It comes a time for each of us in our career when we have to deal with a very stressful project. Nobody really likes them but most of the times you don’t really have the possibility to choose them. Usually, they choose you! However, that’s OK, because you know that saying: “A calm sea never made a skillful sailor”.
The stressfulness of a project can be triggered by many factors. Some of the most common ones could be: difficult customer, scope creep or maybe various cultural differences.
Each of these factors, alone or combined, can have various effects on a project team. They can either strengthen a team or they can create corrosion or tension between members. For the cases when corrosion between members does happen, the consequences can be quite messy:
- Team members have low morale.
- Stress level increases a lot for everyone involved in the project, including the customer.
- Outside HR head-hunting becomes more efficient, the company has a much higher risk to loose good professionals during a bad project.
As a manager, you need to find ways to reduce these bad consequences. You need to have a team engagement plan that can assist you and your team through rough moments, keep everyone motivated and offer them visibility ahead.
There are many techniques to make the team more engaged, but I believe a good plan should cover the following topics:
When going through a stressful project, it’s important for everyone involved to know what’s waiting ahead or after it. As a manager, it would be a good idea to provide weekly or monthly reports (depending on the project size) about how much time the project will still take and maybe, why not, how the relationship with the customer is evolving.
If the project will end quite soon, then the team can mobilize to make one last stand to deliver the project on-time and with good quality.
There are cases however, when even if a good visibility is provided, the reality of the project might be too harsh for some team mates to handle or to want to be part of it. If the project is still 6 months till completion and the bad news continue to come, some team members can instantly get a low morale. In that case, a daily or weekly distraction from the project might be a useful solution!
A good example of a plan that could distract the team from their difficult projects is to allow them to dedicate 10% or 5% of their time to other projects of the company or of the department.
Of course, 10% of each employee time might be quite a big cost to be supported by the company. However, this cost might be reduced or mitigated if some basic rules are applied to the plan. For example, an employee can use their 10% only if they stick to the following rules:
- The time can be spent only on company’s or department’s internal projects. A Facebook killer should not be planned during this time.
- If the project that the team member is assign to has a major milestone coming, the team member should focus on helping his team instead.
- Each activity needs to be planned and validated with the project manager to ensure valuable time is not wasted on non-important projects.
In this case, team members can have some moments of distraction where they can get in contact with a more relaxed way of working and with new technologies. They can also understand that even if one project goes not so good, the normality in the company is different.
There are cases when a difficult project generates tensions so strong between team members that can even go beyond the life-cycle of a single project. For these situations, HR department can always be the supportive actor who can interview the team members and find out the cause of the generated tensions. Furthermore, HR can send the findings and recommendations to the managers and they can act accordingly to eliminate any remaining tensions or misunderstandings.
These are only some of the engagement techniques that I personally find them useful to be applied not only when a project becomes stressful, but also during ordinary projects. The main purpose is to keep the team motivated, engaged and productive. If these qualities are part of each team in the company, together they can literally move mountains!