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Jan 16, 2013 by Patrick Icasas in PM Best Practices & News

4 Ways to Soothe a Spooked Team

How to Soothe a Spooked TeamWork isn’t all smiles and laughter, even in Project Management. There will be periods where you and/or your team will be frightened and anxious. Perhaps your project is on the verge of being cancelled, or your company is undergoing retrenchment. Maybe your company is going through a merger and is reviewing staffing assignments post-acquisition. Whatever the case, your team is spooked.

If this negative emotion goes unchecked, it could end up in a dip in performance, or even in employees jumping ship. As their leader, you need to keep a level head and make sure your team does the same.

Make Sure their Fears Are Unfounded

Before you go around telling people there’s nothing to be afraid of, make sure that there is nothing to be afraid of. It’s a leader’s natural reaction to reassure people and say everything’s going to be all right. But giving people hope only to cut their legs out from beneath them later on—intentional or not—is a lot worse than bad news straight out of the gate. You owe it to your team to tell it straight.

Keep the Communication Lines Open

Don’t suddenly clam up if the situation gets a little tense. It may keep you from blurting out secrets, or prevent awkward conversations, but it has a highly negative impact on your team. It breeds rumor and sours your standing within the team.

Instead, set up a group meeting where teams can voice their concerns. Also, don’t turn away private conversations just because it’s a bit uncomfortable. Even if you can’t give them the answer they want, sometimes the mere act of voicing out their fears is enough to settle them down.

Don’t Lie

You need a damned good reason if you’re going to lie to your team—it doesn’t matter if it’s to a group or to an individual. They trust that you are looking out for their best interest, and lying flies directly in the face of that. There is no such thing as a “white lie” within a project management group.
That said, try to exercise some diplomacy when breaking out the bad news. Honesty and respect go hand in hand. Don’t be curt and short with people just because you want to avoid discussing uncomfortable topics at length.

Squash Rumors

Rumors are going to sprout up no matter how you try to handle the situation. Even if you have very little actual information to give out, you can still squash rumors by pointing out how unfounded they are. Tell people that making assumptions based on unverified info is counter-productive and fear-mongering. It might not stop all the rumors, but you’re trying to cut down the biggest and most damaging to morale.

Image credit: Hellabella, Flickr

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Patrick Icasas

Patrick Icasas is a former marketing project manager with 7 years of marketing and PR agency experience, managing creative projects for brands such as Nokia, Verizon Wireless, and Adobe. He now spends his time helping people make the most out of their project management software and entertaining his 5 year old daughter.

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