One of the first things you should do taking over a new project is definitely getting acquainted with your team. As usual a new project manager is introduced to a new team officially by his predecessor or manager, but I’m talking about something different here. I mean that it makes perfect sense to meet with each team member in person. Such one-on-one meetings are the most useful project manager’s instruments. There are a lot of reasons for having these regular meetings during your project’s life, but the very first one-on-one meeting with your new team stands alone because it gives you understanding project`s specifics and the people you are going to work with. Let’s figure out what you should discuss at these first one-on-one meetings:
1. How long is the team member on the project?
This question lets you understand who comprises the core of the team. These are the people who have been working on the project a lot longer than the others. It means that they know the project better from all angles – they know the product with its advantages and shortcomings, they know the stakeholders with their peculiarities, they know the team members with their strengths and weaknesses, etc. These people will be the first to whom you should come to ask questions during the period when you are still getting acquainted with the project. But beware, because there is almost 100% possibility that one of them is an informal leader of the team, and if he or she sees some threat in you, there may be conflicts. Hence, one of your most important tasks is to identify this informal leader as soon as possible and to build trust and good relationships with him.
On the other hand, if there are people in the team who have just joined the project, they are the second category to whom you should pay a special attention. They are almost in the same situation as you and they will need your support during their project adaptation period. In addition, if there are a lot of internal politics on the projects (unfortunately it happens), the newcomers most likely haven’t figure out what happens and have not taken any side. So, do your best to get them on your side.
2. What are particular team member responsibilities in details?
The answer to this question helps you to get acquainted with your project team structure faster and to understand who is responsible for what. Also, if there are any problems in any project`s area, the person who works in that particular area will probably reveal these problems answering to this question.
3. With whom does a particular team member communicate most of all?
The answer to this question helps you to get a clue what internal units and parties exist inside the project, what the most effective collaboration nodes are and what relationships are inside the team.
4. What does your teammate like about the project?
The things your teammates like about the project are usually those ones that motivate them and at the same time they are the reasons why people stay on the project. That is why it’s so important to know about these things and nurture them to keep your people happy and satisfied. So, if you step into your new position with a desperate desire to introduce some innovations, please, try not to change the things that are good on your teammates` opinion. If you disagree with them, please, prepare your arguments and convince people that everything will become better as a result of the changes.
5. What doesn’t your teammate like about the project?
Asking this question, you may hear about all the ‘pains’ your team members have and the whole bunch of the troubles present on the project. Some of them may be as old as the project itself. Ideally, after the first one-on-one session you should make up an improvement to-do list, but for personal use only. Don’t be so quick to promise people to resolve all their problems instantly. Just listen to their complaints, thank for sharing them and tell that you will investigate the problems and see if something can be done. I believe that one of your project manager’s duties is to help people on your project to do their work the best they can. You can do this by removing impediments and distractions, optimising processes, establishing good communications, etc. In order to do this you should learn first what prevents your employees from performing their duties perfectly.
These are the five questions I find useful to ask my teammates when I`m getting acquainted with a new project and a new team. What about your list of questions? Would you like to share them with me in the comments?