Observe. One of the most difficult tasks for any leader is to step back and observe your team members and analyze their motives or actions. The most valuable asset a leader of any kind can have is the ability to determine the strengths and weaknesses of key people and leverage their talents and interests so they deliver results for the program and themselves. It’s a struggle for any manager to control himself from assisting. But good people don’t like to, or rather don’t need to, be micro-managed. In addition, unless the individual(s) is heading for total disaster, most people learn effectively only by making mistakes and recovering from them.
Ask for time. Since you don’t directly control the project managers, your project can have a low priority compared to other projects they may be working on. Sometimes it’s important to get time freed for project members. This means going to their supervisors and explaining what the team is doing, why they are doing it and how it fits into the overall picture for the company. This helps managers understand the bigger picture.
Address problem team members head-on. Your virtual project or program is only an interim assignment for the team members. It’s not mainstream to their job. In some instances people won’t attend meetings, won’t complete assignments and aren’t really committed to the team’s success. Sometimes there are personality conflicts or personal reasons. In other instances even the best people have reached their overload level and the time schedule and priority windows are closed. Take time to sit down with the individual (alone, not during the meeting) and see how things can be resolved so the project can be completed and everyone’s needs can be met. At times, it may mean re-aligning the workload so someone else can pick up the ball and keep the program moving forward. All of the people in the project team were selected for specific reasons—experience, talent and drive—but not everyone has an equal overall workload. By negotiating with all team members, workable solutions can be developed.
Manage your managers. Today, everyone in business understands that downsizing and mergers have slimmed the ranks of middle management and employees have become more empowered to manage themselves and their time out of necessity. That doesn’t mean that all of these people are able to deal well with their loss of power or this new cross-organization freedom. Employees who take the initiative often may threaten old-line managers. Many feel they worked hard to get where they are today and that they’ve earned the right to be in charge. Some rustbelt managers feel the flattened and empowered organization is the same as letting the inmates run the jail. If the insecurity isn’t deeply rooted you can help them by keeping them appraised on the project and its objectives, direction and progress. When the project is completed, make it a point to thank the managers for helping project members by making them available and freeing them up so they could accomplish the objectives. It’s a minor point, but it can return some of their managerial dignity.
Walk the walk, talk the talk. It isn’t enough to give lip service to change. As the project leader you have to be one of the first to step forward and demonstrate that you are committed to producing results and achieving the team’s objectives. You also have a responsibility to help the organization plan out, monitor and revise the team’s program as necessary. Ultimately, success is based on follow-through, follow-through and follow-through.
About the Author
G.A. "Andy" Marken is president of Marken Communications, Inc. in Santa Clara, Calif. He may be reached at [email protected].
If you have questions or a topic you would like to see addressed, please e-mail [email protected]; fax 847-390-0408.