Years ago, I was asked to manage a project for a non-profit. The director of the non-project contacted me, presumably because he didn’t have the time to run the project. I quickly asked for a meeting with him to understand more about the project, and was asked to start meeting with others first. I don’t think I understood it at the time, but my enthusiasm for the project waned quickly. That was just one of several projects where the actions of leaders drained my energy.
Project leaders, including sponsors, managers, and other key leadership stakeholders need to be careful about behaviors which can zap a team’s energy very quickly. In these days, the best team members often get to pick and choose their projects. So, we need to work hard to make sure we don’t sabotage efforts. Project work is hard enough without unintentionally draining your team’s commitment to the project.
Lack of vision
Project leaders need to understand the vision for the project. They need to be able to communicate that vision. When the vision becomes murky, or is never clear, it’s hard to keep a team engaged. One particularly important part of the vision is the ‘why.’
I worked on a big project several years ago, and everyone was quite clear on what we were doing. But no one knew why we were doing it. We asked a couple of times, but the best answer was that “the client hired us to do this.” We kicked this project along for a while, but everyone on the team had this work at the bottom of his or her list. Because they were independent contractors and getting paid, the work got done. But, it was often done late and without a creative focus that might have produced a better result.
This is particularly true when project leaders lean on team members to meet a deadline. When leaders fail to respond or even seem to notice when something big is finished, it’s draining. When team members contact the project manager about a question, and three days later, they still haven’t gotten an answer, energy wanes.
I’m quite amazed by the lack of responsiveness in today’s world. I understand that we are all inundated with communications; many of them are spam. I’m not suggesting that we need to respond to emails from people who have contacted us with uninvited tips, questions, or suggestions. But when someone on your team contacts you, respond. When you ask someone to do something, and they do, say thanks.
Lack of focus
Whack-a-mole may be a fun childhood game. It’s not a good operational or project management strategy. When team members feel like the team is constantly playing whack-a-mole, it is hard to stay energized.
This is why I recommend that teams use ‘checkpoint meetings’ every two weeks or so. During that meeting, the team reviews what was accomplished during the last time block, and agrees on the work that is to be done in the next time block. During any time block, the project manager needs to protect the team from distractions. Keep the focus on the work that the team agreed to complete. If the project manager is constantly bouncing around with new ideas, teams lose their energy.
Lack of support during meetings
Regular readers know that I’m a big fan of highly effective meetings. They can be a great time for getting to know the team, building energy and commitment, quickly ironing out details, and answering questions. But meetings need to be planned well, and action items need to be completed after the meeting. When project leaders begin playing with their phones during meetings, show up late, leave early, or otherwise appear to be disengaged, that behavior sabotages the best efforts of others.
Sending written communications that make little sense
When I get a text or an email from a client or a project leader, I notice. And if that message makes no sense, I spend time wondering what the heck he or she meant. I probably should respond more quickly and just call the sender out. But I tend to question myself first. I often can’t get the message out of my mind, and if the message comes in the evening, I don’t sleep as well. When this happens repeatedly because the leader is simply too lazy to proof communications, I get frustrated, and I quickly lose interest in working for or with this person.
Have you experienced actions that drain your energy? What did you do? Share your ideas.