Learning to lead chaos--a dozen methods to improve your impact and results!



Project managers are under tremendous pressure to produce results in excruciatingly short times. Abundant opportunity exists to harm self and others. Risk of failure is rampant – born daily in ingenious forms. A thin line separates success from failure. Projects are executed by people cobbled together into ‘make-believe’ teams stealing time from other projects and operations. Few are on the team full time and some specialists so infrequently they are forgotten.

Project teams are led more than managed. Teams are influenced and guided more than bossed or ordered. Hear and learn twelve memorable keys for welding people together to produce extraordinary results. Use them to accelerate project performance, reduce conflict, and enhance morale. Great teams daily overcome tremendous obstacles to deliver extraordinary results. Hear project proven tools to Enlist, Imprint, Embed, and Enable Individuals. Then Example, Commit, Care, and Cohere Team Members. Finally, Communicate, Cooperate, Challenge and Celebrate Teams. Learn twelve techniques to win the hearts, minds, and, most importantly, hands to the work of your project

Learning Objectives:

  1. Plan your personal leadership actions to foster cooperative and committed performance from all project team members.
  2. Increase your personal impact on project delivery by employing any six of the twelve leadership techniques.
  3. Internalize eight of the twelve techniques and use one in the next eight days.


You, as project manager, have the responsibility to guide the project and its people; however, you are not in command – you are not an emperor. In most projects, people do not report to you, they are simply assigned or stolen ever so briefly. Your power is whatever the project team gives you no matter what the parent organization says. Your challenge is earning tremendous influence for leading to successful project delivery. You create the culture of the ‘willing’ who give their all for the good of the project.

Project teams are not real teams with few exceptions. They are a group, a gaggle, of people cobbled together to parallel work (play) in time stolen from other pressing work.

Team members may be subcontractors or individuals with special skills who move in and out of the project with little or no interface. Some are so transparent they are forgotten.

Learn to thoughtfully bond people to the project, its result, and the process for completing the project. People want to do what’s right, the right way, at the right time. Your job is to enable them to do that.

Employ techniques to capture hearts, minds, and most importantly hands of project people.

Project manager is a misnomer – project leader is much better – you are given a position, but little power. Intentionally use tools to enhance your ability to guide and influence the team. She who has the Schedule – Rules. Use your project management skills to make their work as effective and efficient as possible.

These volunteers (you cannot pay people enough to put up with you nor with the unbelievable demands of a project world) – team members – contribute their skills and talents, often as individual contributors, for the good of the project, for the good of the company, and for your good.

Just how do we project leaders accelerate performance to deliver the required results without being catastrophically late?

Leading is the art of influencing hearts and motivating souls. Managing is the art of deploying resources and controlling risk

Twelve Tools

1. Enlist Each Person

Sign People Up – intentionally greet and learn about each team member.

One on one conversation provides abundant opportunity to learn upcoming events in that person’s life; to learn how they will complete the project work; as well as explain your approach to the project. Use this time to connect with each individual and understand what is important in their world. Learn how to make this project beneficial to that person – what can they learn by being part of this project?

  1. How often do you have one on one conversation with a team member?
  2. Do you know the hobbies, interests, families of each team member?
  3. How will you Enlist the individuals on to the team?

2. Imprint the Result

Remember to Imprint both the result and benefit of the result to the customer. Always begin with the End, just what ‘good’ is the project for the customer?

Understanding the benefit for the customer is a powerful motivator. Preach that Result, sell the ’sizzle’ of how much the project will help the customer. Remember to include what the project, what the result, is not – understanding the limits, the boundaries, may be as important as knowing the project outcome.

Your purpose is not to do the project, but to deliver the benefit, the better life, to the customer.

  1. Do you know the benefit of the project to the customer?
  2. How often do you ‘preach’ the result to the project team?
  3. How will you Imprint the result and benefits of the project in each individual?

3. Embed Values

Behavior and Performance is guided by Values and Beliefs (you have to know what values you want guiding the behavior of the team).

Make values part of the charter. Make the values public and hold each other accountable for living up to these guiding principles. Publicly score yourselves on how you as a team and you as the manager uphold those values. For example, a team value may be to take twenty minutes everyday to discuss how to improve the project process. If you skip this session, you instantly commutate that improving is not important to you. Another value example is to share information about change – good or bad – the moment you know it with everyone on the team. Grade the team’s ability to do this.

  1. What are your values?
  2. What are the values relevant to the project team?
  3. How will you Embed project relevant values in each person?

4. Enable Individuals and Teams

Educate (who, what, when, where, why), Equip (knowledge, skills, attitudes}, Empower (permission, power, protection).

Also, there are things a team can do, if they are a team, called team processes (planning, decision making) that make them into an actual team, even part time. Teach the team to do these things as a collective (teams are more of a collective (a gathering of skilled folks) than a commune (a community who lives, eats, and works together).

Our teams are temporary collections of individuals who may be on half a dozen teams concurrently. Your responsibility is to insure the team has everything they need to do the work and to eliminate things that stop the team from doing the work of the project.

Consider asking the team to be responsible for leading the project (one of the team processes).

  1. How do you determine what each person needs – educate, equip, empower?
  2. How will you educate or get help to educate? How will you equip? What can you do to empower each individual?
  3. Where will you find coaches and mentors for your team members?
  4. How will you Enable your team members?

5. Be the Example

You are the Example -- as you breathe and talk – as you BE -- so the team members first evaluate then choose to follow. Your values are their values; your focus is their focus. Where you spend your project time says what is important to you.

Your purpose is to make everything routine and predictable so you can devote your energy to what is not – to those things that are uncertain. You have to invest in your people, the people of the project (they become your brothers and sisters), so they will invest in planning and performing predictably.

Your language, your dress, your smell, all communicate – make these positive and advantageous to the project and to your success.

  1. How do you set the Example in language, in dress, in attitude, in performance?
  2. Where do you spend your project time? How do you share information?
  3. How will you be continuously aware of the impact you are having on others?

6. Commit to Excellence

The Team as a Team must comment to Excellence -- gain active commitment to exceptional performance as a team – exceptional performance, not ordinary.

Use an early team meeting to describe or specify great team work as well as a great project. Include that description of great projects and teamwork in the project charter. Elicit their hopes and fears about the project. Encourage sharing concerns and celebrations openly. Develop project goals and values as a team and then ask each individual to commit to the charter by signing it publicly. Go slowly in the beginning to go fast later. Sharing in the beginning reduces conflict and animosity later. (In construction, this is called Partnering).

  1. First step in team building is to know the members on the team – how will you accomplish that?
  2. Second step is to share emotions – hopes and fears – how will you share?
  3. Third step is to describe the goal, the example, the extraordinary team and team work.
  4. The final step is to Commit to being Exceptional in team performance and team work – how will you do that?

7. Dare to Care

Vividly demonstrate that you are concerned for the well being of each person and for the team. Many times this is just stopping by to discuss the project and other aspects of life. Project managers are an uncaring bunch, naturally. Your personality profile shows you could care less about how a person feels, what their personal situation is, or what they think. All you want is for them to get the work done, yesterday. Remember caring is not an ordinary part of your being.

Two minutes of personal interest will pay back in hours of motivated work. Think you do care, act as if you care, then be caring. Learn to care, learn to demonstrate your care, and learn to care.

Take two minutes to listen to each individual so they will take four minutes to hear you (there is a different between listening and hearing). You will be preaching and they will not be listening. First hear so you can be heard.

  1. How will you demonstrate to the individuals and team as a whole that you Care
    1. about them as a group
    2. and that you Care about each person?
  2. How will you get the team to care about each other? What you do, the team needs to do.

8. Cohere – Bond the Team

Any project team is an assemblage of unrelated people. You have to manufacture morale and you have to find the glue to stick the team together. Use a few minutes of each progress meeting to bond people. Make these working lunches. The more people know each other, the more willing they are to help each other out.

Walking the project as a group, building it on paper together, significantly contributes to gluing them together (scheduling is a group activity). (Again, part of Partnering.)

One way is to open and close the meeting with safety. People remember the first and last things they hear. Use that to stick the people together.

Break bread together – some primitive instinct (my belief) bonds us to the people we eat with. Pizza is not expensive. Have different people be spotlighted at each meeting. Have them talk about their work and share something personal Get to know each other within the gaggle.

  1. What will you do to adhere, Cohere, to stick the team to each other?
  2. What intentional things will you to contribute to the team learning all the players?

9. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

You can not over communicate. Communicate to be understood, to bond people, to embed values, to imprint results, to solve problems, to set the momentum – in every way, every day, with every team member, every customer, each stakeholder. I say again, you can not over communicate. Projects do not fail from too much communication. Remember the medium (the meeting) is also a message. Progress meetings drive the project. Progress meetings create the heart beat, the rhythm, of a project. These meetings are the key communication tool, the key expediting tool, the key cooperation tool. Memos, schedules, bulletin boards, email, blogs, web sites all communicate. What is your communication plan and how will that tool or devise influence the reader?

I read the crucial messages as second time aloud during progress meetings to be sure everyone hears the same thing and has the same understanding. Schedules are communication tools that no one reads – again go over it in detail at each meeting. Make it graphical so any one can read it. Ask a five year old to read it.

  1. What is your Communication Plan?
  2. How will you measure the effectiveness of the project communication?
  3. How will you ensure everyone knows everything?
  4. How will you use Communication to reinforce exception team performance?

10. Cooperate – help each other out

Ensure everyone and everything is coordinated and synchronized. Search for ways to enhance each other, the team, and the results. Intensely schedule (remember this is a group activity) the next week by hour and measure schedule compliance. 90 to 95% schedule compliance can only happen with cooperation. After a time, the team will do this on their own (without adult supervision).

  1. How will you synchronize the team so they Cooperate and Coordinate with each other? Exceptional performance only comes when the team cooperates. Cooperation only comes after commitment, caring (coheres) about each other then they must have great communication.
  2. When will you measure schedule compliance – work completed within the week or within the day or within the hour it was scheduled to be completed? (short duration projects need daily or hourly compliance). Compliance is a measure of cooperation.

11. Challenge the System

Remember the system is there to prevent you from getting your work done. As project leader, you are to patrol the boundaries of the project to find and eliminate barriers to performance and productivity. This demonstrates you are serious about helping the project people.

Encourage your team to help identify and eliminate barriers. Dedicate time in each progress meeting to improving team work, project work, and project management work. Do you know the difference? Where do you spend your time as a leader? How you spend the time of a progress meeting illustrates what is important to you. Remember much of bureaucratic processes are simply there to stop progress.

  1. Leaders are never satisfied with the current situation. How will you find and fix things that keep the team from working?
  2. How will you encourage, involve, entrust the team to improve team work? Project work? Project management work?
  3. How will you measure the outcomes of these Challenges?

12. Celebrate – Be Passionate

Instill passion for the project, resolve to do all it takes to deliver as expected, create resilience to take the beating of projects, courage to remain in the project arena, and caring for fellow team members. Look for things going right. Tell people what goes well. Show off people making things happen.

If you do not create the culture, who will? Ten compliments before the first complaint or criticism (takes time try two for one, then five for one, seven for one). This must be personal not a ‘great job group’ thing. Has to be sincere – can be public or private. Personal criticism is always private. 90% of the time, it is the system keeping us from doing what is right. It is almost never the individual. If it is personal, then the issue is knowledge, skill, or attitude – all you can influence or change.

You are the leader. Build a reservoir of good will so people find opportunities to improve, to cooperate. Look for reasons to throw a party – to provide a cake and ice cream. Bring in pizza to say thank you for a specific action. Buy doughnuts and coffee at the end of phases, a tough task, a graduation, a birth, marriage, long night…find reasons to spend money and say thank you.

  1. How often do you say ‘that is good’ or ‘remarkable’?
  2. When did you buy a ‘sweet’ as a reward for specific action?
  3. What is your Celebration plan?

© 2007 Lee A. Peters
Originally published as a part of 2007 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Cancun, Mexico



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