Interview with: Katherina Swings
LinkedIn: LinkedIn Profile
Interview by: Frank Turley
Date: June 2019
Job Title: Teams and Leadership
Katherina's mission is to create a sustainable world by connecting people to discover each other’s strengths. This is a short interview where I presented some questions about project managers and teams.
1) What are some of the common team issues that appear in teams?
As we are all uniquely diverse, we come in all kinds and types. There are the obvious differences between people: differences of age, gender, ethnicity... but also a lot of more hidden differences: extraverts versus introverts, neurodiversity (like autism, ADHD,...), educational background, religion or spiritual beliefs, contractors versus employees, part-time versus full-time team members etc. So, people have different needs, different opinions,... and in a team there can be a lot of misunderstandings based on this. People expect different things and assume that this is clear for the others as they take themselves as the norm.
So, to me, the common team issues are: lack of efficient communication, lack of engagement, lack of trust AND lack of fun and as a result of that lack of productivity / efficiency.
2) What advice would you give to a PM who has just started a project with a new team?
I believe that the biggest advice to give is not to assume things but to talk about the things you would like to see, the things you expect, to ask questions in an open way and to co-create a way of working that suits the project team. It is not because you have been doing things a certain way for years that others have a similar experience.
For example : It is not because you believe someone is too silent in the project team meeting that you can assume that this person is not interested, not knowledgeable, not motivated. etc. This person might need more time to process information or be rather introvert and might be overwhelmed by the others talking loudly and firmly for example. Assuming makes an 'ass of you and me' ;) (excuse my language). Rather talk to this person after the meeting and check in an encouraging way ; 'I have noticed you were rather silent during the meeting. I am worried about that. Can we talk about it?'
3) How should a PM monitor the team during the project ?
On an individual level, to be right to people you need to treat them differently. This might sound awkward, but as we are all uniquely diverse, we need different things. Some of us like to have a lot of details, other like to see the bigger picture only. Some of us like to experiment and try, others like to read a full script and manual. Some of us like to be guided closely, others like to have more autonomy and prefer to report to you on a regular basis , but the rest of the time they are most efficient when you just leave them alone. While others would go crazy if they are not more closely monitored. ...
From a team perspective, it is crucial to build in some team moments and not only to have a PMO update, but also to have some fun! Make time to celebrate together and get to know each other on a personal level. That does not need to cost a lot of time and money. A funny picture together, a birth day card, an informal coffee break with the team or a lunch, a walk in the park, ... Depending on the circumstances and the creativity of the group, you can always find something. For virtual teams with people scattered around the globe, each location can make a short video where they show each other how the office looks like or how they celebrate a local public holiday for example. Creating connection, virtually or in real life, is essential for the success of the project.
4) Can a PM influence the success of the project by selecting his or her team members wisely?
Yes, indeed. In a previous question I have mentioned the differences between people and it might have sounded as something difficult to manage and that is the case. However, the good thing about it is that the more diverse your team, the better the results when you look at decision making, talent attraction, innovation, financial performance, ... A diverse project team will anticipate certain things for the customer or client a non-diverse team might not even think about. The more perspectives you cover in your project team, the more perspectives you can cover for your client or customer. It is like the difference between a room with a panoramic view or one that just has a view on a concrete wall two meters from the window.
So, when putting a team in place, it is wise to choose different people and no clones and to manage them inclusively, meaning that project team members can all bring their true self to the project. This means: creating a culture of trust where people can speak up, a culture of collaboration where every project member feels accountable and does his or her part.
5) What advise do you have for team members ?
Take action! Each team member is co-responsible for the atmosphere in the project. You can shoot that funny picture and share it with the rest of the team. You can give ideas on what to do to connect to the other project members, also when they are in different locations. Don't be shy and do not see it as something on top of your job to connect and team up, no, this is also part of your job (as well as of the job of the project manager).
Speak up! Even if you feel the culture of the project might not be encouraging to say what's on your mind, be brave and speak up. If you have certain needs to do a better job (ergonomic chair, more visuals, more details, more silence to focus....), let your project manager know about it. It is to the benefit of the project and the other team members that you can give the best of yourself.