How to Lead a Project
Work. Basically it’s a bigger, more competitive version of elementary school: There are the smart kids, the pretty and popular ones, the nerds. And often you’re still “graded” on how well you work with others. Group projects abound in the modern-day office, and learning how to negotiate the dynamics of working alone and with others is an essential skill. Here are some tips for high achievement.
Know thyself. Are you great at working alone, researching, and solving problems in your head? Or do you thrive in busy situations, work well under pressure, and come up with your best ideas brainstorming with others? Knowing your work style is essential for success, and your boss and co-workers should be aware of it too. While you may not always be able to avoid working on projects you don’t like, when something does come up that perfectly suits your skill set, your boss will know exactly who to call upon.
Know thy group. If you are put on a team project, the first thing you need to do is size up the group. Hopefully you know your co-workers and have some idea of their strengths and weaknesses. Sarah thrives under pressure and is a big procrastinator. Joel doesn’t have a lot of ideas but he’s a great worker and loves being told what to do. Knowing the individual personalities in the group will help you assess the group dynamic and anticipate any problem areas.
Divide and conquer. Most projects have a wide range of tasks. Work together to dole out duties so that each person is in charge of something that interests them. Also, be sure to set a deadline and stick to it. Even the procrastinators should know that Sept. 15 is the drop-dead date for all copy and design work to be completed. If one person in the group really works better on their own, give them something detail-oriented to get excited about and don’t require them to attend nonessential meetings. No one should feel as though their time is being wasted.
Focus on the common goal. In intense work situations, conflict does occur. When it happens, try to distinguish between interpersonal conflicts that happen when personalities clash, and conceptual conflicts that arise over differing opinions of how a project should be executed. Interpersonal conflicts are best handled away from the group. Issues that pertain to the group should be discussed together to avoid hard feelings or the perception that a select one or two people are really in charge. If there is an established group leader, this is the time for them to step up and let their diplomatic skills shine. How? Call a brief meeting to informally chat about the project. Gently segue into a casual discussion of concerns and complaints. Work together to clear the air. Try to avoid handling crises over e-mail because it’s hard to detect tone, which can only exacerbate the problem. Also, when things get tough it never hurts to remind people that if the project succeeds, then everyone succeeds. And if it fails, you’re all going down together.
Be positive. All groups need a cheerleader, and who better than you to assume that role? (Just don’t be really perky and annoying, or else you’ll have the opposite of the desired effect.) Offer to bring in coffee for an early meeting or snacks mid-afternoon. If morale is down, suggest a break—cocktails after work or cupcakes to celebrate the completion of a big task. Hard work will be easier (and more enjoyable) if you and your compatriots don’t want to claw each other’s eyes out.