Project Management

Killing Team Spirit – Has your team given up the ghost?

<p>Copyright 1984 Columbia PicturesProject managers are not Ghostbusters. They should not be killing the spirits of the employees working under them.  Cinda Voegtli writes in an article about how and why spirits get bent out of shape by poor project management, as well as what can be done to stop it.

She describes spirit-killing project management as when too much project management is being used. Her first experience in being subjected to this overbearing style of management was when she was a line manager in charge of hardware engineering in a start-up company when the company was bought out, and in the buyout, her group was given a project manager. Instead of offering guidance, he introduced a bunch of new paperwork to her already large workload and just expected her to understand why it was necessary.

Voegtli believes the real problem lies in a disconnect in communication. Time and again, spirits are crushed when project managers cannot relate why their policies are necessary. She relates another case of a video game company whose payroll funding from the game publisher was directly tied to their reaching milestones in the game process, and the founder was having a difficult time collecting data on what goals were being reached without stepping on the toes of his staff. When a strategy of formal paperwork and a second strategy of just walking around and asking how things were doing both failed, it was finally suggested that they just set up a whiteboard and let people check off milestones as they reached them. It was a strategy that saved spirits.

In retrospect, Voegtli sees how even her original spirit-killing experience involved a miscommunication:

Now, looking back to my original experience with the new project manager and his paperwork, of course I wasn't totally right either. There were some valuable techniques in that new PM's toolkit, which I discovered later. But this emphasizes another key learning. His PM approach killed my spirit initially, because there was no explanation – indeed, no “sell” — associated with it. He walked in, assumed I'd value it as much as he did, and operated from that outlook. He was wrong, and it severely impacted my initial acceptance of him and his role. In the other examples mentioned above, a great deal of positive energy resulted from the companies' specific attention to making PM work for each group and their different types of projects. The attitude shifted to more openness just because someone raised the questions, what isn't working and how can we make it work better for you?

If you want to avoid a work environment where your employees can actively imagine you pointing a giant supernatural vacuum cleaner at their heads, remember to communicate your intentions as project manager clearly, and always be looking for strategies that can make work a better experience for the whole team.

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