How I Start a Project: Team Building Part 2

Team Development

You can read Part 1 here

Here are the next two steps I take to build a team:

Take 5 minutes

Showing up early to a meeting or to work and spending those few minutes getting to know someone pays off.  People say what they need, share what’s important to them and are constantly speaking through their body language. People like to talk about themselves, so get them talking.  Those weekly team meetings, 5 -10 mins prior or after speaking 1-on-1 with someone helps build a connection.  Getting people off-site for happy hour or lunch is worth the effort.  Outside of work, people tend to let their guard down more than on the job. I love to do happy hour 1-on-1 with a team member or  team celebrations, these are things that help to get to know someone.

A few years ago, I had a very cocky ‘wanna-be’ project manager say, “all you do is take people out to drink and they’ll do anything for you, I can’t afford to do that?” If that is really all it took, you can’t afford NOT to do it. Team members that become regular drinking buddies is a by-product of the effort to build a relationship with those team members. And I’ve built strong relationships with team members who didn’t like to drink. You have to find out what people need to stay motivated – sometimes it’s just a listening ear for a personal crisis.

There are no hard and fast things you can do to build relationships with your team. Examine your personal relationships, the things that you and your friends, spouse, family members do to connect are going to vary. Work relationships are no different.  I had a VP who was incredible at remembering birthdays, sending notes of thanks for jobs well done and he had given me flowers on several occasions and our relationship just grew. When my manager saw that, she decided to do the same thing – but it didn’t have the same effect. The reasons why are fodder for another blog post. In short, people know when you are doing something for them only to get something.  It’s a gift with a string attached.

Celebrate All Successes

Own all failures on the project and let the team own all the successes.  I was next up for reporting out to the executive committee at a former company I worked for, so I was sitting on the side while another senior level manager was reporting out on his project.  Things were going sideways and he wasn’t being upfront about it, nor did he have a plan to get it back on track. The executives started asking very direct questions, and got indirect answers. The tension in the room rose and the blaming started.  If you are reporting out on a project to higher powers, you are representing the team and their work. Throwing them under the bus to executives makes you look foolish to executives and you lose credibility once word gets out about your lack of support.  Your behavior at these types of meetings will get out. Once the team knows you have their back, guess what?  They will come to you first when something goes wrong and isn’t that what you want?  You want to know what’s wrong so you can work with the team to solve the problem.

Have Fun

I’ve lead projects that I didn’t agree with or didn’t like, but I enjoyed the journey with the team.  If you and the team are having fun, you will succeed as a leader.

No leader expects that any project goes 100% as planned. Your higher powers aren’t looking for perfection.  Don’t put that expectation on yourself. Mitigate risks, build a strong team and when things go wrong – fix it, then laugh about it.