We have all been there before: you have got a great project and a great team but for whatever reason, things simply refuse to come together. Morale is low, production has slowed, and everyone is looking to you, their project manager, their fearless leader to find them a way through this.
Maybe the problem is as simple as adding in some incentives (see below for tips on incentivizing your project). Or, maybe your team needs a complete overhaul in terms of communication and assignments. Whatever the problem is, it is never too late to fix. No problem is too big with the right tools at your disposal. Read on for some helpful hints and tips on how to create a happy and productive environment for you and your team.
1. Create a Friendly Environment
Yes, this is work and yes, you want to remain professional but the truth is that people generally do their best, most productive work in a supportive environment. Work should not be a place of undue stress and pressure. Creating a friendly atmosphere will help to lessen any unavoidable tensions.
First things first, get to know your team members and then facilitate opportunities for them to get to know each other. You do not have to resort to team-building exercises and cheesy get-to-know-each-other games reminiscent of college frosh week (though you should feel free to if your employees are the type to respond to a little cheesy fun). Simply talking to your employees and asking about their lives should get the job done.
2. Be Open and Authentic
The key is in the give and take. You want to remain professional but you also want to appear open. Nobody wants to tell their boss about their life if the dynamic is not shared and reciprocated. Be your genuine self and people will respond in kind. Building this kind of open report with your employees will reward you threefold: you will be creating a friendly work environment, employees will see you as a part of them team and together you will work towards accomplishing great things, and the relationships you build will allow them to feel comfortable coming to you with questions and concerns.
3. Facilitate Connections
Think of yourself as the host of communications. In the same way that you would introduce guests who did not know each other at a party, you want to offer the same guiding hand to your employees to make sure that they are not only getting to know you but also each other. After all, the core strength of a team is its cohesion. The success of the numerous moving parts all functioning together is built upon the ability to communicate (and to feel comfortable doing so) within that team.
Always be truthful and honest with the members of your team. Being transparent and trustworthy is the cornerstone of being a capable leader because it facilitates respect and breeds good communication. When there is a problem, address it. When there is a success, congratulate them on it. Above all, listen to your team as captain, they are looking to you to steer the ship. If someone yells iceberg ahead, you need to hear it.
5. Offer Incentives (that your employees care about)
Offering incentives is a great way to both motivate your team and keep them engaged throughout the entire project. Incentives allow you to offer recognition in a way that feels more tangible than the age-old pat on the back (though be aware that verbal incentives can be just as valuable if that is what your employees value the most).
Perhaps most important of all is choosing the incentives. Talk to your team members. Find out what they value and what they desire. Choosing food-related prizes for a team that already works in an office with a company-stocked breakroom might not be ideal. Find out what your employees are interested in and pick your incentives accordingly.
Do not forget to keep the incentives at the forefront of everyone's mind through wall signs, email updates, weekly check-ins, prize displays in the breakroom or office, picture galleries of prizes for satellite employees, or any other way that works with the incentives and your work space.
6. Call the Right Plays for the Right Players
As a successful project manager, you will need to be able to assess the strengths and weaknesses of your team so that you can do your job and guide them accordingly. It may be as simple as figuring out who excels at communication and making sure that they are funneled towards areas which utilize that skill. However, not every project will be as simple as assigning your communications specialist to run the social media, so you will need to be prepared to talk to your employees and find out where they excel and where they may have some weaknesses so that you can guide them appropriately.
Additionally, talk to your team members to find out what skills they enjoy highlighting the most and where their interests lie. You want to zero in on the balanced combination between each employee's strengths and their interests.
7. Keep Your Team in the Loop
While no one enjoys being a part of an endless reply-all email chain, there is real value in keeping your team updated. This can be done with emails, via message boards, or even group documents. Progress is important and your team will need to know how they are doing in order to best tackle how far they still need to go. On the flipside, when problems arise, crowdsourcing solutions can be helpful. Again, message boards and group documents work great for brainstorming sessions. However, as the team leader, you want to make sure you keep a close eye on comments so that your team remains focused on problems with a forward looking push (solution oriented) rather than backward leaning attribution (blame game). If you find your team getting off-track, one-on-one communication is the best and fastest method to help them refocus on what matters: solutions.
8. Milestones or Finish Lines
Another important discussion to have with your team involves finding out whether they work better towards smaller milestone goals/incentives or one large finish line. Knowing the answer to this will help you in offering and rewarding valuable incentives that actually work to keep your team motivated as well as your ability to offer recognition and support at the right intervals to work best with the preferences of your team.