By Yasmina Khelifi, PMI-ACP, PMP
“We miss the way you managed the project!”
After leaving my role as a project manager of a software development team, these words were the best gift I could’ve received.
It was a new team, a new innovative product development and a new experience for me. I was not a developer, I did not have any agile training and I did not know how to contribute to the project efficiently. But I observed and kept note of what worked and what didn’t—which helped me develop my skills as a servant leader.
Servant leaders are a different breed—they flip the traditional leadership model on its head. Their main goal is to be of service to their teams instead of simply focusing on the organization.
My past project work has given me firsthand experience on the benefits of servant leadership. Here are some ways to apply it:
1. Remove roadblocks.
Wherever I could, I tried to get rid of anything getting in the team’s way. Participating in meetings or writing documents was considered a waste of time by the team. So I decided to lend a hand, letting them concentrate on activities that added value.
To ease the tension between the development team and the head of marketing, I negotiated and proposed more streamlined options for implementation and brought the ideas back to the team.
I gave presentations on behalf of the team about the product and jotted down the questions I couldn’t answer. I documented and organized the information to be shared in a way it could be easily accessed. I concentrated on circulating the information within the team and tried to anticipate any issues or topics.
2. Set ground rules.
The development team complained to me after a marketing representative in the organization stepped on its toes. They needed a mutually beneficial and efficient way of working, so I stepped up as the main point of contact and set up weekly, in-person meetings.
Every Friday morning, we met with the development team. The representative loved technology and wanted to know more and engage in a knowledge exchange, but it used up a lot of our time. This person also gave some advice on topics he did not know, which didn’t always sit well with members of the development team and came to my desk and asked me questions I could not answer. Regular meetings and serving as a dedicated team liaison were not enough. At this point, it became clear that I needed to set specific ground rules, so that I didn’t diminish the trust I had built with my team or put them at risk by allowing someone outside the team to question or interfere with their work processes.
3. Reward the team.
Congratulating team members and giving them visibility keeps them motivated and builds trust. And there’s more than one way to create an environment in which your team feels appreciated. I initiated a weekly newsletter to shine a light on team achievements, even highlighting individual names. I also spoke with the functional manager about the good job done by the developers and pushed for a pay rise. I even advocated for a member to receive training on a test tool.
Looking back, the project was both a challenging and transformational growth journey. But I did learn a lot about servant leadership—trusting the team and supporting them whenever and however they need it.
How have your experiences with servant leadership shaped you?
November 5, 2020, 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. EDT | November 6, 2020 – February 7, 2021, On-Demand | Online Conference