Nov 12, 2010

Trust Thy Team

In 'The Last Lecture' Randy Pausch narrates his pursuit of childhood dreams, one of which was to work at Disneyland. In 1995, when he was professor at University of Virginia, he gave a proposal to work with Disney Imagineering team on their virtual reality project. He had a sabbatical coming up and he could spend six months away from academia in Disneyland. However for this kind of oddball sabbatical, he had to get permission of deans in university. The first dean he talked to argued against doing that, particularly because he didn't understand how working in a place like Disneyland would be a good idea for a professor as smart as Randy Pausch. Not losing his heart, Randy talked to a second dean and though he also didn't understand why it was a good idea, he said this: “I don't have enough information to say [it's a good idea or not]. But I do know that one of my star faculty members is in my office and he's really excited. So tell me more”. As you must've guessed, Randy got permission and then he remarked in his book that both deans actually said the same thing - they didn't understand why it was a good idea to go and work in Disneyland - but the second dean trusted his team member and gave him permission.

This is a remarkable lesson of this story. Trusting your team, respecting their interests and creating an environment where they can use their best abilities is very important part of project team management. Each team member is unique in her interests, what motivates her and what the team member really wants to do. Some team members are excellent fire fighters, while others are great thinkers. We have helpers, problem-solvers, workaholics and all kind of personalities in a project team. As a project manager, one should understand this uniqueness of project team members and try to allocate them working on their special skill sets. One can argue, it is not always possible to assign work on the basis of what the particular team member excels in and that's true. However, even if you are able to assign 5 out of 10 times a task that is relevant to a team member's area of interest, the motivation she will draw from it will last for other 5 tasks as well.

The Project Manager's Trust - this should be introduced on the very first day of project as the most prized award for project team members. You as a project manager should be very explicit in making team members understand that you want each of them to become future leaders and that winning your trust is first step in that direction. I have seen some very successful project managers in not only making winning-their-trust as most coveted prize for team members but also giving them a plan on how they can win it. So for example, one project manager gave his team members this simple equation:

Ownership + Responsibility + Quality = My Trust

You can alter this formula on the basis of your project circumstances, team members' skills etc. but this kind of goal setting is very important. It not only helps team members to actually strive for winning your trust but that drive is also motivated by the fact that you are training them to become future leaders and advancement in career is considered as most effective motivating agents.

What's in it for you as a Project Manager?
A lot. Once you have that team which you can trust on their professionalism, ownership, responsibility and quality work, those would be your best days as a Project Manager. 

Remember good leaders are those who make wonders when they are in charge, but great leaders are those who not only make wonders when they are in charge but they also leave behind a team of leaders. 

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