One of the fundamentals of leadership is to understand your team. You want to be able to respond issues and changes as they occur.
When you’re on a new team, this involves getting to know the individual team members (core and executive) and then paying attention to the interaction between them.
How do you do this fast? The answer is actually by slowing down.
Don’t rush to get to know everyone. You don’t need to sit down and grill each team member on their background. Instead, ask questions that will lead to discussions, not just an answer.
Take your time. Listen and observe.
Here are a few questions that will help you get started:
Likes & Dislikes
- What’s your favorite part of your job?
- Is there anything about the project/work that worries you?
Asking about someone’s likes and dislikes are helpful because they can help you in your planning process. Clara loves data and spreadsheets? Great! Now I know where to place her.
If Bart is worried about testing, I can try to give him more time, or schedule him with a testing partner. If nothing else, I can let him know I’m sorry for giving him testing to do—you’ll be surprised at the good will generated by a simple acknowledgement.
Logistics and Communication
- What are your typical working hours?
- Do you have any time off planned or any time you typically go away during the year?
- What’s the best way to communicate with you – email, IM, phone, Zoom?
These questions can help you avoid trouble down the road. Knowing Angela is an early bird and Sai works late helps you plan meetings. Carol always takes the first week in August for vacation means you avoid that week for milestones she’s involved in. And even though you may prefer a quick phone call, Jonathan may ignore the phone and not even listen to his messages.
Base Knowledge & Expectations
- Have you ever been on a project before?
- What do you expect to happen on this project?
- Is there anything you’re expecting from me?
You may know a person’s position or department. But how long have they been doing it? Maybe they have skills outside their current role that can be a project game-changer.
Too often, my team members have never been on a project before and I need to start with Projects 101. Some have even told me they’ve been on projects but not “real” ones with an actual Project Manager. Flushing out this information is key – you don’t want to assume they understand what Scope Freeze is, or why missing due dates now will impact Go Live in 8 months.
I need to make a note about personal questions (e.g. “Do you have any school-aged kids?”). These are a slippery slope so they’re not something I ask. But typically, as the team gets closer and trust grows, most people are forthcoming with what’s going on at home. At the end of the day, knowing that someone has “daycare pickup duty” or struggles during school vacation weeks is helpful for scheduling. And let’s face it, we want to work with real people, not impersonal resources.
While you get to know the individuals on your team, keep your eyes and ears open to how they interact. Is there mutual respect? Is there one person who dominates all conversation? Is everyone cautious in a meeting, or do they dig into issues? It won’t take long to understand that Joyce is well respected, or that Barry’s instincts are usually on target.
A well-functioning team begins with the individual members. Learn about them. Not only will the team respond better to your leadership, but the path to a successful project will be smoother.