You Are Not In Control

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You Are Not In Control

Patrick Kua London, United Kingdom

I remember one project team I coached. The Project Manager obviously had a desire to be the central point of control. He had what appeared to be an almost obsessive need to be involved in all "critical" decision making discussions. He would actively direct the daily stand-up meeting, and he alone would decide who got to talk during project retrospective rituals. The team he managed was actually well formed by the time I arrived, and I noticed with interest how the quality of discussions differed between those where the Project Manager was present and those where he was not in the room.

Talking to a few people on the team one on one, they confessed they hated all of the meetings the Project Manager would hold, because they just wanted them to be over. They felt like their time was being wasted, as their real opinions were not valued. They recounted saying the things the Project Manager wanted to hear to get him move on. When they had issues that needed addressing, they would go to the technical lead. He was more willing to be part of an open discussion and, therefore, was more effective at solving problems.

The lesson I learned from this team is that acting as if you control the situation is not the same thing as actually being in control. In fact, actively seeking control sometimes creates the opposite effect. An experienced, well-formed team will actively shun a person trying to take control for personal reasons, especially if that control brings little benefit to the team.

It helps for Project Managers to understand group dynamics and different leadership styles. Different projects and various teams will require different levels of control. Well- formed, high performing groups like I mentioned above, will often resent excess control unless they can see how it helps them.

The control will often be seen as "meddling" and though the groups may verbally agree, their actions after leaving the meeting may not fully reflect what you intended. However, with a newly formed team, more control may provide the group with direction, and establish clearer objectives for the project.

Great project managers exert just the right level of control, respecting what skills, experiences and connections team members bring to their project at hand. They recognize the signs when more control may help move the group towards its ultimate goal, as well as recognizing the signs when the same control may be slowing the group down.

No where is this more crucial than when a non-IT project manager is asked to lead a software development project. The team, often resentful of outside interference in their workspace, may devalue the skill set the project manager brings to the project.

But the organizational skills, the ability of the project manager to keep the project in line with company goals, and the successful care of communication lines between upper management and the customer can protect the IT team and leave them free to work.

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