Building Team Synergy and Resilience
Human Aspects of PM,
Categories: Agile, Benefits Realization, Best Practices, Career Help, Change Management, Complexity, digital transformation, Facilitation, Human Aspects of PM, Human Resources, Innovation, Leadership, Lessons Learned, Mentoring, PMOs, Portfolio Management, Program Management, Roundtable, Stakeholder, Strategy, Talent Management, Teams
By Peter Tarhanidis, PhD
As the pandemic stretches on, work-from-home programs continue to keep teams working virtually. During this time, we have performed courageously to deliver our strategic and business outcomes. Here I will share a select review of advice from industry experts as they explore how to build a post-pandemic response strategy.
According to McKinsey (2022), organizations have pivoted to deliver sustainable and inclusive growth toward building a better world. And Harvard Business Review (2020) notes that all types of companies have navigated the pandemic by pivoting their business models in the short term to survive—becoming more resilient in the long term.
Yet not all pivots generated an improved business outcome. Three trends in particular can help ensure a successful pivot:
PWC’s Global Crisis Survey identified three key lessons that businesses can adopt for long-term resilience:
An opportunity, therefore, exists to consider how to prepare your team’s competence in driving synergy and resilience in order to lead post-pandemic growth strategies—and simultaneously pivot from those same strategies.
Here is a shortlist of what leaders can do to prepare for a post-pandemic recovery and support an organization:
In the end, the teams that are ready to execute and can pivot as necessary will be ready for the post-pandemic competitive environment.
Let me know if you have uncovered additional successful strategies—or any pitfalls to avoid—in building team synergy and resilience.
5 Big Lessons Learned During 2021
Categories: Lessons Learned
by Dave Wakeman
Wow! That year went fast, didn’t it?
I don’t know if 2021 was better or worse than 2020 because the collective sense of uncertainty was exchanged for moments of great hope that moved back to great uncertainty.
I don’t bring that up to be a downer here in the period of annual reflection and resolutions, but as a way to introduce some of the ideas that really stuck with me in 2021 and that seem likely to help carry me—and, hopefully, you—forward into 2022 and beyond.
Here are my five big lessons learned from 2021:
1. Planning is more important than ever: I took some time over the first two years of the pandemic to go back to school and study up on brand strategy, marketing strategy and corporate strategy.
And, if you see a pattern there, you are paying attention because the pattern is that you have to know where you are going before you can start down the path to getting there.
In the best of times, we get pulled in a lot of different directions, but during the last two years while the pandemic has been our companion, we’ve seen it become more difficult to find space to think—and for any of our actions to seem relevant.
This makes going through the planning process even more important because we have to stop ourselves, slow down and think. That way we can actually do something productive with the limited amounts of focus many of us are struggling through right now.
2. Leadership counts: We’ve seen various forms of leadership around the world. Some good, some bad, and some that defy description.
What we have seen in looking at all of these is that leaders matter. Leadership counts because most of the time, leaders are the ones that are helping us know what to focus on, where to put our efforts, or just help us make sense of a situation.
In projects, this same idea applies because it can often be impossible to always know how our actions are going to play out in the larger sphere of a project without some guidance from our leaders.
3. Communicating effectively is key: I’ve spoken about how the message that the person receives matters more than the message you are delivering. That is something we see all day, every day right now.
As PMs and leaders, you likely have a good idea about what you are trying to get across. Sometimes, the idea that you are expressing gets lost in translation. I think this is where the advice to talk to me like a third grader comes from.
But the pandemic has highlighted the reality that the words you say can seem clear to you—but can be confusing to someone else for any number of reasons (like lack of a clear definition of the words, lack of a shared vocabulary around the problem, or cultural differences).
The list of challenges to getting your point across is probably limitless, but our bigger challenge is to beat back on those challenges so that our message does get through.
4. The importance of a vision: I don’t know a lot of project managers that use the term “vision.” We do hear a lot of “vision statements,” but most of the time they are fluffy and confusing. (By “vision,” I mean direction, ambition, and a way of communicating your goals.)
One of the big challenges that many countries have been dealing with during the pandemic is that there hasn’t been a really good vision for what ending the pandemic will look like. This lack of clear vision for success has made it easier for communications to be confused, leadership to look tepid and for life to feel like a bit of a free-for-all at times.
You can call your vision an ambition. You can call it a definition of success. Or, you can call it something else entirely.
The lesson I’ve learned is that if you don’t have one, it becomes easier for folks to act out of fear, panic or without a shared destination—causing more challenges than needed.
5. Ultimately, teamwork is a way forward: The biggest lesson I’ve learned is the power of teamwork.
I did a podcast with the CEO of the Philadelphia 76ers, Scott O’Neil, back in June. We talked about being part of a team. Scott coaches his daughter’s basketball team and I coach my son’s soccer team. We got philosophical for a few minutes, but the big key that came out was that both of us like to be part of a team, and that being a teammate has great benefits.
During 2021, I was reminded about this over and over as we saw teams work together to overcome big challenges—like the way that the vaccines were rolled out in communities across the United States. But I’ve also seen the breakdown of teams and how much damage bad team chemistry can do to the collective effort of a team, like the way that Juventus and Manchester United have often seemed like less than the sum of their parts.
These are the lessons I’ve learned this year. By no means is this a comprehensive list, but it is mine. Let me know what you learned in the comments below.
Happy new year!
By Conrado Morlan
In project management, communication is a core competency that significantly impacts the outcome of a project. Most likely, you have worked hard to master your communication skills. Then all of the sudden, the way we communicate changed. The style had to adapt, evolve and amplify with the support of technology during the pandemic.
We were accustomed to more traditional ways of communicating, such as in-person meetings (with groups, or one-on-one with stakeholders), spontaneous conversations around the office, and conference calls, among others. But most of these methods were totally erased when, by necessity, we started to work remotely.
In a matter of weeks, we had to close the communication gap by learning on the fly how to use new technology tools featuring virtual rooms with a mosaic of participants, featuring screen sharing, tool chat, or instant messaging (IM). We faced the challenge of having to define new rules of communication and common ground (like having cameras on or off during the meeting, and muting your microphone if you aren’t talking).
In just a few months, we adjusted to a new way of communication: online calls instead of phone calls; recorded online meetings with automatic transcripts instead of handwritten meeting minutes typed out afterward; more IM communication instead of email communication.
For many project managers who are still remote, this continues to work well; for others who have returned to the office, they are starting to readapt to (or are missing) the “old way of communication.”
Readapting to the “way things were” won’t be an easy task. Many people have lost that sense of personal interaction, and it is becoming more difficult to bring several people together at the same time in a meeting room to discuss the project. People’s preferences have also changed, and many prefer a virtual meeting as they think that there will be no difference to a meeting’s outcome if the meeting is in-person or virtual.
Perhaps the outcome of the meeting will be no different, but what about in-person human interaction—a key element for communication? Reading non-verbal cues is becoming more difficult, a valuable element that will confirm if a “yes” is truly a yes or instead a “maybe.”
As a project manager, what has been your biggest challenge in adopting and adapting the “new way of communication” in your projects?
After a recent project progress meeting with my team, one of the senior members and I discussed the face-to-face communication challenges we have with other members. We concurred that when the person receiving the information has low retention, it results in false assumptions and a misunderstanding on the topic of discussion.
Why is this happening? If the person receiving information confirms that everything is clear, why do we still have communication issues in projects? Usually, it's because taking notes in a meeting is going away, as many team members wait for a meeting recap that summarizes their action items.
In face-to-face communication, we spend most of the time listening—and apparently, we're not good at it. We filter what we want to hear, and that may result in a broken message.
That senior member of my team is part of the silent generation. He mastered his listening skills in an environment without all of the ways to "replay" conversations that we use today. In addition, he mentioned that the communication environment before was "less polluted" than today, where we are bombarded with things that affect our ability to pay attention.
I asked the senior team member what the key elements of good listening skills are, based on his experience. He recommended:
What are the face-to-face communication challenges you have experienced with your team? Do your team members pay attention when you speak? What advantages and disadvantages do virtual meetings have?
In my project management career, I’ve been very fortunate to have worked on different projects all over the world. As with most things in life (like having a flat auto tire or forgetting to pay the electric bill), projects mirror the practical realities of life. One of the takeaways from those experiences has been the commonality of successful project management approaches no matter the geographical location of the projects.
A key characteristic that I have observed over time is how projects and project management resemble a meritocracy independent of personal bias. Projects need to be complete with desired outcomes in a specific period of time. As one completes ever more large and complex projects, one grows in their career as a project manager. This career growth occurs regardless of the race, gender or other characteristics of the project manager.
As with many other merit-based professions such as healthcare, aviation, athletics and science, the introduction of personal bias with project management would be detrimental to the completion of any project. That’s why project management as a profession is a great equalizer given its heavy dependence on the skills and capabilities of a project manager.
In thinking about how project management is a great equalizer, I offer the following thoughts:
1. The project doesn’t know who is managing it. Projects are an interesting construct that is hard to categorize under the typical laws of physics; they don’t have weight, exhibit motion or temperature. Projects do have the characteristic of being a collection of activities and assets that need to be brought together to produce desired outcomes.
In this regard, a project by definition is immune from any personal bias; it’s a matter of solving a three-dimensional problem using people, process and technology. A project manager needs to be skilled at resource, schedule, dependency and stakeholder management in order to solve for desired outcomes. The project itself does not prefer the personal background of the project manager; it awaits the proper project management disciplines to be employed in order to complete its required objectives.
2. Successful project managers find the best people. People represent one of the key factors in any project. When compared against process and technology components, the acquisition of the best people plays a more significant factor in the success of any project. However, the acquisition of people for a project also poses the possibility for personal bias. As a project manager, you have to be able to find the best people for the project independent of subjective perceptions.
A CEO of a global company once said it took him 20 years to get a point where he could identify good people more than half the time. My observations of project managers early in their careers bear this out; they tend to be more subjective in selecting resources that they like and perceive would work well on their team; read this behavior as easier to manage. The more experienced project managers more discreetly evaluate competencies than subjective factors; this is key, as no matter the personal affinity or how easy (or difficult) the person is perceived to manage, the most critical dimension of people for a project is their competencies.
3. Project management metrics show no bias. One of my favorite quips about project metrics, especially when they are not favorable, is “You can’t beat the laws of physics.” If metrics show a project to be over budget or with late milestones, those are intractable project “laws of physics” that need to be addressed by the responsible project manager.
To a great degree, project metrics are designed to not show any personal bias. They are a physical expression of project reality that can’t be influenced by personal factors of the project manager. Metrics are equal in every regard to serve as an unbiased foundation from which remedial project actions are taken.
In my early years as a project manager, I have to admit I made every possible project management judgement error on my projects. Over time and with some valuable guidance from experienced project managers, I grew into leading ever larger initiatives. As part of that growth path, I observed that the most experienced project managers had left any notion of personal bias behind in their project management execution. Their focus on the core dynamics of a project, finding the best people and anticipating conditions that would lead to unfavorable metrics were key factors in their success.
I welcome any commentary on the concept of project management being one of the purest forms of meritocracy that by design can’t rely on personal bias to achieve success.
During the long duration of the pandemic, each of us had to shift our work/life balance. We had to curate a new workday schedule, perhaps adding more flexibility to support multiple needs between work and family. A changing focus with customer and colleague engagement, repurposing commuting time, tending to family needs, caring for those affected by COVID-19, and supporting relief efforts are just some of the changes we had to adapt to. The pandemic forced each of us to make personal and conscious ethical decisions on the tradeoffs, but most have of us have set into a new work/life balance.
After almost 20 months, the world is deploying COVID-19 vaccines under health authorities like the U.S. FDA and Europe’s EMA, who have expanded access protocol for emergency use. The world is hopefully on a trajectory toward a post-pandemic world. Many organizations have established their return-to-work policies, criteria, and expectations of colleagues. One may observe a continuum of return-to-work guidelines built by organizations as a highly collaborative model focused on high-touch customer experience, an innovation-driven design model, or task-based transactional work. Each organization is calling to us to spend some time back in the office or in front of our stakeholders.
How does this affect us, and what do we do to prepare? Our choices can be to simply go back to a pre-pandemic “normal”; stay in the work-from-home pandemic style; or re-engage in a post-pandemic style. Regarding this last choice, we should consider how to maneuver ourselves into a post-pandemic style while still maintaining the agility of working from home. This disruption to our current way of working creates a sense of stress and anxiety as it asks us to re-engage. One must re-learn and adapt to new behaviors and approaches.
One opportunity to be better prepared may be to create a personal contract for the post-pandemic work world. The contract can be a statement or a list of priorities. Here are some tips that I will use to help make the transition better and reset myself:
What would your list include to enable a post-pandemic transition back to work?