Despite a manager’s best work, we all know that projects don’t always go as planned and keeping your team motivated under pressure can seem like an impossible task. Let’s say you’ve got a well-defined project and the team is on-board. You’ve prepared them for success by communicating the plan, discussing the deliverables, and reiterating the quality expectations. Plus, you’ve gotten feedback from the team on all this, and made appropriate adjustments to accommodate their reactions. Great job! Time for a beer.
Maybe not yet.
What happens when things get stressful? When the work takes longer than planned? Or when there’s an unexpected hiccup in the implementation plan? We’ve all seen it: things are cruising along until that big bump.
Fixing a bug causes two regressions. Adding a new capability to support the latest mobile device turns out to be much more complex and twisted than it looked on paper. Typically, you can’t just shrug and hope nobody notices. You’ve got to work these wrinkles into the original plan and deliver on time and as close to budget as possible.
So, what’s the best way to work with your team to handle this? The good news is you already laid the groundwork when you launched the project by doing all the right things. Since you were diligent about sharing all those project details with the team, they now have a pretty solid understanding of what is expected (by the customer, and by you—per your company’s typical level of delivery). You took their input as part of that process and worked to adjust the project in response. Now it’s time to leverage that preparation and double down.
The keys to motivating the team under pressure are communication and respect. Generally speaking, there’s no way to get a project completed alone, or in a vacuum. You need the team to complete their individual tasks and you need them to work together. And in all cases, you need them to work toward the common goals of the project. When the volume gets turned up, increase the goodness you’ve already built. Communicate more, listen more, respect the team.
Here are some tips and practices I’ve used with success:
Start by explaining the situation: why is the team being asked for more? Most likely, it’s because the original commitment (which the team understood well at the onset) is now at risk. The reasons why this is the case may be simple, or they may be elusive. Either way, there’s a risk now that was not previously apparent. Reassure the team. Remind them of the early planning that was done and the topics discussed. Remind them of the input they provided and the accommodations that were made.
Then listen. If there’s an explanation for the issues that is outside the team’s control, make sure it’s acknowledged and relayed back to the management involved in the project. This may not change the timeline or lessen need to meet the original commitment, but at least it will be universally understood.
Next, schedule more frequent communications. One great practice is to extend the typical Agile stand-up model—with a slight twist. Hold less formal, but regular, late-day stand-ups. The purpose of these meetings is to get another update from the team on any urgent matters. These meetings also give you an opportunity to reiterate the timeline and goals (targeted to the daily matters) and provides some time for the team to voice their status and concern as a group. Lastly, the meetings are a great way to get the team to pull together and rally so they all know they’re not in it alone. They will commit to each other as a team and create a plan to get the work done.
This second meeting also affords the team another opportunity to communicate with each other. The short morning stand-up should be brief and pretty rigid. Follow-up meetings throughout the day can—and should—happen. But if the team is not co-located, it’s easy to push them off. Another team meeting forces the topic of talking about issues. It’s also another chance to listen and respect all voices. If hesitation or concern is expressed, dig in and find out why. Don’t let those moments pass without recognizing them and reaching some resolution or plan of action.
We all know the best laid plans can still hit bumps. So, it’s critical to keep the lines of communication not just open—but actively flowing. Encourage discussion, listen to the team and respect everyone’s input. A motivated team will perform far better and work much harder to achieve the final project goal than one that is uninspired by leadership. If your organization would like to learn more about the most effective methods for motivating your teams, please reach out to us. We’d love to help you out.