Message to Som Gollakota

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Woodinville, WA
Project Management - Team Building
May 14, 2009
tatistically, 80% of the projects fail for some reason or the other. However, realistically, 100% of the projects fail without a team. A winning team is not made of superstar individuals, nor is it made of individual winners. Even a group of ordinary people, when inspired enough, will become superstars in a winning team. Scores of movies were made that took a bunch of misfits, built a winning team, and became successful in the end. On the other hand, a group of people with individual greatness were witnessed falling apart and not delivering. Success came to them when they were collectively inspired enough to work together for collective success, and failed when acted as individuals. A group of individuals working together is not a team, and does not win anything. A team is a group of individuals with one heart, one purpose, and one victory.  Anyone with a decent head above their shoulders can manage, but to build a winning team takes heart! And leadership in a project manager who knows how to build a team and deliver every single time - not just manage.
So, how do we put together a winning team? How is it different from managing? What does heart have to do with any of this? Here are a few pointers.
  1. Trust - Team members must trust each other and their leader. Be willing to let your team earn your trust, help them earn the trust of each other, and you earn their trust. If any one of these fails, you fail as a leader. Say what you mean, mean what you say, be open and transparent, show (not just tell) them that anything they share with you will not be used against them.
  2. Respect - Respect your team members - their time, their work, their opinion, their views, their personal and career priorities. Don't waste their time. Listen to their views and opinions, respect their experience and expertise. You don't have to always agree with them, but you can show them the respect they deserve even when you disagree. They too are people, just as you are in someone else's team (your manager's). Treat them the way they like to be treated.
  3. Reward - Be generous and open, publicly reward and celebrate even their small successes (individual and team). A reward may be as simple as a sincere acknowledgement of their success and a thank you. Be generous in your praise of your team's ability - be sincere and genuine. DO NOT TRY TO FAKE IT. Even if you won a few best actor awards, it can be easily noticed.
  4. Reprimand - Be private (not personal) while reprimanding, in a one-on-one meeting. Make it specific, action or behavior oriented, and quick. Don't drag it beyond the meeting. Don't beat around the bush. When they show signs of improvement, however small they are, privately acknowledge to them, ignoring the areas that still require improvement. This will encourage them to repeat good behavior, and work to improve quickly (a good pat on the back is very addictive). Remember that several small changes constitute a big overall change.
  5. Sensitive - Everyone has egos, even the ones who claim they don't. Be sensitive to that fact. Publicly calling them to the mat hurts people's egos more than a private mat. While a public mat must never be spread, when spread, nothing short of a public apology would stand a chance of correcting the situation (although there is no guarantee that it can be corrected). Keep in mind that links once broken may be joined, but will always leave a mark behind. We all have a life beyond our work and that life has needs. We have our own personal and career goals, the needs of which span beyond the work we are doing together. Be sensitive to those needs.
  6. Care - Don't just tell them, but show and do actually care about your teams. Watch their backs when they are not around. Protect them when someone is trying to take them for a ride. Privately ask them for their bandwidth when they publicly signed up for things you think are more than what they have time for. If they admit that they will have to eat their personal time, seek help on their behalf. Coach them not to offer, or wait until you had an opportunity to find a suitable alternative. Understand what else is going on in their lives, how life affects (or is it affecting) their work, how their work affects (or is it affecting) their life.
There are several project management methodologies and processes that will tell you in detail how to manage a project effectively through various aspects of delivery. However, every project is executed by people. Without people's involvement, a process alone, no matter how effective, cannot deliver a project. People have lives, needs, feelings and priorities beyond projects and work, like you and me. If we ignore that fact and become process oriented or result oriented, we destroy the most important part of the process and results - the executive branch - the human factor that delivers. I found that the above six are interrelated, and the bottom five of them contribute to the top one - trust. Lacking in one of the areas would make the presence of the rest of them seem shallow and destroy the trust.
As a Project Manager, it is your responsibility to ensure the organization-mandated processes are followed and customer-demanded results are achieved. However, as a Project Manager, it is your accountability to deliver the project by leading the people who deliver it. It is, therefore, in your own interest to ensure that the people you are leading are charged and motivated enough to help you get there. People can muddle through and deliver projects without processes, but processes alone cannot deliver anything without people. Without the human factor, without building a team, no results can be achieved consistently for an extended period of time.
As a Project Manager, it is your responsibility to ensure the project runs smoothly. Negative risks are those nasty li'l creatures that, when ignored or not identified, would come and hit you from nowhere and derail the project (consider yourself incredibly lucky if they do not derail your career as a project manager). A smart project manager has the ability to foresee project risks far ahead of time, and be prepared. At the very least, a good project manager knows how to build and leverage a self-breathing project team that is capable of identifying risks.
Golden Rule for a Successful Project Managers: A Project Manager is only as successful as (s)he helps her/his team to be. No project manager has ever been successful without helping her/his team members to be successful.