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Motivating and Leading Project Teams

As a project manager, you will need to manage people to get the work done. And most of the time, the resources won’t report directly to you. So you need to learn to manage without authority. Thus understanding how to motivate people is critical. Also, you will need to leverage the appropriate leadership style depending on the situation.

Typically relying on saying “because I said so” simply doesn’t work. If you have kids you may have already discovered this. No expert study is required. Fear and intimidation doesn’t really work either, particularly in the long run. You may already have or eventually will encounter this type of manager. They are typically easy to spot. But if you don’t catch on to the numerous unsubtle clues, just look for the department with the high turnover.

I’ll share a true story here to help illustrate the point.

Years ago, at an All Hands meeting, a new HR executive delivered a speech where he revealed in a ranting fashion the new dictates he would mandate. The first question raised was met with the stern response, “if you don’t like it leave. If any of you don’t like, then leave. There’s the door.” It certainly was a very powerful and motivational speech. And it definitely produced results. Although I’m not sure it produced the results he or the company intended.

Within a month, 80% of the IT department walked. They took his advice and found the door. And he got to put on his resume and substantiate any claim of being a “results-oriented” manager delivering an 80% turnover rate in less than 1 month. I learned a lot not only from observing the results, but also from observing the behavioral response of the associates. Everyone pulled together to help and support each other to find meaningful employment elsewhere. Team work in action. Amazing what can be accomplished when a team pulls together. But wouldn’t you rather use this for a productive means and to your advantage to ensure the desired result? Be careful. Power of motivation can work in more than one way.

An alternative approach is empowerment. I’ll share another story from my career.

I was working on a project with a senior colleague who I knew and had an established rapport. So what could go wrong I thought? However, I started to have doubts as I noticed she was acting out of character and insecure, waiting for my every direction to do her job. As I continued to observe her behavior, I wondered why she was feeling intimidated and not empowered to deliver at her full potential. I needed her expertise for any chance of success. So I told her candidly that she had expertise that was critical for the project success. I continued to say that I can’t tell her how to do her job, so I’d be relying on her expertise and guidance. This approach produced results in 30 seconds. She responded immediately, showing confidence and took charge of her deliverables as an empowered team player. Needless to say, the project was a success because we delivered as an empowered and motivated team.

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Patti Gilchrist is a Sr. Technical Manager with extensive experience in the field of IT Project Management. Patti has more than 20 years of IT experience and a reputation for effectively implementing strategic enterprise initiatives, with a proven track record of delivering simultaneous large-scale, mission-critical projects on time and budget. Her experience includes ERP implementations, data conversions, business software application development aligned with critical business requirements, IT infrastructure delivery, and process implementation in existing and startup organizations. Patti currently manages a team of project managers and is dedicated to the continued development of her team and knowledge sharing within the project management community.

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