I recently talked with an engineer about some work that he was doing for a state agency, and he seemed about as excited as a burnt piece of toast. He mentioned that he avoids project managers like the plague. I understand that, stereotypically speaking, engineers may not be the most charismatic of individuals. And I’m fully aware that project managers are not always the most beloved employees. But the conversation caused me to wonder if project managers are missing an opportunity. Are you getting your project teams excited about their work?
One of the most important drivers of project success is the energy and focus that the team members bring to a project. People talk about hours and costs. They don’t talk about energy. And yet, the reality is that for humans, not all hours are equal. Face it. When you sit down to do intellectual work, are all of your efforts equal?
Last week I wrote a blog on how to create project focus in chaos. In this week’s blog, I will offer some suggestions on how to ratchet up project team energy levels.
Energy is contagious. Have you ever had lunch with someone who seemed exhausted? I bet you went home tired. Have you ever met someone who just exuded energy and enthusiasm? Did you come up inspired and eager to do something? (Take away any impacts from alcohol or excess carbs when you answer these questions.)
If you have people who seem to have low energy levels, try to understand why that is. Some people are just less charismatic — but that doesn’t mean they don’t put out equally strong work. Don’t mistake charisma for energy that translates into solid work.
I have come to believe that there are some people who simply don’t think about visions, or why they are doing what they are doing. They have no plan for their life — it just happens — and that’s okay with them. When it’s time for a vacation, they just find a place to go, and go. They don’t think much about what kind of vacation experience they want, or why.
In the project world, these people come in and do their jobs. And if the project is particularly exciting, maybe their energy goes up a little and they seem more interested than normal. But they seem perfectly happy working on the mundane.
A problem occurs if one of these people is asked to create a compelling vision for a project, or what they want to achieve out of the project. They don’t see the need. And they get very angry with you when you keep asking a question that they think is silly. Maybe it has to do with their Myers Briggs type. I don’t know.
So, accept that some people on your team may not appreciate the value of a compelling project vision and create it anyway. Take it from Steve Jobs, it will help.
People are different. Understand what is creating and consuming energy for the people on your teams. For all of the discussions about co-locating teams, be aware that open floor plans may be very hard for introverts.
Don’t confuse sociability and charisma with introversion and extroversion. Ask people where they get their energy. There are charismatic people who do quite well in large gatherings, but they come home exhausted. Introverts get their energy from within; extroverts get theirs from other people. Be aware of the way that your work environment and expectations impact the energy of those on your team.
In Daniel Pink’s new book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, he discusses how the time of day that something is done can make a big difference on accuracy. For about 75% of the population, analytical work, particularly math-oriented work, should be done in the morning, and decisions resulting from that work are better made then too. Creative work, which might include brainstorming project activities, is better done in the early afternoon.
There is the 25% of the population who are true night owls, and the situation is the reverse for them. With all of that in mind, does it make sense to re-think when you are asking your teams to do their highest value work?
Unlike money, which can be created, time is a finite resource. When the day is over, you can’t add back more hours. Respect everyone’s time. I could say the same thing about their ideas, work products, and even their families. Respect goes a long way. Don’t assume that what you need is someone else’s highest priority. Don’t create silly workplace rules because you don’t trust your employees to do the right thing.
I always advise individuals to protect their time, just like they protect their financial assets. When my children were little, they heard me say that their failure to plan would not become my emergency.
If you are a circular thinker pay extra attention to planning your conversations to keep them from rambling. Think ahead about what you need to know, what you need someone else to know, what decisions need to be made, and what preparations should be made ahead of the call or meeting. It’s time consuming to think ahead about a simple coffee, but it reaps big rewards when you do it well.
Have you discovered other ways to increase project team energy levels? Share them in the comments. I don’t see much written on this subject and yet, without the energy to power through our work, we are not going to be successful. That applies to both teams and individuals.