Project managers have a lot of power over their teams, and over the years I’ve encountered many different ways of exercising it. There are those who treat teams coldly and analytically, as if they were machines. I’ve seen project managers treat teams like they were expendable, using them up and discarding them once they burn out. But there’s a better way, one that brings a successful project while developing your team’s skills and loyalties: championing.
Championing isn’t being “soft-hearted” or “spoiling” people. It’s treating your team with dignity and respect they deserve. It gets results, but doesn’t break anyone’s spirit. Instead, it lifts them up and inspires them to work harder for you and the organization.
Here’s how being a champion accomplishes this:
Listen to Your Team’s Ideas
Your team isn’t a bunch of mindless drones. If you’ve hired right, they’re professionals with experience and ideas of their own, and you’d do well to ask them for their input. Don’t shoot down an idea just because it wasn’t yours.
And don’t forget to tap into the collective intelligence. If one team member is stuck on a problem, holding a brainstorming session might produce better results.
Be Confident In Their Skills
The best way for you to express confidence in your team is not to micromanage them. Tell them what needs to be done, and let them decide how to do it. If you don’t feel 100% confident in them then go ahead and monitor their work, but don’t step in unless something is really going wrong.
Another way of showing confidence in your team is delegating. Giving someone the authority to make decisions on your behalf is a great confidence builder. You’re not encouraging a rival—you’re encouraging a backup.
Work Through Their Mistakes
One of the hardest things to do in management is to keep things positive in the face of mistakes. Yes, people lose their temper. Yes, there are going to be repercussions. But don’t focus on assigning blame. You don’t have the time. Focus on correcting the mistake and getting the project out the door.
Your team is going to take a lot of crap, especially if the project is behind or buggy. As their project manager, you have to shelter them from most of it so that they can focus on getting the job done. You might have to accept a lot of punishment on their behalf, but whatever you do, don’t take it out on them.
Credit Where It’s Due
While you shouldn’t linger on a team member’s mistakes, you should emphasize a team member’s successes. Acknowledge great deeds, whether it’s finding the most number of bugs or leading a team on their own for the very first time. Reward the group when they successfully implement a project, and celebrate with them.
When you’re a champion, you’re always thinking of your team’s well-being. But you’re not spoiling them—absolutely not. You’re being a supportive leader and giving them a positive environment in which they can thrive. Over time, you’ll be able to develop a team that can stand up to anyone else’s—and maybe even lead teams of their own.
Image credit, Flickr, Margarida Sardo