The early stages of project management often feel like spring training. You're feeling out your team, trying to see who plays which position the best, whether people can play multiple positions, finding out who the leaders are and so forth. You're also finding out what kind of people your team members are, not just what kind of players.
In training camp, many members of your team are what I like to call "vacationers." While your team is still in its formative stages, rookies and veterans alike tend to be more interested in socializing and having fun than in getting meaningful work done. Let's not disparage the vacationers, however; their sense of humor and fun-loving attitude is important in getting a group of people to feel like a team rather than just a group of people. The vacationing attitude is necessary, to an extent, in forming bonds that will carry your team through the development, completion and execution of its project.
Vacationers think of training camp with an emphasis on the second word, camp. In the first week or so of camp, everyone is very polite, getting to know each other. Objectives may be unclear to your new team as they settle in, and therefore the early stages of a project are characterized by poor planning techniques.
While teammates are eager to get to know each other, they've also still got a wall up; there is unwillingness there to deal openly with other teammates' feelings or to reveal their own. Just as athletes play "no-contact" and don't "go all out" during training camp for fear of injury, your team members are overly conservative during the early stages of a project because they have devoted little or no time to figuring out how they should operate. Fear of failure overshadows the excitement and willingness to take risks that characterize a good working team.
All of these characteristics are perfectly natural on a newly formed team. These tendencies have their place and their usefulness—after all, you don't want to take too many risks too early. However, if a team continues in this vein, it is unlikely to learn and will not be able to perform at the desired level. Team success hinges on growth, learning and the taking of calculated risks. Your team is going to need you to help it take that single leap forward to take your project out of training camp and into the preseason; without that leap, a successful regular season and a run through the playoffs will be impossible.
Ed Gash is president of Eagle Wings, www.calleaglewings.com, a Charlotte-based firm specializing in enhancing performance and building change resilience. He can be reached at (704) 458-9184 or at email@example.com.
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