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III. Team Preparation

So you’ve analyzed the various methodologies and chosen the methods most suited to your project, your team, and your objectives. But before the actual project begins, you must prepare your individual team members to work as a cohesive unit. After all, you’ve spent time and resources selecting the people with the right skills to accomplish the work.

Preparing your team with the right habits and culture

Now is the perfect time to clarify the behaviors you want your team to practice, and the values you want the team to stand for. Here are several ways you can set up your team for a successful project ahead.

1. Get Into the Right Team Habits
2. Embrace Cultural Differences
3. Make the Project Kickoff Meeting Successful
4. Help Your Team Self-Organize

1. Get Into the Right Team Habits

Motivational speaker Brian Tracy said it best: Successful people are simply those with successful habits. Your team’s productivity habits are the magic ingredients to your project’s success. If you have the right habits in place, your team will complete the project on time and collaborate without much friction.

But what exactly are habits and why do we place so much emphasis on them? Read more about the importance of habits:

Even if your team doesn’t have the right work habits now, you can help them build new, more productive behaviors. Just remember that it takes anywhere from 66 days to eight months to cement a new habit, depending on the habit’s complexity. And proceed with sensitivity; after all, we humans are quite resistant to change. Here are five specific tips to remember when you help your team build new habits:

A. Lead By Example

Define the habit you want the team to practice, then do it yourself. Be the role model. Your team will follow your lead when they see the benefits of this new habit on your daily work.

B. Share the Power to Change 

Get assistance from evangelists! These are the enthusiastic team members who can quickly adopt new tech or new behaviors and can help spread it to the rest of the team. It’s positive peer pressure, and it works.

C. Use Small Wins to Gain Big Victories
Split up the new habit into small, step-by-step progress marks to help people catch on. Small wins can motivate the team to keep going the rest of the way, no matter how difficult it may seem at first.
D. Motivate Your Team
Intellectual reasoning won’t always work without some emotional heft behind it. Give your team incentives to practice this new habit. Make it fun. Gamify it! Be creative.
E. Blend New Habits with Old
It’s always easier to transition to new habits when you piggyback on older, existing behaviors. It makes the new habit feel more familiar and ensures a more natural transition.

These five tips are discussed in much more detail in our free ebook: 5 Strategies for Forming Team Productivity Habits.

Your Next Action: Proceed with Sensitivity

Just a word of caution. When people react to change, the reaction pattern mimics that of grief. Your team will spiral from denial to anger, confusion, depression, and crisis, before finally settling into acceptance, and new confidence. So if you’re going to build some new team habits, the new behavior will take time to build roots and their reactions will be varied. Proceed with requisite amounts of sensitivity, while still motivating the team to forge better, more productive, behavioral patterns.

The typical 7-stage reaction to change.
The typical 7-stage reaction to change.


2. Embrace Cultural Differences

As organizations globalize, they’re taking on more remote workers who are collaborating from across great distances. As a result, cultural intelligence — the ability to embrace different mindsets in challenging situations — is becoming more and more important. In order to lead a multi-cultural (and often multi-regional) team to success, you must be able to bridge cultural differences with sensitivity and sincerity. Here are some pointers:

Learn about one another.
Ask your teammates about their customs, holidays, weather, entertainment, and so on. (Better to stay away from politics and religion.) Just show an interest — and remember what they share with you!Embrace different learning and communication styles.
Some cultures value in-your-face confrontation, while others would prefer to stay in the background until asked for their opinion. Get to know each team member’s preferences so you can engage with them as effectively as possible.Always recap the main points of the meeting.
And always make responsibilities and next steps crystal clear for each team member.

Involve the quiet.
Find ways to get their feedback, especially if they prefer to stay in the background during group discussions.

Incorporate humor.
Don’t necessarily make jokes about everything, but a light mood always helps people open up and improve work relationships.

Your Next Action: Ask Questions

The common themes across these pointers for working with different cultures is: respect and knowledge. Respect the different cultures and if you don’t know something, ask a question in order to better understand where your coworker is coming from — both literally and figuratively.

Further Reading:

3. Make the Project Kickoff Meeting Successful

Before the project work begins formally, there must be a project kickoff meeting. This is a crucial first step that sets the tone for the work that follows, and is typically the one chance to help every stakeholder understand the project’s objectives and overall plan. If you really want to get everyone on the same page, you must prepare for it. Here are 10 steps to making a kick-ass kickoff meeting:

A. Establish vision and deliverables: Set a common goal for everyone. Lay out what needs to get done and by when.

B. Identify team and set roles: Who does what? Create a list detailing this and include contact info for easy communication.

C. Develop initial project plan: Have a decent plan in place but finalize details with your team at the kickoff.

D. Define metrics for success: How will the project be measured? What will make it successful? Set expectations early.

E. Identify potential risks and bottlenecks: Prep the team for potential roadblocks and have a process in place so that these possible problems can be taken out quickly.

F. Establish logistics for team communication: How will you update each other? Establish a consistent process (daily, weekly meetings) and determine the technology for it.

G. Choose work process or project management methodology: Establish the best practices your team will follow.

H. Decide which tools you’ll use: Ensure everyone has the tools and knows how to use them.

I. Schedule the kickoff meeting: Entire team and stakeholders must be there, even if via video conference or phone.

J. Set agenda, and prepare the slides for the meeting: Send the agenda ahead of the meeting so no time is wasted.

Further Reading:

4. Help Your Team Self-Organize

Self-organization is a more recent management philosophy where teams are given the authority to adjust their own workloads, as well as influence the decision-making process surrounding a project. This is meant to help team members “own” their projects and take responsibility for their decisions, leading to greater efficiency, more accountability, self-actualization, and better employee engagement.

Tips to Implementing Self-Organizing Teams

Arrange a short intro meeting. Introduce the concept of self-organization and help the team understand the benefits. Ask if there’s anything they’d like to improve in the current process. Then let the team know how you are going to implement this concept.

Set sensible milestones and checkpoints. Split the workload into small, actionable tasks. Team members may set their own internal deadlines to help them meet overall project goals, but also set external milestones so progress can be tracked.

Let people leverage their talents. Once milestones are set, allow the team to decide what tasks to are required for the next cycle of work and let team members choose the tasks they want to be responsible for. This way they can pick tasks that play to their strengths.

Don’t interrupt people once they start. Don’t get into the details of how people do their jobs, and try not to switch priorities during the process unless emergencies occur.

Facilitate the information exchange. Have a transparent communication structure for the team to update one another as well as a way to bring you in if issues arise that need external help. Make the team run regular internal meetings to inform everyone what each member is currently doing.

Avoid a culture of blame. Accept that failure is part of the process and instead of assigning blame, focus on the steps needed to achieve success.

Regularly review and readjust the work process. Use team meetings as a great opportunity to review how self-organization is working for your team and make readjustments if necessary.

Further Reading:

You won’t build up your team with the proper habits and mindsets all at once. Know that this is an ongoing process of improvement and optimization. The truth is that teams work more smoothly together as time passes and members begin to work in earnest, learning about each other’s personalities along the way. So rest easy knowing that if you put these strategies into practice, the teamwork will come.

But only if you have the right tools with which to work. Up next: your guide to the right tools and technologies for managing projects.

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