Category Archives: Team building

Imagine there’s no email – communications planning

Back in the day before technology such as email, social networking and forums had been thoroughly adopted we were resigned to actually speaking to each other – either face to face or via telephone. I wonder if we compared success rates for project delivery to today if achievement was higher? Probably not, however I bet communications were deemed as much stronger. I am a huge fan of modern technology and it’s benefits for easy access and recorded communications however as we become busier and lazier – it is all too easy to fire off a few emails and update online activity boards without actually discussing any changes or actions required by the project team. How many times have you seen your name entered next to a piece of information or been put on copy of an email and thought; “what does that actually mean?” Our ability to interpret information varies from person to person and so a great deal of important instruction / information can also get lost in translation.

As a project manager the minimum you should be doing is making sure you speak to people, understand their workloads other commitments and ensure everyone is clear on what is required. I am not a fan of unnecessary meetings either, meetings are required but only last week I was talking with a PM from the investment management sector who was complaining that they have meetings about having meetings – this is of course a step too far.

Work out a communications plan – make sure you list everyone involved on the project with the most heavily involved at the top working down to less active members of the team. Placing priority on the more heavily involved and working out a mutually convenient way to communicate such as weekly calls / coffee and teleconferences for groups to join in is a good start. Don’t be a stranger to the team and if possible, do pop over for a coffee and chat to see where they are at with their workstream. By effectively communicating at the start of the project and building relationships – you can convince the team of your intentions to keep in touch and that you are not micro managing, explaining the need to have a transparent view of where everyone is at will help you all work together more effectively. In my first PM role I reported to a programme director who said to me, “If you tell me when things aren’t going to plan, I will have your corner. If you cover up and drop me in it then you are on your own.” You can’t say fairer than that! Encourage your team to communicate – but you can only do this if you are openly and regularly communicating yourself.

Impressing the boss is one thing – carving a name for yourself is another

I am not one for lateness; in fact I have an in-built program which won’t allow it. I can count on one hand the times I have been late for work – those times were completely unavoidable. But being late isn’t the only bug bearer in a successful team – there are those who consistently turn up “just in time” who are also noticed in a professional environment. I have always liked to get into the office a little early as it gives me time for reflection and also the opportunity to pick up any problems which may have manifested overnight. In turn it allows me the opportunity to get ahead with my workload allocating time for any further issues which may arise without having a huge impact on my daily schedule.

I am not an advocate for those who turn up to the office at 7am and leave at 7pm either – this if anything worries me that the individual cannot fit their work load into core office hours which means they have either got too much on their plate or they are bad time managers. Getting the balance right is key, we’ve all had to start really early or finish late on occasions and that is the nature of working in a project environment. Arriving half an hour before the office opens is good practice and allows a little quiet time before the phones start ringing off the hook.

Going the extra mile is also a good way to get noticed; this does not mean volunteering for everything available and will result in the 7-7 shift; but taking on additional pieces of work will not only highlight you as a team player – it will assist you in building up your skill-set. I have often advised those both working in a project environment and those looking to get into the PM field to take this approach as it is a fantastic was to really get involved in core areas which are of interest to you and prove your ability to pick up areas of work new to you. For those who are not currently in the PM world and want to join it, it is imperative that you gain valuable experience working on projects. You can add the detail to your CV and really demonstrate your commitment to potential employers about taking a dedicated project position moving forward. For those who are seasoned in the PM field it is a prime opportunity to work on projects which you haven’t had exposure to before which will widen your knowledge field and potential for getting into differing projects later down the line.

There are others ways to increase your skill-set and get noticed for the right reasons at work – such as volunteering yourself up to head up presentations, some may be based on something new you have learnt or to generate a discussion about ideas you may have for the business. Not all management teams are open to new ideas – which is a shame and can be catastrophic for the business but you should persevere all the same. Your ideas may be shelved at the time but brought out when needs arise in the future. However most good managers will take your ideas on board and look at how they can be utilised with the core business goals. You could be the instigator for some fantastic strategies in the business – nice to add to your CV huh!

The best way to really impress your management team and the business is to think out of the box and don’t be afraid to challenge – the best businesses actively welcome being challenged and it proves a great way to really build strong strategies and initiatives that work for the business and for your career.

Village games celebrating success

I was fortunate enough to be invited along to a community project celebrating the opening of the Olympics on Friday 27th July at Carsington Water in Derbyshire by one of their project managers Emma Beswick; Emma alongside her colleague Katy Stubbs organised the event aimed at reaching out to the local community with taster sessions in a variety of sports. Over 600 people registered but it is thought that over 1000 people attended the event and were treated to all sorts of sporting activities which were open to young and old to join in; such as archery, fun run, golf, football and cycling to name a few being provided by local businesses.

On discussing the project with Emma Beswick, Sports Development Officer for the High Peak – she explained that planning the event was fairly complex and the real challenge was to ensure numbers attending on the day were at a high level and health and safety was adhered to stringently. The Village Games team have sports officers in each borough who are responsible for bringing sport to the forefront in their geographical locations (60 villages) – aimed at getting locals involved in fitness based activities. Funded by a number of organisations the initiative runs until 2013 – due to its continued success the team are hoping to secure future funding to keep running beyond 2013.

Arts and crafts at the event

On arriving at the make shift arena I was pleasantly surprised by the professionalism of the organisers and event; with each taster area clearly marked out and queues of enthusiastic contenders awaiting their turn. The event really did cater for all tastes and included face painting and arts and craft areas to add further fun to the occasion. There were bouncy castles and sumo suits for the children to go into competition in the ring which was great fun both for those competing and those watching. Medals were awarded for many events and it was quite clear that the majority of those in attendance had set aside the day to sit in the sun and join in the activities.

Community projects such as these are a fantastic initiative and really bring home the need for future events and further funding – encouraging families to spend quality time together and encouraging sports; making sports fun and accessible to all. Clearly the project managers for such events have a good knowledge in sports but also a strong awareness of structured project delivery – realising benefits from the outset and complex planning being key to their success. 7

Emma Beswick receiving a medal for fun – but very much deserved!

Further photos of the day can be found here.

For further information on Village games you can visit their website here and feel free to contact Emma Beswick on 07909 443 043 for advice on executing such projects. You can also follow Emma and her community project work on twitter: @villagegames_hp

Tackling mental health issues in the workplace

The Word’s Maddest Job Interview aired on 25th July on Channel 4 which saw 8 candidates tested in a number of scenarios by 3 employers from varying backgrounds, a psychoanalyst and psychiatrist were also observing the testing and behaviours to try and determine who out of the candidates had been previously been diagnosed with mental health issues. According to the program 1 in 5 employees who disclose a mental health issue to their bosses lose their job. The aim of the programme was to determine if having a mental health issue could a. be detected and b. determine if this would be detrimental to their employability.

The experiment was a really interesting insight into behaviours displayed by the candidates when placed into a number of tests – the first test being an interview setting where the 3 employers sat behind a desk and welcomed each candidate with one question. “What do you think about the Olympics?” The reasoning for one question to be asked was because common theories on interviewing candidates tends to indicate that interviewers make a decision within the first few minutes of an interview whether or not they like a candidate or not. This is an interesting theory as I believe this is not always the case – I have conducted a large volume of interviews and can honestly say that on occasions I have made a decision about the candidate in the initial first question or two but often once a candidate has relaxed a little and settled into an interview my perception of them has changed. But in the interest of the experiment I recognise that to give a fair and controlled decision; this format worked. I was also intrigued by the employers’ versus candidates’ perception of how the interview went. One candidate felt he came across confident and strong where as the general feedback from the 3 interviewers was that he came across nervous and dishevelled – clearly promoting that feedback from interviews, whether positive or negative is instrumental for candidates to understand how they appear to others in this type of setting to be able to hone their technique for future interviews.

As the candidates moved through various circumstances such as a lateral thinking task, memory and recall, group task, risk taking, socialising and a real life work challenge; the employers’ changed their views on employability for each candidate. The aim was to place 3 candidates in their “top 3” shortlist through observation and discussion but they were also issued with anonymous statements about each of the candidates who had been diagnosed with mental health issues. Some of the statements were describing the effects the illness had on individuals such as suicide attempts, being sectioned and being unable to leave the house for months at a time. When discussing the statements one of the employers said he would have to think long and hard about employing someone with a mental health issue and having it stated on their CV would make him likely to not employ that candidate.

The interesting part about the experiment came when the final top 3 candidates were informed of their short-listing and all of them had been diagnosed with varying degrees of mental health issues – a surprise to the employers’ who agreed that their perceptions had been changed and that due to spending time with each candidate over a 5 day period had really assisted with changing their initial choices and also opened their eyes to the fact that the candidates ability to demonstrate the right traits for a work environment such as leadership, demonstrating independent thinking and team work was very strong hence being chosen.

The tasks set were nothing new to testing I have come across for interviews and also internal management candidature testing – the only difference being that they were all set on a 5 day period which leads to the next question; are the interviews being held currently enough? Should there be more than a couple of one hour staged meetings? Some organisations stipulate an assessment day which is gruelling to say the least having been on a few in my past but maybe spreading the testing out over a number of days may be a more successful route to identifying the best person for the job, not just on first impressions.

The program provided an interesting insight into interviews and perceptions generally, not just for those diagnosed with mental health issues and as such I recommend watching it to hiring managers and candidates alike to gain an understanding of how behaviours are observed by employers for interviews.