Easter-2014

For those of you celebrating, enjoy the long Easter weekend. We’ll be back after the break next week!

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Andrew Filev

Andrew Filev

This is a guest post by Andrew Filev is the founder and CEO of Wrike.

Various studies show that we spend about 45% of our time every day on habitual actions. People all have different work styles, but, as my experience shows, an important soft skill for a project manager is to help his employees develop the optimal mix of productivity habits.

Your team’s productivity habits are the magic ingredients to your project’s success. If you have the right recipe, your team will complete the project on time and collaborate in a hassle-free way. On the contrary, if the ingredients aren’t right, there could be procrastination, unproductive meetings and other problems.

Why the reluctance to change? 

The reluctance to nurture productive habits can’t be blamed on a bad temper or a conservative mind. Rather, the issue lies deep in human physiology. No matter how simple a habit is, our brains need to do a lot of rewiring, and even though we may not notice it, this involves physical change.

No wonder making a habit stick takes 66 days on average, according to research. Classic psychology also supports the point: denial is a natural first reaction to change. So, in order to create a productive habit, the main goal is to get past denial as quickly as possible, moving to acceptance and new confidence.

How to smoothly introduce new habits

Let’s look at some practical strategies for bringing new habits into your team’s culture and making these habits sustainable:

1. Lead by example

To plant a new productivity habit, define what behavior you want and then practice what you preach. Your team will immediately see it in action. In such a credible manner, you communicate the outcome as you keep leading by example.

Author and speaker Scott Berkun gave this really good description: “I think leadership comes from integrity – that you do whatever you ask others to do. I think there are nonobvious ways to lead. Just by providing a good example makes it possible for other people to see better ways to do things.”

2. Share the power to change (“peer pressure”)

Your own example is an essential starter, but it’s insufficient on its own. Additional support from a group of pioneers might be extremely helpful. Some of your employees might be more productivity-oriented than others. The tactic that I suggest is to form a core team from those most open to change, build the right productivity habits among them and empower them to influence others.

3. Apply horizontal or vertical rollout

You can move forward with the adoption of a new productivity habit in one of two ways: The first is to begin with a part of the team and then gradually roll it out to the rest of the employees. This would be a horizontal approach. The second is a vertical rollout, where the idea is to split the new method into parts and make them stick one after another. For example, it could be helpful in forming a culture of sharing, which is critical for smooth project collaboration.

4. Motivate

Changing habits involves both our rational and emotional sides. To influence the emotional, you should give your team extra incentive to repeat the new methods more frequently, integrating these into their work styles. Being a leader, you need to provide feedback, answer any questions promptly and go through the change together with your team. A bit of competition can make the habit introduction more natural and fun.  Introduce some sort of gamification. Get creative with prizes.

5. Blend new work styles into existing practices

If an old habit in the team is useful, don’t break it. What’s more, you can leverage it in adopting the new habits. To quicken the adoption of productivity methods, you could blend new and old practices that exist in your team. This would make the new feel more familiar, ensuring a more natural transition.

To wrap up, let me quote motivational speaker Brian Tracy: “Successful people are simply those with successful habits.”

The task of a project manager is to guide his or her team to its greatest potential, so that team members collaborate effortlessly and achieve great results together. As both experience and neuroscience research shows us, behavioral change isn’t easy. It’s just how human brains are wired. So, if you want to introduce new methods to your team, prepare well and actively participate from the very beginning.

About the author: Andrew Filev is the founder and CEO of Wrike, a leading provider of social project management software. He is a seasoned software entrepreneur, project and product manager with 10+ years of experience in the IT arena, advisor to several fast-growing ventures, popular blogger and contributing author in tech and business media (Wired, Pando Daily, etc.). Andrew frequently speaks about project management, business and innovation at such events as E2 Innovate, PMI Global Congresses, Enterprise Connect, IBM Connect and more.

 

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Alina Vrabie

Alina Vrabie

This is a guest article from Alina Vrabie from Sandglaz.

Creativity is the cornerstone of innovation. It’s what takes your work from average to outstanding. And we have creativity to thank for great products, services and ideas.

Sometimes, your team is facing a creative block and they clearly need a creativity boost. At other times, you might simply want to take your team’s creativity to the next level. Either way, your team members’ creativity at work stems from a place of feeling appreciated and taken seriously. They need a place where they can comfortably share their ideas and feel they are contributing to something meaningful.

So how exactly do you create this place?

1. Improve brainstorming sessions

Brainstorming should be a creative activity, but the problem is that often it’s not approached with creativity in mind. Before launching into a brainstorming session, you want to create an environment where everyone on your team feels comfortable sharing his or her ideas. You can even start with a game like word association. This will help your team members to not feel judged, which will make them more likely to tap into their creativity.

Once everyone is comfortable, start the session with a clear objective in mind, and clearly define the problem that you want to solve. However, don’t make it a goal to solve the problem during this session, but rather to come up with a few viable ideas that might solve the problem.

The brainstorming session is not a time to judge ideas, but to welcome creative ones. If you criticise team members’ ideas at this stage, they will likely not want to contribute in the future. On the other hand, successful brainstorming sessions will translate into more creative work outside of team meetings.

2. Coach individual team members

At times you might notice that individual team members are feeling particularly uninspired. Getting to know them and what makes them tick will help you coach them through unfruitful times.

Of course, this means that you have to make an effort to get to know your team members before they show a decrease in productivity. Make it a point of knowing what their aspirations are and what keeps them up at night. A good relationship with your team members will help them to open up to you when they’re going through rough times, but will also help you to guide them.

3. Communicate outside of formal meetings

Scientists at MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory have discovered that the best predictors of a team’s success are the energy and level of engagement between team members outside of formal meetings. Another Gallup study found that quality relationships at work are a predictor of a healthy, productive workplace, which will likely improve the creativity of your team.

Although it might appear to go against the idea of efficiency, scheduling coffee breaks or lunches where team members can get to chat and socialise will definitely increase your team’s creativity.

When talking about a new project, spend 90% of your time describing the goal, and 10% on how that goal might be achieved.

4. Harness the power of small wins

The power of small wins is often underestimated when it comes to your team’s creativity. It’s important for your team to have a sense of forward momentum in order to tap into their creativity.

Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile argues in her book The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work (co-authored with Steven Kramer) that a sense of progress at work makes for more creative team members. As Amabile points out, “on the days when people are feeling happiest, proudest, and most motivated, the single most prominent event in those days is making progress in meaningful work.”

5. Give your team autonomy

Mapping out where you want your team to go is good for your team members, but dictating how to get there isn’t. Smart people need autonomy in their work. And assuming you have smart people working with you, this means that you need to give them more room to make decisions and to think for themselves.

In his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Really Motivates Us, Daniel Pink cites a study conducted at Cornell University, showing that businesses that gave employees autonomy grew four times faster than businesses that used command and control management. They also experienced significantly lower turnover rates and higher levels of discretionary effort from their team members.

When talking about a new project, try to spend 90% of your time describing the goal, and only 10% on how that goal might be achieved.

Last, but not least, you should always find ways to reward creativity. If you want your team members to think outside the box, show them why they should. But know that simply rewarding won’t prevent your team members from running into creative blockages. A day-to-day commitment to a creativity-conducive environment will.

About the author: Alina Vrabie is a content creator at Sandglaz, where she writes about team productivity, collaboration and work culture for high performance teams and their managers. Her favourite motto is: “If it can be dreamed, it can be done.”

Amazon links in this article are affiliate links.

1 brilliant comment, add yours

Trust in Virtual Teams“Virtuality…is a critique on how work gets done,” writes Thomas P. Wise in his book, Trust in Virtual Teams. Before I read the book I thought that virtual teams were those that were split over several locations. If the team was physically located together, then they weren’t virtual.

However, Wise sees it differently. He has 3 criteria for defining whether a team is virtual or not and location is only one of them.

Geography

The more time you spend working with your team in the same location, the less you have to rely on electronic emails and other types of computer-mediated communication, so the less ‘virtual’ your team is.

Geography also plays a part in how well a virtual team bonds at the beginning of the project. The more experience individuals have with working in a virtual team, the better they tend to be at it and at starting off from a trusting position which helps build the team quickly. Wise says that off-shore outsourcing companies that only work in this way tend to be very good at hitting the ground running because they have lots of experience on teams where the members are not in the same location. They assume trust and they assume ways of working that automatically suit the virtual model, whereas team members who have not had prior experience of virtual teams will need a bit of time to find their feet with this new approach.

Geographic distance can also mean that conflict manifests itself in different ways. This is something that project managers should look out for, as it can be harder to spot. By the time you realise that there is a problem, it could be a much larger issue than if you had noticed two colleagues having an argument in a project team meeting in your office.

Electronic Communication

“Virtuality is found in how team members work, not in where team members work,” Wise says. “Communication is often considered to be an indicator of team virtuality.” I hadn’t considered this, but I’m sure you will have worked in an office where most of the team spend time emailing and instant messaging each other even though they could just get up and walk to the person’s desk instead.

Wise reports about 70% of people saying that over half of their communications on projects are electronic. If this is true, then there are a lot of teams physically located together who are using a ‘virtual team’ approach.

Culture

“Virtuality is found in how team members work, not in where team members work.” Thomas P. Wise

I didn’t think that the book explains the culture element particularly well. Wise says that young people have a different culture, which I can agree with – although I would extend it to say that each age group has a different culture, as Larry and Meagan Johnson explain so well in their book, Generations, Inc.

Wise doesn’t explain why culture makes a team virtual although he includes it as a factor in the chapter about virtual teams. He does say that culture is measured in the degree to which we find team members like ourselves. Perhaps that means that if the team members are not in the same location as us, they aren’t ‘like’ us and that makes building the relationship that little bit harder.

He comments again on conflict and says that it can arise as a result of culture on a virtual team, because people don’t perceive themselves to be equal, or find it harder to see equal behaviour on a virtual team. He recommends avoiding avoidance as a conflict management technique, which I would agree with – far better to tackle problems head on than leave them, virtual team or not.

So, location, type of communication and culture play a part in defining whether your project team is virtual or not. I would hazard a guess to say that most teams these days fall into one of these categories which means we are all working in a virtual world, even those of us with project team members at the desk next door.

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