Never stop leading – demonstrate what you want
Arianna watched the meeting devolve into a time sink. Try as she might to get people to stick to the agenda, the gathering had gone so far off track that her colleagues were at their wits’ end. What started off at a professional disagreement over the direction of the endeavour rapidly devolved into another circular conversation. For all of the reflective listening and other interventions that Arianna did, the team was not meshing well together and the project was falling further behind. On many occasions, Arianna held smaller sessions with a few key people that seemed to be butting heads. She encouraged them to communicate what was really driving the divide between them and what was really motivating them in staying in their positions. Her efforts met with lukewarm results.
Getting the attention of partners and suppliers was also troublesome. The decision-making process was different for each of the partners. It seemed that for all of the time they spent in meetings, the decision-makers weren’t there when they needed to be. And when the decision-makers were there, none of the technical people were. So that left Arianna with decisions that couldn’t be implemented because they weren’t resourced properly or not technically feasible.
At several high-level meetings, Arianna impressed on vice-presidents and senior project managers the high dollar amount attached to this project. She also detailed explicitly the penalties in the contract for delays and failure to meet deliverables. The penalties were in the millions. She stressed that more commitment and action was needed from all partners to see this project to fruition. The vice presidents seemed to sit straighter in their chairs when they saw how much the delays were costing them in penalties. They unanimously promised quick results.
A few days after the high-level meeting, not much changed. The workers across the partners were disengaged and seemed to have other priorities. Focusing on quick wins, Arianna sought to build momentum and renew enthusiasm for the project. For a week or so it seemed that minor victories manifested. Then the energy fizzled and the project started going off course again.
Maybe the partners weren’t clear on their objectives and how they influenced the work and timetables of others. So Arianna organised a cross-partner development meeting. All 143 people involved in the project were assembled in an auditorium and provided with light refreshments. The refreshments part was important as Arianna knew all too well she’d be facing revolt without them. So she stood there on stage detailing the contributions of each section and each partner to the overall success of the project. She highlighted key contributions made to date by different partners and invited the audience to share common ways forward. Simply said, what would make their cooperation better and more productive. So between gulps of coffee and bites of vegetable sticks and cookies, the large crowd highlighted some issues they were facing and provided solutions.
Hopeful as a result of the large gathering, Arianna started implementing some of the suggestions. The team was at first receptive to the changes, eager to see progress made. Then, a few weeks later, old habits and patterns reemerged, conflicts bubbled to the service and progress ground to a halt.
Undaunted, Arianna turned to her immediate team for support in organising smaller social events. Colleagues from all partners were invited to stop by after work for informal dinners and drinks, to participate in darts tournaments, contribute as a team to charitable walks and runs, and other non-work related activities. To her pleasant surprise, some people from all of the partners showed up for a few of the events. Progress in the actual project hadn’t improved but Arianna managed to broaden her network.
Arianna modelled the behaviour she wanted to see in her colleagues. She worked tirelessly to encourage and motivate her coworkers to meet the project’s milestones. Arianna engaged all levels of team management to get their feedback, incorporate their advice and support them in reaching their goals. She sought to have conflicts addressed in a meaningful way though the conflicts still divided the team months into the project. Despite all of these problems, not once did Arianna stop leading. If you want your team and your colleagues to perform and buy into the vision, then you had better do so first. Never stop leading, keep learning and adapting, and show your team your commitment.