Oct 20, 2015

Why people leave: 7 of the most common Project Management and Employee Motivation don’ts (part III)

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

Author: Mihai Mlesnita

First of all, a recap of what we’ve covered so far on this topic: In my first issue, we’ve talked about how getting to know your team in more detail can significantly improve your motivational skills, and we’ve looked at what happens when you try to lead by holding information hostage. In my second part of this article, we’ve covered some important points on walking the fine line between letting people choose their own tasks, while enforcing the importance of committing to them. We’ve discussed why rushing Tuckman’s stages of group development will negatively impact team performance, and we looked at the negative impact micromanagement has on innovation and team engagement. In this third and final issue on team leading and motivation, we’re going to go over two more critical pain-points.

6. You’re ‘shaming’ your team – Permission to fail enables innovation

For every breathtakingly intelligent idea someone voices, another ten (on a good day) thoroughly naive ideas have been passed around and dismissed. Innovation involves a touch of creativity, and implies that you question the way things are ‘traditionally’ done in order to come-up with a better way of doing them. In a team, innovation is often a cumulative process: someone puts a suggestion on the table, another team member picks it up and improves upon it, the next ads his/her own observations, and so on. (Da Vinci’s flying machines might seem naive when looked at today, but they represent a mandatory step on the path that led to the Antonov An-225 being able to lift its own weight off the ground.)

What does all this add-up to? A lot, a very big lot of naive ideas leading up to a really good one. Bluntly put, if your team doesn’t feel comfortable saying stupid stuff, they’ll have a hard time building up to the really brilliant, innovative ideas. Innovation isn’t born from a place of comfort, from those tasks we’ve done right a million times before and feel 100% sure of ourselves doing, but from a new, unknown territory. Adding a different touch, straying from the ‘traditional way of doing things’ means having no way of telling head-on if your idea’s going to work, and that makes us all feel a bit insecure. We must feel comfortable being insecure in the presence of our boss and teammates, if we are to venture into the unknown.

7. You’re not helping them learn to replace you – Here’s why you should never say No.

The better you get at teaching people what you know, the better team performance is going to be – and team success is a measure of your own. That means helping someone fill your current position insures you advance to ‘the next level’. Talented team leaders have no reason to worry about being replaced, because it just opens a new chapter in their career.

How to best teach people to do your job? Help them learn logically, through experience. Simply saying ‘No, this won’t work’ teaches people nothing but fear of ridicule. The leader I’ve learned most from never even said no, at all. I’d go present him with what felt like a great idea, and he’d always immediately say ‘Yes, all right, sure. But have you thought about how you’re going to …?’. If I had an answer to that, he’d move on to the next question, until I didn’t have an answer – until the flaws in my plan had all been pointed out. I’d have new information to play with at the end of each conversation, which meant my next idea was better.

Such an approach encourages innovation and helps your team learn naturally. That translates to higher team performance, which in turn translates to your own value being recognized.

Have you met an inspiring leader you’d like to tell us about? Share your stories with me, and stay in touch with us for more of my articles.


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    Harold Burton

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