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7 deadly sins of a project manager while working with a team

When I started my career as a project manager in IT industry, I noticed that people often criticized project managers. They complained about them during the breaks, at the meetups, on the Internet, wherever it was possible. And I thought then that something was wrong with this situation: either it is not very good attitude to the manager’s position in the industry in general or it is all about particular personalities.  

Frankly speaking, any project manager can become sinful easily. When you have a team on the one side, a client on the other side and your direct manager on the top,  it’s very difficult to meet expectations of all the parties. And if there are a couple of people with absolutely opposite views on each side, to satisfy all of them is almost impossible.

However, I think that a project manager should be closer to the team than to other parties. He is a leader, but he is also a part of the team and should move towards achieving the goal together with the team. That’s why the situation when the team members complain about the project manager has always worried me.

After having gained some good experience in project management  I decided to get back to the topic of the relationships between the manager and the team and try to figure out the reasons of misunderstandings and if it’s possible to change anything. So, I have performed some research in this field and now I want to share its results with you.

First, I processed a number of Internet resources such as independent workforce studies, youtube videos, blog articles and then seasoned everything with my personal experience in order to distinguish the most crucial mistakes and drawbacks of managers and try to understand how to avoid them.

Hope this article will help you to become a better manager. Let’s get started.

1. Micromanagement

The leader among the sins of a project manager is micromanagement – a management style when a manager closely observes and controls the work of subordinates. The micromanager is looking over the shoulders of his co-workers literally and figuratively. The obsession to pay attention to the most minor details causes both a direct management failure and employees resistance. Most of the employees, especially those from the younger generations, either push back on this management style or start looking for another job. They think that the manager decreases their autonomy, does not trust them and distracts them from the accomplishment of the tasks.

What to do to avoid micromanagement

  • Embrace trust
    From my point of view, the first and the most important advice in order to avoid micromanagement is to trust your colleagues. It’s very easy to do it when you know that they are more competent in their work than you are. But if you come from the same environment and maybe worked on the same position for a long time, it can be really hard to embrace trust. So, realize that you are not able to do everything and to fill in for everyone. In most cases if you allow people to own a task they will like it and delight you with the results you can`t even expect. However, it may be tricky because this approach doesn’t mean that you have to believe and trust people unreservedly. The trust is something that should be deserved. I think that if you don’t know people well so far, some temporary and light micromanagement makes sense.
  • Explain what to do, not how to do it
    There is nothing wrong in having some expectations about the final results of the work. However, there is a clear difference between having the expectations and dictating the way how to realize them. Your responsibility as a manager is to set up necessary conditions for successful task implementation. Just explain to the employees your own vision of a final result, but do not specify how to achieve it. The approach that your subordinate chooses may surprise you, but if the result has been achieved successfully, who cares about the approach?
  • Ask if everything is clear
    Also, don`t forget to ask employees if everything is clear with the tasks because people often  hesitate to clarify them. In this case they fill in the blanks on their own. This leads to bad consequences because it turns out that a person has done something that doesn’t correspond to your expectations. Beside the time waste, it leads to breaking the trust between the manager and the employee. If you ask your subordinates whether they get the task clearly, you may be more confident in the results.
  • Find any business.
    This sounds like a joke, but there is some truth behind it. I personally think that if you have time for micromanagement it means that you have nothing really important to do. Probably you just think that you have nothing to do, but in fact, your direct manager`s tasks are suffering while you waste time observing the job of others. Go and find any business for yourself confined within your direct responsibilities.

Please, see this video and check whether you are a micromanager or not.

2. Incompetence

The second place goes to incompetence, and this point includes two options. The first one is technical incompetence, when the manager has no idea about what people in his team do and how they do it.  It often irritates team members, especially juniors, who do not see the whole ecosystem in which they work. They think something like this: “If the manager knows nothing about my work, why he is a manager, not me”.  And the second manifestation of incompetence is management incompetence, when the manager has poor communicating skills and can’t assign the tasks and make decisions. This results in the tension between the team and the manager.

What to do to not look incompetent

  • Overcome your fear to look incompetent
    It is not easy to do that. But try to understand that one man can’t be an expert in every field. At the same time a team needs a person who has a helicopter view on the project and can set up communications and processes.
  • Explain the role of PM to the team
    Explain the role of a project manager to those teammates who question the value that you bring to the project. Point out that there should be a person in the team whose purpose is to integrate all the parties and processes, and this role requires a lot of time and efforts. As an option, suggest one of such people filling in for you during your vacation 🙂 In fact, it happens quite often that technical people complain about their manager, but none of them wants to take on his role.
  • Ask “stupid” questions
    This point is referred to the first one. One should be brave enough to ask questions that seem to be stupid and the answers to which are obvious for the other team members. Try to realize that the more “stupid” questions you ask, the better you will understand what is going on. This will help you to identify more risks. Thus, the overall chances to succeed will be much higher.
  • Keep learning
    And the last but not the least thing that I recommend to do is to learn constantly. Learn from your team, read articles, attend seminars, watch video courses. Get rid of your incompetence and then your teammates will respect you more. An important caveat here is that this point doesn`t mean that you should improve only technical skills. Improving your soft skills is more important for you as a manager.

3. Poor listening

Most of us are happy to be able to hear. But hearing and listening is not the same thing. Hearing is an act of perceiving the information with our ears, but listening is a try to understand another point of view. A lot of times we act as we`re listening to the other person but the reality is that our minds are racing to the other topics or already planning what we`re going to say in return.
In addition, there are the managers who are completely confident that the only correct approach to do the job is their own approach.
Anyway, if you don’t listen to your teammates it may result in horrible consequences. First, you may miss the potential risks brought up by employees, which later will lead to a significant failure. Second, you may miss the bad mood and low moral of your employees which will result in their low performance or even their resignation.

What to do to learn to listen to your people

  • Practice active listening
    Active listening is such a type of listening when you completely focus on the topic of the discussion, from time to time giving some feedback to the person who is talking to you. There is a couple of techniques to help you master active listening. For instance, make eye contact with the person talking to you, ignore outside factors like other conversations so that you can concentrate solely on what the person is saying. Most importantly, put your own thoughts on hold, resist the urge to start planning out  what you`re going to say in return. Providing feedback is another important part of active listening. To make sure that you hear and understand the message correctly, paraphrase it or repeat it back to the person. “What I’m hearing is… “ and “Sounds like you are saying… “ are some great ways to reflect back. You can also ask questions to get more information. Listen attentively what your colleagues are saying before you plan your response. Don’t interrupt them when they’re speaking and respond appropriately once they have finished.
  • Set up One on One meetings
    Regular One on One meetings are a very useful manager`s technique. On these  bi-weekly or monthly meetings you may ask employees for their feedback on current situation on the project, perceive your teammates` mood, get their ideas and opinions. It will help you hold your finger on the project`s pulse.
  • Make notes after the talk.
    It doesn’t mean that you have to put together a dossier on your employees. But if you identify some risk while talking with your colleague, include it into the risk register, create a risk response strategy and follow it. Otherwise, you can simply forget about what you`ve heard and it amounts to not hearing it at all.

4. Constant pressure

In this context constant pressure means not a moral pressure which unfortunately also happens among managers, but a pressure to finish a bigger amount of work at a short period of time. Some managers use to cut off the terms quite often because the commitments they have given to the clients are at the risk of a fail. It results in the plenty of overtime work for the team which in turn leads to a massive burnout. The people have not enough rest and their performance goes down, which leads to even more problems concerned with keeping the project deadlines. Also, it may happen that people who are tired of this pressure will simply leave the company.

What to do to stop putting pressure on your people

  • Plan projects well.
    As it’s mentioned above the root cause of the pressure from the project manager is most probably the failure of commitments. In the most cases the failure of commitments is caused by poor planning or complete absence of planning. So, if you want to avoid hatred from your employees tomorrow, plan well today. Engage all needed consultants, decompose tasks as much as possible, take  all the possible risks into account and then the probability that your team will be forced to work under the pressure can significantly decrease.
    By the way, a positive team`s mood is only a side effect of good planning, because its main effect is the overall project success. You can read this article where I share my approach to project planning .  
  • Explain the situation to the team
    Unfortunately, even ideal plan may eventually fail due to some circumstances.  If you found out that the situation on the project has become unfavorable, please, explain it to the team. Let them know that it is necessary to work under the pressure for some time, but it will not last forever, only until you finish some chunk of work. After you survive this situation, it makes sense to hold a retrospective meeting in order to figure out why this situation has happened and how to avoid it in the future.
  • Prioritize the tasks
    If you see that the situation is not quite good and you are under the risk of not achieving your commitments, try prioritization of the tasks, like “Must do”, “Should do”, “Good to have”. Ask the employees to start with the most urgent and important tasks. Then if you fail to deliver all the scope, the things undone will be not so important, and hopefully you`ll be able to make some trade offs with the project’s stakeholders.

5. Treating employees as resources

Most employees (and  developers especially) really hate when project managers or HR managers call them resources. But to call them “resources” is one thing, really treating them as resources is much worse. Let’s try to figure out what it means to treat employees as a resource. I think, it means caring only about the results and exploiting employees as much as possible. It also means knowing nothing about an employee as a personality. Lack of any appreciation of the co-workers is another eloquent indicator of treating employees as a resource.

What to do to stop treating employees like resources

  • Stop calling people “resources”
    First, stop using the word “resources” when talking about your employees. It’s not a problem to substitute this phrase with some alternatives. For instance, instead of “we lack the resources” say “we lack the manpower” or “we lack the time”. If you can’t completely exclude this word from your vocabulary, explain to your employees that when using the word “resources” you mean their skills and time, not personally themselves.
  • Get to know your teammates
    Get to know your employees better in order to treat them as personalities. One of the ways to do this is to have regular One on One meetings with your employees. The only caveat here is that the formal setting of One on One meeting may distort this idea. That is why from time to time it is useful to have a meeting with your colleagues in some informal situation. Invite your subordinate to have lunch together. It doesn’t mean that you have to become friends with your subordinate (sometimes it may be even harmful). Informal communication facilitates discussing off work topics, it helps to get some information about an employee’s personal life. You`ll be surprised how your attitude to the employee magically changes after you get to know more about him.
  • Show genuine concern for an employee’s well-being
    When you have known people better you will have understanding of their values and the root cause of their deeds.  And when you have some insight of your colleagues` personal life, it is much easier to show genuine concern for their well being. Don’t miss to ask what your colleague`s vacation was like or how his kid performed at school.
  • Show appreciation
    Usually the simple form of gratitude such as “Thank you” can make your colleague happy and feel that he is valuable for the team. But you may definitely use other sophisticated forms of gratitude, for example, giving some perks and bonuses.

6. Endless and useless meetings

When employees say that they hate meetings they mean they hate distractions from their main tasks. Even small distraction takes time to get back into the work zone. And if there is a lot of such distractions during the working day, the productive time significantly goes down. But what people hate even more than meetings is useless meetings. What are the signs of a useless meeting? Well, there is a couple of them. For example, a meeting where you keep discussing the same issues over and over again is definitely a bad meeting, especially if no decision is made in the end, and you have to postpone it to the next meeting. A meeting where instead of discussing real issues and problems some mess begins is also a useless meeting. This is also true  for a meeting that starts with delay and finishes off schedule.

There are a number of tips that help you make your meetings productive.

What to do to stop torturing people with useless meetings

  • Provide clear agenda
    First, create a clear agenda and send it to all the participants so that they could prepare their thoughts in advance. This allows you to avoid real-time brainstorming at the meeting which actually wastes a lot of time.
  • Invite only those who have a real stake on the topic
    Think carefully about the list of participants. Make sure that only those people who are interested in decisions made at the meeting or may be influenced by them will participate. The less people participate in  the meeting the less time it takes. Moderate and keep the time
    Eventually, don`t miss to moderate the meeting. As a project manager and a meeting organizer you are responsible for the way of the discussion. The same is with the timekeeping. If you adhere to these simple rules, your meetings will be helpful tools, not a waste of time.

And there is one more advice – before scheduling a meeting, ask yourself if the meeting is really essential. Maybe you can get the necessary information from only one person and make decision on your own.

7. Arrogance

There are two opposite reasons why a project manager can demonstrate arrogant behavior. The first scenario happens when the manager really thinks that he is the most important person on the project and the other teammates just serve his needs and desires. Such attitude may have even worse outcomes when a manager takes the credits for ideas and work of the whole team.
The opposite scenario occurs when a project manager feels insecure about his role in the team and tries to compensate it by showing supremacy over the other team mates. But whatever is the root cause of arrogant behavior, people in the team really hate it. Creating a poisonous workplace environment arrogant managers harm their projects and companies. Nobody likes to feel humiliated. But the saddest thing is that very often a manager who behaves arrogant is not able to understand how his behavior impacts the employees and the project.

What to do to stop being arrogant

Diagnose your arrogance
First, diagnose your arrogance. It’s hard to notice that you’re arrogant, there’s always a blindfold.  Structured anonymous 360-degree feedback can be helpful in defining whether you behave as a jerk. Often some other person who doesn’t report to you may let you know that your people consider you arrogant. The next steps are to understand the cause and nature of your arrogance and then take measures.

Focus on the value you provide to the project
If you feel insecure and compensate by putting others down, you need become more confident in order to stop acting arrogant. Try to understand what activities you can perform in order to bring the most value to your team and project and focus on them. This approach will rid you of arrogance in the course of time.

Read about illusory superiority
On the other hand, if you truly believe you are better than others, you need to get more realistic. Start with reading this article – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illusory_superiority
There is also a technique that many people who wanted to get rid of arrogance find helpful. Every time you start being arrogant while talking to a colleague, immediately try to find 5 nice things about that person. Force yourself to push your arrogant thoughts out. If that doesn’t work, try to find a shared interest or common ground with that person.

Sometimes putting yourself in your colleague`s shoes also helps. Try to imagine how you will feel if someone demonstrates the same arrogant behavior towards you.

So, it was my first version of 7 deadly sins of a project manager while working with a team. Certainly, this list is not exhaustive and maybe not final. So, I`d like you to help me with researching the theme.

Please, go to site menti.com, enter the code 80 95 82 and answer the question “Which sin not mentioned in this article should be included to the list of manager`s deadly sins?”. Please, give only one option. Otherwise, just share your ideas in the comment section below.

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