In today’s world, it’s iterate or die. Companies can no longer afford to sit and make changes every few years and expect to stay relevant. This pressure yields to an ever-increasing number of new projects. Data from a variety of sources show that projects continue to fail at an alarming rate.
To stave off failure, organizations are constantly switching project tools and processes. But new tools and processes simply address symptoms and not the underlying causes. To overcome the challenges, project managers need to go deeper.
The first tenet of the Agile Manifesto is “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools” for a reason. A tool will never drive the right process, and a process will never take care of the people. All they can do is focus the work. The drive and the success are up to the people and the communication you share.
If you find teams or projects running into problems, there is most likely a leadership and conversation issue. When low trust environments impede these conversations, it doesn’t matter which process you adopt. High functioning, well communicating teams, led with emotional intelligence, quickly use any process to succeed.
To keep your projects on track and succeeding, you need to facilitate critical conversations to break the cycle and allow your team to reach success — no matter the process you use. Here are some ways you can get your teams communicating:
Get to the bottom of the issues.
Before you can truly move forward on any project, the team must address the proverbial elephant in the room. These elephants are like an ever-present pebble in your shoe that will keep rubbing until it erupts into a blister and then a wound. They are any truths you or your team don’t want to talk about that are getting in the way of getting the work done successfully.
Is there someone who isn’t pulling their weight? Is there a manager who isn’t giving you the feedback you need? Is it time to take a step back and rethink the approach to the project?
Make sure the team feels confident they can be completely honest. Fear crushes creativity, and that can seriously hold them back from doing their best work. If people feel safe, they will open up. Talking openly about these issues will help get to the bottom of what may be holding the team back from completing their project successfully.
To have these critical conversations, set up a regular time, place and audience to talk and collaborate on what is working and what isn’t.
Related Article: Five New Rules of Face-to-Face Communication
Stay neutral when issues are brought up.
When leading and facilitating these conversations, it’s imperative that, as the person in the front of the room, you remain as neutral as possible. In my work, I have treated these encounters like someone is telling me a secret and they need to share it with me and the group. That keeps me in a curious state of mind rather than leading me to take sides either way.
It’s also important to depersonalize the issue not only for yourself but also for the group. Ask questions like, “Do we want to deal with this issue?” “Do we want to avoid it?” or “Are we the right people to solve this?” By removing the intense emotions (as much as is possible), it will give you and the group an opportunity to view the issue from other angles.
Part of encouraging this dialog is to reward the group for bringing up issues. Say things like, “That is an important issue you just brought up. What do we do with that?” Positively reacting when people open up will encourage others to do the same. The more open your team is, the easier it will be to succeed at any project they take on.
Know your baggage.
Although being neutral is the goal, it can be extremely difficult to be completely unbiased. Everyone has their biases and, after all, we’re all human. Before going into a meeting, take a moment to assess whether or not you are in a place to hear and hold the container for the kind of feedback your team may need to share.
You need to know what you’re bringing to the table before you can begin to understand what other people are bringing themselves. Are you in a place to be receptive to what they have to say? Are you distracted or upset? Are you feeling rushed?
If you don’t feel ready to calmly allow the team to speak the truth, find a way to prepare yourself to be open and receptive. Push back the meeting if you need to. It’s just as important to be ready to hear the truth as it is to actually hearing and helping them navigate it.
It will no longer work to sit back and hope that process and tools take care of the success of our efforts. As project managers, we have been asked to be different leaders who not only make sure the project is supervised but who are also change managers and servant leaders. The secret in today’s project world is that if you help and allow people be their best and then support them as they go beyond their best, they will surprise you.
For example, we recently created a new mobile application for contact centers at my company. When the new team formed for the project, only two people on the team knew each other. During these times, when there is tremendous pressure, communication and trust can get in the way, causing project quality and timelines to suffer. However, managers worked effectively as servant leaders. They supported intense and hard discussions by coaching us and helping us navigate and resolve our different viewpoints when we were unable to do it on our own. This allowed the team to develop quickly and successfully launch a stunning new product.
By focusing on people and communication, you can transform the way your teams function. You will be able to work more efficiently, which will allow you to make the necessary updates and upgrades your business needs to keep up and remain relevant in an ever-changing market.