How I Managed Multiple Teams
Some months ago, I had to lead people from different teams to complete a unified goal. A goal that nobody had budgeted for or had pretty big stakes in. Yet, I committed to making this happen. For the sake of readability, I decided to split this article into two pieces. If you want to know more about what happened before, check this.
Part two, this article, will focus on what happened next.
(If you did read the first article, feel free to jump this section.)
You might wonder why I dedicate two entries to this topic anyhow. People around the world are completing projects on a daily base. What’s special about this one?
The special element here is that it involved an acquisition. Right before we would have released our newest product into the market. Which was not what our new owners had planned for. This created a conflict with many parties involved. I happened to be one of the persons within the company that did not want to settle for no product going to market. And I succeeded in my mission, but again, that’s something to read in the other article.
This article will focus on the tools I used as soon as I had my plan approved. Since something else happened shortly after approval.
They made me accountable.
A logic next step, but one that frightened me for a while. I had Executive Leadership approval. That though was all I had.
Once you get the green light on your vision, it is time to build your team. This is important if your team is not your ‘own’ team. Building a team starts with building awareness, again. “Hey John, this is now approved, your contribution is part of the plan and I thus need you to help me out on this or that”. Don’t rush this part. Don’t expect them to understand it on the first take. They might have worked on something else for the past weeks or months. They may not be familiar with what has been brewing under the hood or your style of doing things. Don’t push this through in an email, or two. Make sure the message came across. Make sure they understand what you are looking to achieve. And make sure they understand what their contribution looks like.
Finally, make sure they understand their contribution is vital to this success. They can make a difference between success and failure.
Make them part of the chain
Once they are aware, you can take things one step further. As lined out in the previous part, you need to make sure they understand that their role in this play is vital. This is where you can apply two principles from Robert Cialdini’s theory: The Power of Persuasion.
The first element to leverage is the power of reciprocity. The act of giving. Since those who receive will want to give. It is a basic human principle and there is not much that you can do to avoid it.
By assessing their value to the project and letting them know, you give something to them. Unless it is a lousy job they have to do which they don’t like at all. Telling people you need them, in essence, tells them they have something you do not. Which makes them feel special.
The second element to leverage here is commitment. Commitment is way more than asking people to commit to something. Commitment is a process. It starts with something small and builds up over time. You can use commitment to push people to new heights and to reach for the impossible. It takes time to get there though.
A proper route to getting full commitment starts with getting commitment to the end goal. The vision. Do they agree with you that your goal is the right goal to pursue? If they do, they commit. Once. Next, you might take them along in the defined success criteria or project milestones. And ask them to commit. Again.
The point is that they lock themselves in every time they commit to the next step. Imagine they agreed to the project goal. Minutes later, you discuss the route towards the goal. You might disagree. They might want to back out. But they will be less motivated to back out since they did give their commitment to the original plan. You know that. They know that. They might not know it but they feel it somewhere in their body. That is what commitment does to people.
Make them accountable
Let’s dive into accountability. Before doing that though, we need to distinguish between responsible and accountable.
In my native language, accountable is an ‘extension’ of responsible. Responsible translates to verantwoordelijk and Accountable translates to eindverantwoordelijk. And while you might not be able to pronounce the two words, you might notice the word ‘eind’, which means as much as the end. Being accountable might translate to end-responsible or final responsible. That makes sense. Both the one responsible and the one accountable carry a responsibility. The difference is in what that responsibility entails.
There is beauty in this. Something I appreciate. When I (have to) lead, I try to lead through influence, not through dominance and authority. I am a strong believer in people that have an intrinsic motivation to do something. Not because I tell them to but because they want to.
All involved are responsible. Period. And yes, there is one in the group that is accountable. It is a chain. When you link a chain to something, it does not matter at all which link is the weakest, or which one breaks. If one breaks, all break. We are in this together and you are as accountable as I am.
All items above come into play right from the start. Leading in this manner is a continuous motion. Repeat all points above from time to time, depending on the progress you make. Which brings me to the next point: frequent updates.
Send updates up and down the chain. Update everybody, frequent and in a tailored manner. Update by mail. Update by phone. Update people when they reach out to you. When you meet them in the office, though that last one might be scarce these days. There are a few reasons why updates are important, in no particular order:
First, it allows you to remind everybody once in a while what you and they are working on. In case they might have forgotten this project of their outmost importance too. Use your updates as a way to remind people about the objectives they are working on.
Second, updates are in essence meant to inform people of the current status of a project. The tasks that are progressing, the ones that are not. The tasks that were recently completed and the ones where you are facing major setbacks. Do not wait. Inform them when it is due. Don’t hide anything, since people will find out with or without you. Speak up! What is the worst thing that can happen?
Third, input. Every time you update somebody on something, there is a change of them disagreeing with it. Or having a different perspective on things. That is good. That is input. I am not telling you to accept or discard every single piece of input. The least input deserves though is a closer look. People that respond to you, with somewhat different opinions or views, show courage. Honouring that is a gift of reciprocity. And their feedback might be a helpful improvement to your project.
Number four: confirmation. That is, if persons do not respond to or disagree with your update, they confirm that what you are doing is right. Right? Yes. We are all clever grown-ups. If you receive an update that you do not agree with, there should be plenty of room to reach out for improvement. If people do not reach out, they conform to the message. Should they disagree with that message later, you can always remind them of that update that you sent. You have given them plenty of opportunities to disagree back then.
Fifth, and last: feedback. Feedback differs from input. Input focuses on what you are doing. Feedback to me talks about how you are doing things. This could then relate both to what you are doing and to your leadership style in general. All the above almost make this feel kinda scientific. Instead, though, you should not rely on emails and statistics alone. Ask for feedback.
A celebration or celebrating moment is somewhat of an update. A particular update. But one that you should never underestimate. People want to be part of a winning team. Winners have friends. Do you need more? Celebrating wins, successes and other things confirm this is the right thing to do.
It makes people proud. In particular, those who said they believed you from the first moments. And especially those who made these commitments public.
It is important to point out that what you celebrate is not the most important element. Yes, it needs to make sense. There is no value in celebrating something ridiculous. Many different things provide an opportunity for you to celebrate. To confirm to everybody out there they should join in on what you are working on.
Besides, celebrating gives you a perfect reason to praise other people. I will leave it up to you to decide why and how you want to praise them but I do believe in the power of praise. Praising, again, is a form of reciprocity. You give something, which will get you something in return at a later time.
All above is true.
No, it is not. These are the lessons I have learned. And the methods I have used. What works in one project, may not work in another. What brought you success in your previous job, might not have the same leverage in your current.
Look. Listen. Learn. Adapt. Be agile. Be smart. Because you can. Because you owe it to yourself.