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Is your project team made up of puppets or pioneers?

Man looking at landscapeI recently had the pleasure of working with two IT Project Teams who are paradoxically both very similar and very different.

The first, I’ll call them ‘Team X’ was struggling to deliver projects within agreed parameters and the second, ‘Team Y’ was hitting targets but was asking ‘what else can we do to add extra business value’.

Both ‘Team X’ and ‘Team Y’ are made up of perfectly capable Project Managers with a proven track record of success, between them they have roughly similar on-the-job experience and qualifications. On paper, they should be getting the same results.

HOWEVER, ‘Team X’ is failing and ‘Team Y’ is scoring wins but is hungry to be even better and the key distinction between the two is how project tasks are delegated and how they are led.

Team X are Puppets.

Team Y are Pioneers.

I’m not being disrespectful to Team X. We have had a laugh about this, but a culture has developed within the organisation where the leaders of projects have become puppet masters. When they delegate they do so very specifically – actually defining how tasks should be performed – you can almost see the strings that are working team members! Now, it’s important that project teams can draw upon Project Managers’ often superior experience, it’s good to know where the pitfalls are but it has created a rather stilted environment that does not inspire creativity.

In ‘Team Y’ delegation is focussed on results, not methods. In Team Y you get to choose your method but you are given the responsibility of delivering agreed results. This means that you get the glory of a win but the buck stops with you when things go wrong.

When you meet Team Y, you’re struck by a spirit of potency and potential, gumption and get-up-and-go are in abundance, there is an actual tangible energy about them and everything that they do. There is a dynamic about Team Y that is infectious – a belief that anything is possible and that ‘we’ can always do better. A sign on the wall sums up their spirit – it says “Stand In Your Own Two Shoes”.

Encouraging members of your Project Management team to stand in their ‘own two shoes’ may be one of the most effective things that you ever do. Tasks in ‘Team X’ are so specifically delegated and supervision is so intense that you wonder why the Project leads don’t just do the jobs themselves.

When you pass the choice of ‘how to get there’ over to the person actually at the wheel, I believe, you increase your potential exponentially. Trust is a very powerful motivator – it encourages everyone involved to bring their ‘A game’.

‘Team X’ are going to give it a try. It’s a real step out of their comfort zone – both for the managers who relaxing their grip on day to day task management and for the team members who are used to the security of their strings.

Working with ‘Team Y’ and other go-getting project crews over the years, I have identified these five rules that may help you and ‘Team X’ become effective Project Pioneers!

1 – Agree Results.

The outcome has to be crystal clear in everyone’s mind! Ask your team to reframe it in their own words and sell it back to you. Have them visualise it, describe it, how it will feel, what will be better and how things will be different post project and when you all have it firmly agreed – stake out some parameters.

2 – Boundaries.

Without getting caught up in puppet master management set some boundaries. As few as possible but it is important, for example, that your team works within the spirit of the culture of your business. Also, if you’ve been here before, you can let your team know where the alligator pits and shark infested waters are without stifling their creativity and thirst for exploration.

3 – Outline Available Resources.

‘Team Y’ benefits from the growing market for Project Management services but giving your team unlimited access to on-demand resources may not be something that you are comfortable with at first. You must agree what resources can be called upon – financial, technical, in-house, external. Again, ‘Team Y’ is very good at picking the minds of end users and stakeholders from across the organisation but not all companies are as open to such collaboration. You have to make sure that your team’s eagerness to please won’t tread on anyone’s toes.

4 – Accountability.

Agree how individuals will be held accountable. ‘Team Y’ even delegates design of accountability mechanisms to individual team members – they actually decide how often they and the project leader should touch base for a status update. Such trust breeds a lighter touch approach that encourages creativity.

5 – Consequences.

With responsibility comes consequence. Both good and bad! If you get this right you’ll find mostly good consequences are come the way of your team – financial bonuses, better Project assignments, more influence within the wider organisation. Naturally, though, bad consequences have to be spelt out in advance – they act as a deterrent for cavalier risk taking and encourage proper thought processes to be applied at all times.

These ‘rules’ are like burners on a gas oven. With some individuals you may need to dial up the boundaries rule, meanwhile, with others, where trust is high you can set fewer boundaries and just focus on the results.

You should find, when you apply these five basic rules, that your people effectively become their own boss. Over time, their confidence and your trust grow and you should find that your touch can become even lighter – they are effectively governed by their own desire to succeed and ultimately their own conscience – allowing you to focus more on leadership and less on management.

This has been the case with ‘Team Y’. ‘Team X’ is on this journey and will start to enjoy the rewards.

Working with pioneers is more fun, you may find that you learn as much from your team as they do from you and what’s more you will enjoy considerably better outcomes and results – no strings attached.

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