How do I deal with the team members I ignored during my project?

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Successfully navigating emotions in projects is an important part of the role, and difficult to get right, especially when things don’t go to plan. Reddit has some sound advice for a project manager just starting out.

The dilemma

“I recently managed a team of 12. The leads on the project pushed our team members hard to make the product. The team was very pessimistic about the progress so far. They wanted to start over halfway through, so we did.

"However, production was extremely slow and we never got our pace back. I gravitated more towards the most passionate and proactive team members, unintentionally leaving others in the dust – those that either weren't doing their job or behaved distantly.

"They felt like the job was just something to show up and do – not something collaborative. I feel I'm responsible for not creating a friendly working environment for everyone. They felt they were working for the people that were proactive.

"I'm afraid they will badmouth me, which will get in the way of future employment opportunities. How do people cope with things like this? How do you move on and talk about this positively? I can’t stop thinking about what I should and shouldn’t have done.”

The responses

The top response gets to the heart of the matter immediately: “Being a project manager is all about people management,” says u/Wardhoff. Learning the lessons from the situation is all you can do, whether that’s making a conscious effort for less engaged project team members or working on team dynamics.

The original poster (OP) is still a student. The best advice for a project manager without a whole lot of experience is to try to apply the disciplines more seasoned veterans reach for instinctively. “What you’re really asking for is how to conduct a project retrospective or post-mortem,” explains u/gracesa.

But they add some useful riders: “I’d also recommend that you do that exercise yourself before you get in a room with other people. When someone does say that you did something wrong, if it’s a fair criticism, own it.”

Responder u/saltpinchof offers some practical advice for making the project process more inviting to less voluble members of the team: “Instead of talking issues through, ask all team members to write on a Post-It and stick it on the wall. This allows thinking time and gives the non-talkers a natural opportunity to share their view…Enabling your team to perform and deliver the project output is your first priority. However, this can get lost among the challenges that projects throw up.”

Obsessing over specific problems on projects, says u/eiokea, is also a no-no. “Don’t overthink the short term. It doesn't matter that much if one project doesn't lead to a successful outcome. But make sure that at least everyone gets something out of it and learns from it.”

That can be hard when project sponsors are down on the outputs, stakeholders are annoyed and project team members are still smarting. But for a young project manager wondering about the burden of failure, a focus on lessons learned in the context of what will hopefully be a long career is essential.

And that’s where one other piece of advice from the subreddit comes in: get a mentor. Their experience and wisdom will help articulate the lessons learned and the OP focus on their longer-term development. They’ll also be able to recount their own early project failures – and reassure the mentee that everyone can successfully bounce back.

Bonus project management subreddit post: Gantt Chart: You keep using that phrase. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Find out more about the Reddit community for project managers in the blog, What project managers need to know about… Reddit.

Richard Young

Posted by Richard Young on 23rd Jul 2019

About the Author

Richard Young is the consulting editor of Project
Project is the official journal of the Association for Project Management (APM).

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