Nurturing High Performance Teams

Nurturing High Performance Teams

Leadership Skills for People Management

Ms. Alakananda Rao (PMP)

The true mark of a leader is when she is able to motivate the team in the face of a crises. Let me recount an incident to illustrate this trait.

It was the late seventies, computers were gigantic machines housed in large air conditioned spaces with physical access only to the “operators”. COBOL was the most popular language with a demanding accuracy for programming syntax. A single missed full stop, or a forgotten sort could send the program into an eternal loop. The ‘operators’ compiled and ran the codes that was punched on 80 column computer cards.

It was on one of my first programming efforts to print the much awaited bonus slips for a large bank. Delays, while I chased out one little bug after another had almost pushed the staff on the edge of a strike – and the General Manager (GM) had given an ultimatum to my boss “Deliver tomorrow or DIE !!” I did finally manage to do it and in the process saved my Manager’s life. At least I thought so. But not for long though. The GM called to inform that the printing was sorted on ’employee number’ rather than ‘branches’. He was sending the stack back. The 60,000 slips arrived promptly; with the printing stationary in short supply, we had no other option but to sort manually per branch. The four of us looked at each other with one question. How to?

The ‘leader’ in my Manager surfaced. In no time the complete team of 30 got into the job and accomplished the job by next day morning.

What does it take to motivate a team?

Project Managers are People Managers

This is the cardinal principle. Projects today are carried out by multi-disciplinary teams and most of the team members have a direct reporting line only to their functional managers. Project Managers (PMs) therefore have the responsibility of motivating their teams to ensure best performance. Often PMs have no power to reward or punish, let alone hire or fire. So what is the best approach to ensure that the team is motivated and work in a cohesive fashion? Effective People Leadership is the answer.


Traits of a good People Manager

So what can a Project Manager do to become an effective leader? Leadership is a skill, not a talent; it needs to be taught, learnt and developed through practice. A lot of the traits that a leader needs to develop are often clubbed as Soft Skills. I am listing a few important ones here.

  • Emotional Maturity
    • PM needs to withstand the shocks and strains
    • Leading a team does not mean that the PM must be the best
    • Project is not a competition between team members nor is it an examination
  • Empathy
    • Empathy is NOT Sympathy
    • Often, a little understanding and sharing the problems of a team member is critical for success
  • Effective Communication
    • Clear and concise instructions can help
    • Pay attention to Verbal and Non-verbal communication
    • Use feedback to ensure that you have been understood
  • Honesty
    • TRUTH is important… don’t tell a lie
    • Customer and team members must TRUST you
    • Bring problems into focus and resolve them
  • Learning Ability
    • Learn Customer needs, Business needs, stakeholder expectations etc.
    • Adopt tried and tested techniques, best practices
  • Resilience
    • Who moved my Cheese? a reaction that must be avoided
    • Adaptability is the key to survival
    • Plan, assess, and prepare for risks
    • Manage changes based on circumstances

The Talent Triangle

Leadership Skills have been considered so important that the Talent Triangle developed by PMI for practicing Project Managers shows it as a major arm along with Technical Project Management and Strategic Business Management. It defines Leadership Skills as “Knowledge Skills Behaviours related to motivating and guiding others to help organization achieve its Business Goals” and also includes:

  • Negotiation
  • Conflict management
  • Motivation
  • Giving / receiving Feedback
  • Problem Solving
  • Influencing
  • Team Building
  • Emotional Intelligence

The current trend among organizations is to have a People Management function – every employee is assigned a People manager apart from the Project Manager. People managers take care of the long term growth and aspirations and can act as a mentor to guide and motivate an employee to bring out his/her full potential. Both Project Managers and People Mangers have to be exhibit very strong leadership skills and this is the foundation of a “High Performing Team”

So to be a good leader where does one start?

Here are a few tips for on How to be a GOOD leader as published by Robert Toledo of Alpha PM Consulting in PM Network issue of March 2012:

You were not born a leader – Skill must be nurtured and cultured practice and develop it

Lead by Example – Practice behavior that you want to see in team

Be a People Catalyst – Communicate your vision to the team

Show Courage – Take informed analysed risks without fear

Build Trust around You – Trust is the basis of relationships, focus on building trust

Set the strategy and constantly reinforce it – A good Manager trusts his or her team but regularly reinforces and checks on team members progress and accomplishments

Be Pro-Active – Turn Vision into goals and assist the team into achieving this.

A Leader does not just dictate orders but provides the necessary momentum and ideal environment for the team to achieve the desired objectives.

Always says “Please” and “Thank You” – Never underestimate the power of politeness and gratitude in building a strong bond