Have you ever been in the situation where you were working in a team, but seemed to be shouldering a disproportionate amount of the work? It is a terribly demoralising situation to find yourself in and can quickly breed resentment between you and the rest of your colleagues – “I don’t see why I’m here until 8pm each night, when Janet swans off at 5pm having contributed precisely F.A.”
The flip side of the coin can be just as frustrating.
Have you ever been in the situation where you were working as part of a team but, instead of letting you get on with your job, everyone seemed to have an opinion on how you should be doing it? Or worse yet, someone decided that they should be the one to do it, effectively pushing you to the side-lines? “I don’t know what Janet thinks she knows about cost management but, you know what? Fine. Let her get on with it. I’m sure the rest of the team will come back to me when she cocks it up.”
I think we can all agree, though: neither of these situations is particularly desirable.
And they arise from the same core issue: understanding people’s roles and responsibilities and staying in our lanes.
The good news is that, as a project manager, there are a few things you can do to prevent either of these unpleasant situations from ever arising in the first place.
So here are a few things for you to consider on your project to make sure the team is balanced and everyone feels happy in their role.
Be clear on the roles that are needed
The first thing to do is to establish which roles are actually required on your project. Look at what needs to be done and spend some time figuring out which roles you require. Importantly, not who you require, but what role is needed by the project. Avoid hangers-on in your team who do not have a clear role in the delivery of your project. They are apt to get bored and find things to do which may become a distraction or, worse yet, an active hindrance. Alternatively, without a clear role to perform, they may start involving themselves in other people’s jobs, which will do nothing for the morale of your team.
Make sure everyone understands their roles – and each other’s
It is worth spending at least one team meeting just going through what everyone is doing on the project. This goes beyond the normal introductions and who’s who, and digs down into who will be doing what. Who do we talk to about design? Who’s taking responsibility for communications? Does more than one person think they are responsible for construction? If so, who needs to take the lead? These need to be open, frank and constructive conversations. The fact of the matter is, it just doesn’t work if everyone is trying to do each other’s jobs, so establish clearly who is doing what. Make sure everyone understands not just their own role, but what everyone else is doing too. It is one of the surest ways to remove conflict and confusion on your project.
Inputs and outputs
A nice technique I’ve come across in the past is to get everyone to explain the inputs and outputs to their roles. In other words “these are the things that I require to do my job (the inputs) and this is what I will produce as a result (the outputs).” It can be a really interesting exercise to match inputs and outputs. Is someone producing something that doesn’t actually go anywhere other than a dusty drawer? Or is someone waiting on an input that no-one else is actually going to produce? Mapping out these interactions between the roles can be amazingly valuable. Give it a go.
Check the flow and look for balance
Are queries and challenges flowing in the right direction? Is the workload reasonably balanced amongst the team, or does one person seem to be shouldering a disproportionate amount of the work? As the PM, take a step back every so often and think about who is doing what. At any given time, one person will be more or less busy than another. But is there a trend developing where, say, Mandeep appears to be doing all the work whilst Martin doesn’t seem to be contributing much? Look for overall balance across the team and see if any areas need addressing. Does Mandeep need some support to get the job done, or is it just a busy period that will pass. Also, in project meetings, look for flow. Who do the questions flow towards at any one time? Are they sufficiently supported? Are they even the right person to be answering those questions or have they just asserted themselves? It’s a constant game of correction and as Project Manager you need to be watching, and adjusting, the scales.
The same is true of the Project Manager
Finally, as the PM leading these conversations, it is important that you are clear about your role, what others can expect of you, and where your responsibilities end. Also, don’t forget the cardinal rule: You are not the expert. As the leader of a project, it is a very common and easily-made mistake to step into the role of a team member when things get hairy. Don’t. You are there to run the team, not fulfil all the roles. If you’ve gone to the trouble of assembling a team of experts, use them – do not be tempted to step in yourself. It does you no favours and will also alienate the very team you should be relying upon.
What would you add to ensure people are happy in their roles and – importantly – staying in their lane? Let me know in the comments.
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