At some point in your career as a project manager, you’ll find yourself leading a troubled team. There could be a number of reasons for this: burn out; a past history of poorly managed projects; office politics or business changes, a fear-based culture. The list goes on – and many of us have been there.
According to the Gallup organization, disengaged employees make up 30% of the U.S. workforce which costs the U.S. from $450 billion to $550 billion per year.
It’s not a fun to find yourself steering a troubled team – but you don’t have to resign yourself to managing upstream. The trick is to make employees feel like their work is more than just a job. So where do you start? Here are 11 tips to help you cultivate a happier team.
- Figure out if you’re the problem. If you’re the project manager, you “own” the team’s morale, good or bad. Granted, you might be required by higher-ups to make decisions that don’t make your team jump for joy, but you’re in control of how you handle these situations (e.g., being compassionate and open instead of dictatorial and secretive).
- Learn why morale is low. Plenty of things can hurt morale: Lack of upward opportunity, poor communications, chaotic (or changing) work conditions, negative corporate culture, failing business and more. If you can’t figure out from team members what’s creating poor morale, consult your company’s Human Resources group because this is something they do—address employee problems. Think of HR as a resource you can draw from, but don’t ask them to take over the problem. You still own it.
- Win trust. If managers are seen as distant or untrustworthy, morale suffers. Make yourself accessible to your team. Spend a few extra minutes in your lunch or coffee room; keep an open-door policy (literally and figuratively); ask people how they’re doing and if they need anything from you, go out to lunch—be there for and with your team.
- Give people control as much as possible, because when employees are empowered to make decisions and influence a project and their jobs, their engagement and motivation rises. Make it safe for team members to express frustration or constructive criticism. Give employees opportunities to solve problems and take action – both strong antidotes to fear and feeling helpless. Also, involving your team members in decision-making can produce better results.
- Listen. It’s not only a tactic but a strategy. When team members get a chance to air their issues individually it makes them feel better, builds trust, and enlightens you to any deeper problems you aren’t aware of. Telling employees to “move on” or “just deal with it” fosters anger and resentment, or pushes them to disengage.
- Communicate well. Do more than share decisions with your team. Explain why decisions are made. David Lee, consultant and the founder of HumanNature@Work says, “When people understand ‘Why,’ they can deal with almost any ‘What.’”
- Celebrate achievements: Thank-you’s and acts of recognition highlight your team’s progress. To break the pattern of low morale, set achievable short-term goals that can be celebrated. Applaud examples of excellence in difficult times; it’s important for employees to feel like winners, especially when times are tough.
- Let your team do things in new ways. But make your new approach concrete. Preferably, the new idea—a process revamp, a new way to approach a project, a feature improvement—will come from team members, empowering them. And as their PM, you still have a role—support them in trying initiatives that have a high chance of succeeding.
- Advocate for your staff. When a team member is mistreated by a client or staff member, take a stand for your employee. You don’t need to administer a public admonishment, but drop by the person’s office and give them your support. Your team members will be worth more to you and your company than the occasional cranky customer.
- Tell stories. When talking about your vision and challenges, use stories and analogies, rather than PowerPoint slides filled with statistics and facts. Great leaders are masters at inspiring people through compelling stories. If the idea of this intimidates you, start practicing your story-telling skills with a small meeting and build up.
- Listen to your team’s internal customers through employee advisory groups, management meetings, team meetings and focus groups. You’ll get valuable feedback to form effective strategies for executing and communicating changes – which bring a deeper sense of purpose to work. And isn’t that what we all want?
If you found this article helpful, there’s more. Learn how to take your project management skills to the next level. Download the eBook, 5 Practical Habits for Today’s Project Manager.