Oct 06, 2015

Why people leave: 7 most common PM & Employee Motivation don’ts (part II)

A short intro into teams and happy employees, from an Agile-Certified Technical PM’s point of view

Author: Mihai Mlesnita

In my last article, we’ve covered the importance of getting to know your team, and of learning to share information freely. As promised, I’ll be continuing the series on happy teams and efficient team-leading.

3. You’re letting them get away with unfinished tasks – A promise is a promise

If you’re working with an Agile system, by now you probably don’t force tasks on people anymore. That’s great: everyone gets to pick what they’re best at and feel most comfortable doing, and people who like what they do, are better at it. There’s the risk of having ‘unpopular’ tasks stick with you, but eventually someone’s bound to pick them up – even if they have to play a game of rock-paper-scissors to determine who handles the unwanted to dos each time.

However, the real problems arise when you’re not being clear enough about what committing to a task actually means. Having the advantage of not being forced to do any particular thing implies that the team must understand how crucial it is that they do not let go of whatever task they pick-up until they’ve finished it. A team member is allowed to ask for help, can take twice or even three times as much, but a promise is a promise. But nothing. When you pick up a task, you make a promise to your team. In agile, there is no individual success. Everything is team-owned. Make this clear from the start, and it will be team members themselves who enforce this rule on their peers when you’re not around to do so.

A hint: in the military, when someone drops the ball with something, the entire team has to pay for it, because on the battlefield, that’s reality. However, if a team member just drops a task, you don’t have to “be the bad guy”; just make sure that the drop is public. Call for a team meeting, explain that (s)he couldn’t finish the task at hand, talk about the implications of that delay (by emphasizing the team’s loss), and invite them to brainstorm on how to fix the issue. The sense of ownership will be shifted from the individual to the team, and you’ll also foster collaboration. Next time, you won’t have to be there – the effect will be the same.

4. You’re rushing things – You can’t help the time it takes to evolve as a team

Tuckman’s stages of group development apply to every new team, every time. Even senior employees will need time to adapt to new surroundings before they can begin performing at peak efficiency. Don’t try to rush these stages. You’ll only make tensions last longer, while exerting pressure on your team.

When you put people with random personalities in a room together and have them coexist for 8 hours/day, 5 days/week, you need to give them a little time to come to terms with one another and find ways to work around their differences. While their skills were selected to be in harmony, their personalities are pretty much as compatible as they randomly happen to be. Support them as they climb towards their most cooperative stage.

Support is neither micromanagement, nor lack of interest. Allow them some space. Make room for some fun-time, and don’t involve yourself in all the coffee break chit-chat. At the same time, make sure they don’t go off-track. The team’s consensus might be that Fridays should be a part of the weekend, and they shouldn’t do any work, but that doesn’t mean you have to go with it (even though you secretly might want to).

5. You’re micromanaging – Make them responsible, and they will act responsibly

A leader’s job is to eliminate blockers, without overburdening the team with a step-by-step predefined approach, suffocating their initiative. Micromanaging is not simply inefficient. It frustrates your team, and it creates an invisible wall against which innovation hits before it’s ever even voiced out loud. Leave room for initiative, let your team decide how to best approach a task, and they will reward this trust by being twice as vigilant. If you give them responsibilities and show that you trust them to do a good job, they’ll want to prove your confidence wasn’t misplaced.

Remember: the ideal manager is capable of making clear requirements, then allowing time for them to be fulfilled – while the ideal employee is capable of understanding, or asking for further details when necessary, then getting the job done.

I still have 2 important items to cover on this topic, so stay in touch with us, and find out about the rest of them in the final issue of my article.

Until next time, let’s talk about what we’ve brought to the table so far – I’d love to hear some of your stories, both from a team-lead and a team member perspective.

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