they work every day to improve their skills so that they can help us win new projects or successfully deliver a project on time or meet client requirements.
Do you think about your staff and how they compete to win in their jobs?  Ok.. so you’re saying, the Olympics and our projects aren’t the same thing  Bruce! Well hold on and let me show you some similarities and how we can take some lessons from the Olympians.  We find the following in both the Olympics and in projects:

  1. People have differing skills and specialties. Do you recognize your staff’s talents and give them tasks suited to their discipline and skills? Or do you think everyone can do each others job?  Take some time to evaluate each person and see where their strengths and weaknesses are.
  2. There are specialized tools and equipment.  Are you providing excellent tools for your project team? Project managers need schedule tools, risk tools, resource tools, and tools to help them manage and track projects.  Software staff need editors, debuggers, configuration tools and documentation tools.  Graphics artists need graphic tools, color tools, paint tools, and pressure sensitive tablets.  You  need to assess each specialized area and make sure you are providing the right tools for gold level performance.
  3. Coaches and trainers can help shape people into winning performers.   Do you provide opportunities for people to learn and grow? Have you hired a special coach when needed? Training can greatly improve even a great performer so are you using this as a way to improve staff skills?  You can always get them a tablet reader and some good eBooks!  Try some brown bag lunch training.  Be the Coach for your team – this means being a good leader!
  4. It takes Practice Practice Practice.  Are you letting your team try to improve by practicing?  If you have a proposal team – let them do some practice drafts and try to communicate better.  If you have a software team let them practice reviewing each other’s code.  If you have a scrum team let them practice estimating.  there is always something that can be practiced in down times of the week or month.
  5. There is the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Do you celebrate successes with your team? And do you pick them up when they fail or make mistake? There are always highs and lows – be there with your team.
  6. While there is only one gold medal, everyone tries to give their best performance. You will always have a team of performers at varying levels. And on any given day some people will excel and others will have an “off day.”  As long as your team members are giving their best, you can always reach for the Gold knowing you are doing the best your team is capable of.  And if you provide the other ingredients needed (Items 1-5)  you have a great chance of winning a medal and being on the platform!

Have you done the best you can to give your team a chance to win Gold?  You should try to develop Olympic management skills!

Maintaining Team Morale When Your Projects Get Tough

‘I don’t measure a man’s success by how high he climbs but how high he bounces when he hits the bottom.’-General George Patton

Today I had a tough travel day – The Northeast US is snowed in by Winter Storm Janus (When did we start naming winter storms?) and flights and airline staff were crazy.  I had some time to think about rough times, team work and managing projects under severe conditions.

As a project or team leader, you are responsible for keeping your team on track, regardless of whether you hit a roadblock or not (That does include bad weather). In today’s environment of complex projects and management demands for faster/cheaper/better project implementation, you also must be responsible for keeping your team’s morale up—even when things go bad or we lose.  I manage a PMO team that gets constant challenges as it bids new work for clients and I have to deal with both the demands of winning as well as the morale and health of the team

Here are some things a good manager does to maintain team morale and positive energy—even in the face of a failure.

1. Know your team. Know each member’s personality style. Understand in advance how they will react to something negative.  Will they see it logically, and be able to learn from a mistake or a loss?  Or will they connect to it emotionally, beating themselves up, losing perspective, and seeing only ‘doom and gloom.’  Knowing your team members well enables you to communicate with them in the most effective way whether the news is good or bad, about a personal mistake they made, or a true ‘team loss.’ The manager’s communication style and effectiveness goes a long way in helping maintain team morale.

2. An ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure. Pay attention to your team’s morale and level of positivity every day.  People have good, bad and regular days – work every day on morale and motivation.  Don’t just wait to intervene and focus on morale when something negative happens. How can you do that?

  • Build morale daily, in small ways. Give a well-deserved ‘pat on the back.’ Bring in lunch for the team (and not just because you want them to work through lunch). Or bring in a box of goodies to share with morning coffee.  Appreciation can be a great confidence and morale booster.
  • Don’t overlook the opportunity to do something special as a team, just for fun. As you enjoy your time together, you get to know each other better and strengthen the “team bonds” that will come in handy when the going gets tough.
  • Give good, effective informal feedback to each member of the team as it is needed.  Don’t wait till the annual review to improve performance.  People deal better with constant feedback inorder to make course corrections or just to know that what they are doing is the right thing.

3.  Look for opportunities to celebrate project success. Especially if you have a small project team, it’s easy to move quickly from one big thing, to the next because you’ve under the schedule gun. Don’t do it! Met a milestone? Then bring your team (and boss) together to recognize the accomplishment. As the book Breaking Tape notes, “Give yourself some credit—celebrate incremental milestones toward completion of a goal, as well as the meeting of a major milestone.”

This also means that you should have a little fun recognizing the submission of a proposal, not just a proposal win. Recognize these ‘day in-day out’ accomplishments so that no one takes your team and what you do for granted. Find something that motivates you and your team—a celebratory luncheon, a happy hour, or games at Dave & Busters. For example at my company, Rodger, the CEO of ProSphere, had a captain’s bell mounted in the hall to use as we celebrate successes.  We ring the bell anytime we successfully submit a proposal or when we WIN one (I do admit we ring it a little louder on the wins!!).  The point is everyone loves to ring the bell – and the whole team stops when we do that and we celebrate the accomplishment.

4.  When something does go wrong—you miss a proposal deadline or a project milestone, a deliverable isn’t accepted, or you suffer a proposal loss—keep your perspective. The team will take their cues from you. If you are down and dejected by a recent turn of events, they will be, too. This doesn’t mean that you have to fake positivity in the face of a loss—just that you recognize that your response will be watched.
Bring them together and explore lessons learned. Find out what went wrong so that you can avoid it next time. Then stop looking back. Create some “forward focus” questions to get you out of the valley of despair, such as: “what went right,” “what can we do differently next time,” etc. This helps you and your team keep a clear focus on the future. Then, brainstorm the answers to these questions as a team. In doing so, you not only create a clear plan for success next time, but you have taught your team how to recover from a loss. This goes a long way to maintaining and strengthening morale. If you want to have a successful team you have to invest in maintaining a positive and healthy morale for your team.

My final thought is that you need to measure success by the characteristics of what the team does.  Observe your team, or have someone else do it for you, to see if they are exhibiting the characteristics of a successful team.

Do you have any good ideas on maintaining team morale?  Please post them in a comment!

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