Category: What to expect

What to expect: at your first team meeting

A first meeting can be a trip into unchartered waters. Thankfully, a lot of research helps with tips. Here are some of them and one of my first meetings, as a exemplification.

So, you put your best outfit and your smile on and you enter the meeting room. Tadam! No applauses? Indeed a suit and a smile help for a good first impression. And there is more. It is well-known that it takes seven seconds to make a first impression.  In seven seconds your suit, smile, handshake, gestures, facial expression, eye contact, posture and tone of the voice will all be screened and assessed. So better get ready.

Showcasting in the privacy of your home before the meeting helps prepare. Use a large mirror. Or call in a pair of friendly eyes and ears. Rehearse your introduction, work on its content. But equally, if not more, it is important to be aware of our non-verbal communication. Our gestures, facial expression, eye contact, posture and tone of voice speak louder than words and suits. The trick with the body language is that you cannot fake it. The good news is that awareness about how you use your body to speak can be developed. In time, with practice and patience.  stock-photo-colleagues-at-an-office-meeting-275789651

Of the many first team meetings i had as a project manager, here is a story, which shows how vulnerabilities and strengths may show at a first meeting with the team.

The team was there for 2,5 years already and they knew each other well enough. The portfolio manager wanted to introduce me to the project team even before i signed the contract. She was eager to give them the assurance that after three project managers in five months, things will take a stable course. It gives a clue about the environment I was about to start in.

So there I was, in my suit, with a smile and a soft lady-like handshake. My soft lady like handshake assured the men in the team that there is no “threat”. It created though a sense of competition among the female members. I was to learn about it in the coming weeks.

To present my credentials, the portfolio manager gave them the details of my past experience. Complementary, i highlighted experiences team members and I had in common. My years in consultancy, for instance. My shoulders, while speaking about it, was read as a sign of confidence in my ability to steer the pluri-disciplinary project by some and as a predictor of a potentially more demanding reporting line by others. The latter made me work harder on my collaborative and persuasive skills.

A round table sitting allowed for a good eye contact. I could move my eyes around to make sure each and everyone feels included. With the exception of a couple of looking-down pairs of eyes. Which brings me to the other side of the first meeting: it is also an opportunity for you to watch and learn. The couple of looking-down eyes, for example, was a post-it for me for where more attention will need to be devoted.

Depending on the stage if the project, at the first meeting with the project team, you may need to get down to the planning business or agree on one-to-one follow-up meetings to learn more and then plan.

As a cliche as it may sound, prepare and plan your first meeting for good first impressions to the extent you can. The number and quality of follow-up meetings may depend on it.

What to expect: when you have to manage a team of seniours

– I want to dye your hair! My hairdresser is relentless.

– No. Not yet.

– Why?

– i am managing a project where 20% could be my parents, 70% – my uncles and aunts and 10% – my older brothers.

– and? She is still relentless.

– i conquer them with my grey hair!

She gave up.

Couple of months later, an external monitor hired by the project’s sponsor, knocked at the door.

Guess what was his first question from the long list of efficiency, effectiveness, sustainability, cross-cutting issues? “You are much younger than the project’s consultants. How do you make them listen? ”

– It’s not about age, it’s about experience and mutual respect, my grey hair answered.

These were the ingredients I discovered on my journey with a seniors team:

Ingredient one: listen.

I was the one on the listening end. Most of the time. Better even if you can actively listen.

Ingredient two: acknowledgment.

Listening led to a simple acknowledgement: I am younger. Their experience in all their fields of expertise exceeds mine by numbers and value.

Ingredient three: borders.

We agreed on borderlines: I know a thing-or-two about project management; they know one hundred-or-two about the fields they are experts in.

Ingredient four: assertiveness.

Listening, acknowledging, borderlines led to assertiveness. “You are assertive. I have to give you that” coming from a senior customs officer working around the world was a feedback I trusted. Assertiveness offers a great anchor. Especially when borders are crossed and a patronising tone wants to make an entrance (from both sides). It’s tough, but manageable. The benefits are higher and long-lasting when you stay calm and positive.

Ingredient five: blame it on my youth

When nothing seemed to work, I would shrug my shoulders. “What do I know?!”. And it would be them convincing me of the opposite 😉

 

What to expect: when taking over a project run by a colleague-friend

I have to say that I was never in such a situation. I witnessed a few such cases though in different work environments. Each case was pretty  specific, yet some general patterns were there. Here is Rosalia’s case: a young professional who was given responsibility beyond her experience, with the “bonus” of her work friendship at test.

Rosalia was booming when, upon return from a long vacation, she took over the project’s files.  She found out that she will be given this project two months ago.  Her best friend and colleague, Michael, left for another job in another country. Rosalia was very enthusiastic at first. She idealised her friend and everything he did so her usually active critical sense was put to sleep. Two months later she paid dearly with her health. Her joy soon turned into a depression fueled by a stream of difficulties. A surprise kept popping up after another. A consultant was paid for a product of unacceptable quality. A statutory evaluation was skipped with no explanations in the file. There were no contacts established with the project donor and the project was on its final stage. Large amounts of budget remained unpaid and the budget lines were guarded rigidly by the sponsor.

Could at least some of these have been prevented by knowing what to expect and preparing to act? A proper hand-over, to start with, would have given Rosalia a clear status quo. She did not  want to ask her friend any questions of fear to be perceived as challenging his authority. If you find yourself in such a situation, there a few strategies which you could try.

First, ask for a tri-lateral meeting with the departing project manager and your supervisor. It can be over coffee or another less formal set-up.  Follow-up the meeting with a note and send it to both to get confirmation on what you were told. It will give you a baseline and your friend will not feel as reporting to you.

Time permitting, organise a joint introductory meeting / a conference call (in case of teams located in different places), where both you and the departing project manager could participate. Follow the meeting with minutes circulated to all concerned.

Agree with your departing predecessor for how long and on what you estimate to still be needing to get back to him/her with questions you might have.

While friendships come in different forms and many complexities might arise, some of the above might allow to set the boundaries between personal and professional relations so that you can continue your friendship unaffected, to the extent you can. Sometimes you’ll have to choose. Sometimes you’ll have to compromise. It’s important not to compromise your professionalism though. A true friend will not ask you this.

What to expect: on your first work day as a project manager

I asked my fellow colleagues about their first day as a project manager. Brand new, I mean. That very first day. New role. New position. New organisation. Plenty of fun stories. Here is Simon’s story:

[pixabay, klimkin image]cactus-1059633_960_720

“On my first day as a project manager I brought a cactus to work. Small, round, spiky. It mirrored my sentiments that day. It was too small to notice on my desk, yet once you touch it, you’d not know what to expect. I had a meeting scheduled in an hour with the programme manager. I was in the dark as to what this title meant. My smiling young colleague, with whom I was to share the office, offered to give me a tour. The tour turned into a “learn- to- manage–the-coffee-machine” exercise on the office kitchenette. The coffee machine was not very collaborative. It probably sensed my cactus mood that day. Luckily for both of us, a lady arrived to the rescue of the poor machine. Ten minutes later I was in the office of the programme manager and I noticed the dark green coffee mug I just saw in the kitchenette. I realized in a sec that the earlier rescuer is my boss. “Do you manage all your projects the way you handle the coffee-making?”, she asked me. “I am jobless”, i thought to myself. “No, you are not” she said, as if reading my mind. “If you evaluate the situation and tell me your lessons learned”.  And he did.

Just in case you are curious about Simon’s lessons learned: Your first day at work does not need to be a blind date. Unless you like to be fully surprised. You were hired for the job, so, probably, your planning skills mattered in the decision. So use them to build self-confidence. Picture your first day. In as many details as you can. Re-reading the job description from the perspective of the job holder will help. Visualize yourself with rolled-up sleeves. Refresh your memory with faces from your interview. Your supervisor was very probably there.  It will prevent awkward moments as the one Simon faced.

Make an office tour with the objective of introducing yourself to colleagues, at an appropriate pace. The coffee machine can wait.Feel the office atmosphere.

A meeting with your superviser on your first day is an advantage. I can testify to that. And not all get it. So make full use of it.  It will give you answers to the four basic Ws:

What projects you are given to manage.

Who are your project team members.

When is the first milestone.

Where is your project in the programme and/or the organisation/company’s strategy.

Upon return to your desk:

a. make an inventory of docs on files.

b. start reading project documents. Make side notes.

c. schedule meetings with your team members. Let them know in advance your questions or the framework for discussion. It will give you and them a well prepared meeting.

Finally a golden advice I got from my first job: remember – you manage the projects. And not the other way around. Smile, be pro-active and enjoy your first day, dear new project manager!