In an earlier post about Team Leadership, I discussed the importance of integrating new team members well. We looked at the challenge from an emotional intelligence perspective and applied relationship management techniques to make sure that new individuals quickly became part of the team and productive.
As a follow-on to that discussion, consider the activities that a project manager should be doing at the team level to integrate new members. This fits into the area of Emotional Intelligence that I call team leadership. Team leadership is where we begin to look at the project environment. This is about creating and communicating a positive and attractive project environment or “mood” for the project.
How do we create a positive and attractive project environment? How do we make the environment one which helps to quickly make new members productive? Here are three specific ways I have used to create that type of project environment.
#1 Tell the Story of the Project – A recent project of mine went through several phases over the 3-year life. The first year of the project, the team found themselves up against schedules which were impossible and scope surprises that were unimaginable. It was a deathmatch type of project in that first year. Based on a line from the movie The Princess Bride, we jokingly began to refer to the achievement of milestones as “Inconceivable”. Eventually, inconceivable became our theme for the first year. I would refer to it in emails and meetings. I used that theme to remind people that what they were doing was inconceivable or nearly impossible. The team felt good about achieving what seemed so difficult as to be impossible. In fact, it was inevitable that we would retell the stories about those first-year major milestones like the first production date or the last minute scope changes that were successfully included.
The second year of that same project the theme needed to change to professionalism. Our end user’s feedback was that we hit our deadlines but quality suffered (which was no surprise). So, the theme for the second year became professionalism. To us, this meant achieving the deadlines as well as the quality.
The point of the stories and the themes was that it reinforced what was important. New members heard those stories and understood what was important to be successful on the project. They quickly learned the stories and from the stories the themes and values of the project team.
The project manager is the one who selects (or should be) what is important and what will get attention. This is done through the rewards and recognition and through the stories that the project manager tells.
#2 Mission, Vision and Values – Another way of integrating new members is to explicitly communicate the values of the project to the new team members. A common framework for this is the statement of Mission, Vision, and Values. In this context, Mission refers to the overall goal or objective of the team. Vision is the way that the team expects to achieve that mission. And Values are the principles by which the team is going to adhere.
We could (and will) spend a whole post on the importance of the Mission, Vision, and Values. Preparing a Mission, Vision and Values statement for a project team is important, and not something that the project manager should do alone. The statement should be prepared with the core members of the team at the onset of the project. A good practice is to do this in offsite meetings during the initiation phase and before the real work of the project begins.
The value of having Mission, Vision, and Values is that new members get a sense of what is important on the project. As an example, on a recent project we agreed to the following 6 values:
- Continuous Improvement
- Succeed or Fail Together
Everyone knew that those were the values of the team and that we would measure individual contribution and overall success or failure based on those values.
#3 Improve Communications through Ongoing Introduction Sessions – A technique that I have found critical for large and long projects is to have ongoing introduction sessions. On a quarterly basis, we would gather everyone on the team together and make sure they knew each other. When we had 75 members on the team, this was not possible to do at one time so broke them into multiple groups. But we still had the meetings.
I never cease to be amazed by how often people fail to communicate. The larger the project, the more possible communication links, and the more opportunities for failure. I once took 4 team members out for lunch to recognize their contribution to the project. The 4 members of the same project did not know each other even though 2 of them were in the same functional department. In a similar way, I have often found that two team members working in cubicles beside each other did not realize they were on the same project and never talked to each other.
While we cannot force people to talk to each other, we increase the chances by making sure they are introduced to everyone when they join the project. On a recent large project, I made it a point to host ongoing introduction sessions over the life of the program. The meetings served several different objectives. On long projects or programs, new team members are going to be added that were not present at the beginning. These members do not know the Mission, Vision, and Values or the goals of the project. In fact, new members will often have a very small view of the project which is based around their very small part of it. It is important that you help them to see the big picture.
The other important benefit is that the new member becomes part of the team. They get to know the faces and names of their teammates. They begin to feel at home.
Bottom Line: Integrating new team members is important. The better and faster you integrate them, the more productive your team will be. We need to address integration on two levels. The first is the one-on-one relationship with the individual. The second, as described above, is addressing it through team leadership. And in this context, team leadership is about creating a mood or project environment that is attractive and healthy.