Category Archives: Project Management

Build A Better Team

user iconWe have all been in this situation. It has been a busy work week and although you really need to get some work done, you find yourself in a meeting. The reason is usually the discovery of a problem and the meeting has been called to figure out a solution. After the first 15 minutes, you start to see just how effective your team really is. If what occurs next is an active and engaging debate between everyone in attendance, then you have nothing to worry about. However, if the room goes silent or if the list of ideas seem familiar and there are few of them, then most likely your team has issues. I am a big believer in the concept that all problems are people problems first. Regardless of how great a process can be, if the people executing the process don’t understand it (or their role in said process), then that process will ultimately fail. The same goes for teams. If you have a team where members do not understand what role they play or are not willing to actively participate within the team concept, then your team is not very effective at all. Not being effective, means not productive, not able to think creatively, not working at all. This is most often described as the Nonfunctional team. Nonfunctional teams are costly, don’t produce quality work, and force your most talented and productive people to look for another job. The impact on the business is immediate and sometimes irreversible. So what can be done to build better team?

Begin The Conversation

Recognizing that the team is nonfunctional is great, but the problems will not just go away by pointing them out. Team members will need to be communicated to individually and as a group. Convincing most team members that there are problems will not be hard, getting them to talk about it is what will be difficult. It is important that the team take responsibility and ownership over improving the team environment. Empowering your team is the single most important thing you can do. Take the time to listen to each individual’s point of view. Some managers take it upon themselves to do a day long meeting and hash out a team building event, but if the problems have been going on for a while, it is better to build up support before going to team events. As a team leader or manager, be prepared for obstacles. Remember that the status quo is not where you want the team to be and that feeling “comfortable”, means that you have not really implemented any change.

Strategy

Once you have some support on your side, present to the team the plan. You should have some goals, as to what defines the team, what values the team will have, and how the team will get there. These should be written out and easily recognizable to anyone who reads them. Reaching your goals will mean changing the culture of the team, to work effectively, to focus, and to let go of old habits, processes, policies, politics, etc that get in the way of these goals.

Team Building

For the first day long team event, you will need to tackle the first thing that most teams are not good at, namely communication. Effective teams communicate openly and honestly. In order to do that, as a leader, you have to put yourself out there first and talk about what difficulties you have as a manager or team leader. Communication is personal and so our instinct is to avoid anything that makes us feel vulnerable to each other, however, you have to share. Communication is a shared experience and until you share something, you can’t really communicate. Once you take that first step, the team will follow one by one. It will be difficult at first, but the more you share the better you will be able to communicate. Again, the communication has to be personal. There are simple exercises you can do, or you can simply have an open discussion similar to a talk show. For example, the statement “I feel uncomfortable when…” is a good start. The idea is to have the team get to know each other as people first.

Once you have a shared experience, next comes work. The idea is to communicate better and with better communication comes that magic word that everyone talks about all the time: trust. In effective teams, all team members trust each other. It sounds simple but a good working relationship takes a lot of work. In order to get there, as the leader in the room, you have to help the team to craft some ground rules on communicating with each other. Communication needs to be active and engaging, but you also need to agree as a team that once the team decides on something, that it is decided. You want to allow for individual discussions and points of view, but you also want to the team to be able to achieve consensus.

At the conclusion of your first day long event, you should have come out with ground rules for communicating and agreement to work with each other for the sake of the team goals. You won’t have the perfect team yet, but you will have something which you can build on in the coming months.

Poor Technology Decisions

One of the most frustrating situations that I run into as a technology evangelist is observing people make poor technology decisions. As a tech guy, I want to advocate for the best technology solution possible, but you always have to consider who will ultimately use the technology, how much will it cost to implement, and over time how will it perform. In truth there is no perfect technology solution, all solutions have their negatives and positives; the best that you can do is choose something which satisfies all the requirements and that people are comfortable with. However, before you run out and spend your budget, consider the following to see if your technology choices are the right ones for you.

Technology Solutions For People Problems

Ironically, technology cannot fix everything, but that does not stop people from trying to use it in situations where it does not fit. The prime example of this is when you have a group of people that need to communicate but choose not to. You usually find that for personal reasons people do not get along and this causes the process to breakdown. All problems break down into two categories: you either have a broken process or you have a people problem. Most decision makers tend to ignore the people problem and focus on the broken process and this is a big mistake. In this scenario, any technology decision will fail because the people problem was never resolved. If people do not get along and stand in the way of a great process, the process will still break down. The best thing to do is to focus on the people problem first and allow the people that will work the process to be part of the solution. Involve everyone and communicate, communicate, eventually the solution will become obvious to everyone.

The Perfect Technology

When choosing a solution from a vendor, you will always get a sales pitch about how wonderful this solution will be for you and how it is so customizable that you cannot afford not to choose it. No technology just works. Everything is designed to work a certain way, and it takes time to learn new technology no matter how awesome it is. Do not buy the sales pitch, instead be prepared to spend significant amount of time when adopting new technology and balance it against how productive or how profitable it will make your process and business.

Single Vision

All of our advances in society have come about because someone had the great vision and determination to create something, even if it was by accident. It is those achievements that propel us forward. When it comes to technology we stand on the shoulders of these great visionaries and we sometimes lose perspective because of our admiration for such and such person. As much as I love all things made by Apple, I need to retain some perspective. Just because I love Mac OS X, does not mean everyone has to love it the same way. The right technology solutions are not always the ones that I want. Ask yourself, does it make sense to buy an entire rack server or will something smaller work just as well? As technology advocates we love our toys, but you want to be careful that not all your technology choices are your technology choices.

Avoiding The Status Quo

The tech world runs in cycles. At one time, the network server was cool, then all of a sudden it is not as trendy, and now it is back. As a decision maker, you have to study the trends and know when it is time to jump off and adopt something outside the status quo. Sometimes the new trend is not going to end well, I’m thinking mostly about those cheap netbooks that everyone was so enamored with a few years ago. On the other side, the tablet is something that just works and you will need to include them in your strategic plans. You want to be an early adaptor who picks sound and effective technologies and yes that is a lot harder than it sounds.