How do you celebrate birthdays? (celebrating team milestones)

OK- so I’ll admit that it’s my birthday. And acknowledging it made me think about milestones in general, and more specifically, for a project team. Birthdays are a great milestone that can—and should-be celebrated. Do you celebrate milestones for your team members? I wish I could say we do a great job; we at least get together once a month and have a cake for all the birthday folks. I already wrote about celebrating successes on your project, but I want to make sure we (as great managers of people) are celebrating our staff’s milestones too. The art of being a manager, no – being a great manager–is to balance and integrate work and life for yourself and your team. (Personal admission: I am probably the worst person to talk about balance!)

So a couple of thoughts here: what do you set as milestone celebrations and how do make sure that the “party actually happens?” There are many excellent books, posts and writings on how to celebrate success and milestones. I especially liked Paul McGuire’s post on “Stop and Celebrate Milestones.” His simple 5 step process for using milestones is easy to implement.

First, do you know what the milestones are for your project or team? Oh, I have talked about the need for a predictive project schedule which always has milestones in it, but I am talking more specifically about which ones you use as “celebration points” from both the schedule and people. How about some examples:

  • Birthday’s – everyone has one! Let’s celebrate the achievement and acknowledge their special day.
  • Length of time on the project or team – surely in the current business climate we should celebrate people who stay with our organization and continue to provide increased value.
  • Major project milestone – I really like doing this with the client or stakeholder. I know I always seem to fill my week with handling problems, so a short time-out to celebrate a success is always welcome.
  • Team member life event – people do have lives outside of work! Be aware of what is going on. An engagement, marriage, new baby, diploma or even new house are great opportunities for the team to celebrate and get to know each other better as individuals.
  • Company/Organization event – do you celebrate your organization’s birthday? I bet your HR folks would say it is a great way to have people realize the benefits of being a part of a going concern. Or how about celebrating promotions? I hope you don’t call someone in and say “Oh by the way, you are being promoted to Vice President” and then walk away. Most promotions come after demonstrated success and lots of hard work. This makes it a great milestone to celebrate, especially if you helped the individual in setting goals to achieve the position, or have mentored or coached them.


Second, when should you celebrate milestones and successes? As G. Legh’s wrote in Accidence of Armoury, “There is no time like the present.” Another way to think about this is celebrate often, and as close to the milestone as possible.

Third, how do you celebrate milestones and successes? The answer is simple – it depends. There have been some great posts and articles written on this subject, so I’ll refer you to some of the better ones:

Fourth, how do you ensure that the celebrations you hold will provide motivation and feedback? This is a little harder to do on a consistent basis. Just holding a party without any special meaning is fine for after work time – but if you are going to celebrate make it count. One way to ensure you are getting the most out of milestone celebrations is to first identify the right milestones! Both project and personal milestones come and go while we are too busy to identify and recognize them. If you are a project manager, you already know that planning is a key to accomplishing a goal. So involve your team in identifying Key Milestones that you all want to achieve and celebrate. I really like the quote from Zig Zigler, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time!” I don’t expect my team to make every goal we set, but when we do make them, they are certainly worth celebrating!!

Finally, be sure that the importance of the celebration and milestone are highlighted. Have you ever been told to come to an all hands meeting for a celebration and then were not sure what was being celebrated? Not the right way to do it! Make sure that the achievement is known and talk about the success.

I think it is time to go celebrate another year of sharing with you! Thank you for reading!

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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