First you get the idea or the assignment. For a moment, you and your team are excited (or maybe terrified – who are we to judge?)
Then you quickly realize that for a project to be completed, you need to start it.
Of course, common sense suggests that projects need to be started before they’re finished. But at Reach Partners we’ve seen projects fail to launch or stall because a successful start was an obstacle. Starting is harder than it looks.
Projects fail to start for all sorts of reasons: lack of vision, misunderstanding, confusion, procrastination. “Just do it” may work for athletes who love Nike, but most organizations and teams need a clear process even before the project planning starts.
Granted, as an outside vendor we bring a fresh perspective to any project. We have experience staying flexible and nimble throughout the process. Still, we focus on three stages every time we start a project: listen, investigate, and gather.
On the surface, “listen” seems straight forward: pay attention so you can hear what someone is saying. By giving someone your full attention, you understand and hear what is being said (and not just what you think someone is saying). You also build rapport and trust. Believe it or not, one of the hardest things to do in a group setting is to ask a question and then say nothing more. Silence is a powerful force – one that gives people time to think and space to talk.
This is where you dig deep to discover facts and information. It’s also known as the “ask a lot of open-ended questions” stage. Use your how, what, when, why, who language to uncover the data that will later help you determine the scope of the project. Ultimately, you are trying to determine how the project fits into the goals of the business or collaboration. No questions are off-limits, which means individuals and groups need to be willing to be honest and forthcoming. (If the project has stalled in the past, why?) Expect to prompt conversation and use follow-up questions.
This is where you create space and opportunity for all the stakeholders (co-workers, volunteers for a collaborative effort) to come together and share what they want to happen. It’s an opportunity to start listening for project expectations (goals, budget, timeline), as well as possible barriers or challenges. It’s also a chance to make sure everyone has the same background and foundation of information. As an outside vendor, we find often that what is obvious to some in a group isn’t always apparent to everyone in the room.
Have you ever had trouble starting a project? Comment below – or drop us a personal note!
Small Stuff Superhero
Nearly every job description we’ve seen includes the line “other duties as assigned.”
Some people view that responsibility as a burden. For them, “other duties” are small, insignificant tasks that nobody really wants to do. These people might complain or even ignore something that needs to be done. They might even “delegate,” suggesting that it falls under someone else’s job description.
We like to work with (and be!) people who see “other duties” differently. These are the people who wholeheartedly embrace this responsibility and actively look for ways to step in and be helpful – even if the task falls outside their job or title.
Opportunities to unexpectedly step up don’t come along every day. But when grisly occasions arrive, you learn who you want on your team: the intern who sees a need and fulfills it, the CEO who pushes aside ego and picks up a plate, the staff member who solves a problem before you even know it exists.
As we’ve learned from managing various events, it doesn’t matter whose job it is. If something needs to be done, do it. It’s not worth your time to argue about whose responsibility it is.
Sometimes, you need to:
After an event, when you’re exhausted and exhilarated, it’s human nature to rehash and relive what didn’t go well.
But it’s even better to recognize the plucky heroine who jumped in at a critical time of need. It’s satisfying to delight in the tale of an individual who set aside ego or an opportunity for rest to cheerfully don another hat for the good of all.
We all need these people in our lives and on our teams – someone who serves and comes to our aid even if the need seems simple. Call them small stuff superheroes, if you will. They are superheroes, nonetheless.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This blog post was adapted from one that was first published in August 2013.
Happy 4th of July!
Your partners in leadership.