Building The Buzz

How To Get Your Team Engaged In What They Do

By Paul Spencer, PMP

It’s easy to spot great project leaders in the workplace.  People are excited to work for them.  You can feel the buzz in their teams.  Their project is the place everyone wants to be.  But how do great leaders create that buzz? 

There are three key components to engaging people and creating excitement.  The first is alignment on vision – helping the team to feel like they’re contributing to a worthwhile goal. The second is by creating individual excitement – getting people excited about their future.  And the third is developing a sense of camaraderie within the team.  Here are some simple pointers on how you can start building the buzz in your teams.

To engage your team as a group, start with the vision.  People want to understand why they’re doing what they’re doing, and they want to know that they’re working towards a worthwhile purpose.  As a leader, you should start by making sure that you clearly understand your project’s goals and vision.  Then you can communicate that vision to your team, and show each person how their job contributes to achieving it.  Let’s break that down a little more.

Make sure that your team hears about the vision regularly.  Talk about it in status meetings, and put it up on the wall where everyone will see it.  Try to share the vision in a positive way, so that your team is excited about striving to achieve it.  What if the vision isn’t sexy?  What if you’re leading a project for an insurance company, and the goal is improve the system so it can process an additional 10,000 vehicle damage claims a year?  Dig deeper to find the more compelling story.  For example, each one of those vehicle damage claims makes a big difference to the person who needs their car fixed, so they can get to work and pay the rent. 

Vision also matters at the individual level.  Once the team buys into a big goal, they want to know how they’re helping to make it happen.  On smaller teams it may be obvious.  But on a large project, people can lose sight of the connection between their job and the broader vision.  As a leader, it’s up to you to help find that connection for them.  Let’s say you’re leading a team of software engineers; you might need one of your developers to write an automated program to extract data from one system, reformat it, and import that data into another system on a nightly basis.  You could ask one of your developers to do just that, and they’ll probably get right on it, but there’s no sizzle.  Instead, if you were to ask them to write the program, and tell them that by doing so they’ll cut turnaround time on custom orders from one week to a single day, as well as increasing revenue by $3 million per year, you’ll get a much more enthusiastic response. They’ll be more invested in the work, because they know why it matters.

You can also use recognition to connect people with their part in making the vision happen.  When someone does something praiseworthy, acknowledge them in a way that highlights their contribution to the overall goal.  “Susan, thanks for coming in on Saturday to finish testing the latest release.  That makes it so much easier for us to get the new website operational on schedule.”  Give competent people a job to do, and they’ll get it done.  But give them a goal to achieve, and they’ll run through walls for you.

You also need to build the buzz for each team member individually.  Nothing engages someone as deeply as a sense of excitement about their future.  You can create that excitement by giving them the opportunity to learn and grow in the workplace.  Talk to your team members one-on-one,  find out what they want to do, and help them to make it happen.  When you’re assigning tasks, ask people what part they want to play, don’t just put names in their usual slots.  Check in regularly to see whether people think they can contribute in other ways.  If they’re excited about a stretch assignment, give them the chance, even if you’re not sure whether they can pull it off.  Let them try, and support their efforts.  Pair them up with a mentor, get them training, and make sure they’re not left hanging if things don’t go well.  By doing these things, you’ll show your team that you care about them as individuals.

Finally, work on developing a sense of camaraderie within the team.  Help people to see their peers as capable, like-minded, and committed, because being part of a great team lifts everyone up.  Celebrate individual contributions openly, so everyone can see what a great job their teammates are doing.  Celebrate group successes in fun, casual ways.  That way your team knows that their efforts are appreciated, and by doing it in a casual way, they can get to know each other and connect on a more personal level.  Also, if someone’s not pulling their weight, you need to do something about it.  If you just let it slide, it can take the wind out of everyone else’s sails.  Do all that you can to turn it around through coaching, training, and other techniques.  But don’t be afraid of the tough decision; if you’ve tried everything and things really can’t be fixed, it’s time for that person to move on from the project, for the sake of the rest of the team. 

Focus your efforts on three things: show people how they contribute to a worthwhile goal, get them excited about their own future, and boost team spirit.  Building the buzz takes time, but if you follow these three principles, before long your project will be the place everyone wants to be.

By Paul Spencer, PMP

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