Free Leader Guide: How to build a change-savvy project team

change leadership change skills Oct 23, 2022


Every team goes through these four phases. Well, ideally every team gets to the performing phase. Most project teams are counting on that to happen quickly in order to deliver on time and on budget. But every project team that comes together is unique. Different people. Different motivations.

Staffing the project team is one of the most critical decisions a leader will make to influence the outcome of the project. I have been fortunate to be a member of several high-performing project teams, some with colleagues from multiple consulting firms (and the client, of course). 

Five attributes consistent among the high-performing project teams I've been a member of include:

  1. The client Project Manager is at the center of the Project Management Office (PMO). S/he acts as a voice from the team to the Governance committee and also out to the organization's stakeholders. All Client PMs grow during projects. Savvy consultants will quickly recognize the strengths and opportunities of the client PM and support them to build skills and confidence.
  2. Change is an active part of project activities. The organizational change manager engages in PMO meetings and reports on people readiness to the Governance committee. Change activities are not done in isolation but incorporated into project team meetings and structures, and key project activities. 
  3. There is no me, only we. Consulting can be task-oriented, with relationships thrown out the window. The most effective teams collaborate and seek to understand how project deliverables interrelate. Others lean in to pick up the slack during peak times for any individual team member.
  4. Adjusts how (and possibly when), but stays firm on what. The scope and vision of the project remain firm. All team members have this at the core of why they're working so hard. What requires a bit more flexibility is how the scope gets accomplished and sometimes, when. This is when leaders have to make tough calls: should we delay go-live? Add more resources? Adjust when scope gets delivered? A collaborative team will have worked through the options--including the people impacts of each--to recommend a course of action. 
  5. Celebrates and has fun together. Recognition can feel corny or disingenuous. But project teams need it. They need to know someone is paying attention to the hard work. In many organizations where past changes haven't gone well, being on a project team can be perceived as a career risk. Celebrating wins (even personal ones) keeps emotional energy tanks full.

The Change Manager helps the Client PM drive team culture

The Change Manager is doing more than building out communications and training materials. S/he is actively involved in driving the team culture to quickly get through forming-storming-norming and reach high-performing. Here's what that looks like:

  • Coaches the Client PM to deliver project updates confidently. Early on in projects, this can be terrifying when the ambiguity of what's happening is high and the spotlight is on this individual to know and share details with leaders that they may not typically interact with frequently.
  • Partners with the rest of the PMO to identify change levers within project deliverables. For example, working with the External PM to add line items to the project plan for recurring communications (often missing from system implementor project plans). Or partnering with the Testing lead to make sure the right people are leading and involved in testing, and getting feedback on which transactions need the most training support.
  • Calls out to the Client PM when team member behaviors need correction (me vs. we). Provides specific examples so that team culture flourishes.
  • Informs project timelines and scope decisions based on people factors. Project team and stakeholder change capacity are aspects of any significant adjustments.
  • Supports the Client PM in identifying formal recognition and celebration moments. Regularly highlights specific examples during project team meetings of behavior shifts.

Summary Action List for Leaders

When it comes to achieving ambitious projects, leaders influence the ability to build a high-performing team to deliver on that vision by selecting the internal PM and then supporting that individual throughout the project.

Here's the step-by-step to build a change-savvy high-performing project team:

Step 1: Identify your internal PM. 

Step 2: Hire consultants whose skills and styles complement the internal PM. Three key roles to support this person: External PM, Change Manager, and Testing Lead.

Step 3: Stay positive and patient early on as the team storms and norms. Stay positive publicly as the client PM learns, and correct quietly 1-1 as needed. 

Step 4: Expect and encourage collaboration - does the PMO use 'we' language when providing updates? Do team members understand dependencies?

Step 5: Meet regularly with the client PM to assess growth, team culture, and any resource adjustments needed.

Step 6: Make sure people considerations--both the project team and stakeholders--are part of any project scope or timing decisions.

Step 7: Celebrate and recognize the team in any and every way possible! Governance meetings, impromptu team meetings, regular 1-1 email recognition....know who is working hard and encourage, encourage, encourage.

This is my experience from working with many high-performing teams who come together quickly, set aside personal motivations to achieve together....while having fun. (I wouldn't keep doing hard things if it wasn't fun!)

I'll update this guide as new observations emerge. Thanks for reading.

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