Kicking off a Project with your Team in the Era of New Work

Kicking off a Project with your Team in the Era of New Work

Spoiler: It involves a lot less planing, but more thought! — 5 min read!

Project heads will have to shift their function from a top down organizer to a on eye-level facilitator of purpose, work and learning.

Kicking off a project becomes more than a briefing of what you want to do and who does what and when. Gone are the days of hurried project managers rushing to conference rooms, carrying a laptop to add the last few point to the project roadmap.

Rethink Kickoffs. It is a critical moment not of managing & organising, but of setting up and building a team.

Why is that?

We work in times, where we need to rely on a multitude of expert colleagues that have special domain knowledge or experiences. Challenges have become so complex that we cannot master them ourselves. Organising work, structuring knowledge will lose its importance because it will get messier. What counts is to make sense on the spot, use the information you have to make a decision to move forward. If you work with other people, that requires a relationship. Teamwork becomes essential. And I am not talking about group-work, where people reluctantly split the pile of tasks that need to be done with deadlines and a shared folder. I am talking about teamwork, where people act proactively, think on their feet, are in the flow, reflect and share their knowledge, progress and make sense of their work together. When they fail, they try something different; and when they achieve something they celebrate success appropriately 🎉😃

It is a radical different thing. It is hard to describe, but everyone who has been in those two situations feels the difference. Have you ever? What did you notice? What was different? Please leave a comment! Let’s share and make it more clear!

3 messages are vital to communicate when you start something with a team!

Your leadership role! (hey, that’s you, accept it! Leader!)

You cannot do it on your own. Share with the team how you see your role: that you are tasked with this, but you need to work together, come together to make things fly. Invite them to full collaborate with you. That means asking for help, listening to others, and identifying your own blindspots and limitations.

What about the teammembers?

First, communicate why the people that are in the team are crucial to the success of the project. They are a vital and without them, it would not be possible. This creates an emotional commitment to the project. Make it transparent why they are there. Tell them that you carefully selected them. That each and everyone has a function and that all the experiences and skills are needed. If this is not the case: you don’t need a team! Second, communicate the behaviours you expect from them to them. Speaking up, voicing concerns, giving feedback, providing input, sharing knowledge etc.pp. Don’t do this like I just did. Do this is in clear and simple words, give examples of situations, maybe even cartoons, whatever it takes, really. Team rules — I like to do principles, same thing, different word, whole new perception — are a great way to make this a shared and common effort. Propose a few and then collect them with your team together. Protip: with everything that is proposed, ask: what does that mean in a concrete situation? Agree of a few important ones. Write them down, hang them in the office, put them underneath each e-mail, print cups, create a song…whatever is necessary to remind everyone about them.

Why are you doing this project?

A general rule would be: even a bad purpose is better than to give no purpose. If you leave this blank, you kickstart the imagination of your team. And you know how the human brain works, in the absence of a reason, things can turn negative and very twisty. Best practice is to externalise the reason d’être and make it positive. So, instead of saying: “This project will safe our financial future”, or “this project will make us competitive again”, make it about a user or a customer that you will help, empower to achieve something better/faster in his or her life. Don’t try to motivate by fear but be inspiring, make the goals relatable and desirable. Make sure everyone in the teams knows this, don’t be afraid to tell and re-tell this like a broken record. It is important.

Share with us your worst kick-off experience!

Reading this, it seems obvious but think back…. I bet you can list a handful or projects, right from the top of your head, where purpose was not really given (but assumed! I mean, hey, it is your work, you just have to do it, don’t you?) or was very shallow. It is crazy! I invite you to share your worst kick-off experience in the comments below, so we can analyze and see what went wrong to learn learn learn!

This is part of a series about the Future of Work, hey, whatever that means, I understand it like that: Teamwork! That is the future of work, sound lame? Well, I agree. Teams have been around forever, but sadly we haven’t even begun to dig deep into their powers. Why? Management theory basically: How companies worked in the past and how we learned how they should operate! Teams are everywhere but their potential is caped, cut short by ego, by structure and by an unwholesome — what a word — attitude to work. In this series I will explore this, sharing learnings from my experience, my work and a whole a lotta books!

Want to learn more?

If you want to learn more about teams and the teaming process. I highly recommend Amy Edmondson’s “TEAMing”

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