Guest post by Paul Axtell
One of the toughest jobs in the universe is to be a product or project leader with people who do not work directly or exclusively for you. Every team leader has faced these two questions at some point on every project:
How can I get people to take on work and deliver when they don’t report to me?
People are on multiple teams. Is it really fair of me to ask them to take on a lot of work?
Here are seven points that may be useful to you in finding approaches that work:
#1. Be interested in every person on your team. At some point, influence comes down to your relationships, and the starting point for relationship is being interested in the other person. As Dale Carnegie wrote: “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get people interested in you.”
Who should you take to coffee this week?
#2. Be clear about the importance of your product to the organization. People are busy—much busier than they enjoy being. When everything on their to-do list is important, then nothing is really important. You must be able to explain both the short-term and long-term value associated with your product.
It helps to begin with a future focus: What will this product or project make possible?
#3 Establish these agreements up front with your team:
- I’m going to ask for what the project needs to be successful.
- You have my permission to push back when I ask for more than you can deliver.
- I expect you to deliver on time or call me when you are not able to deliver as promised. I won’t be angry, and we will just figure out what to do to handle the breakdown.
- If you get overwhelmed, give me a call and we’ll determine how to get you out of trouble. I know you are busier than you want to be, but I can’t help if you don’t speak up.
Having agreements in place provides a framework for clear communication and expectations. What agreements do you need from your team? What agreements would your team members ask for from you?
#4. Lead very tight, well-designed meetings. Meetings are a pain point for nearly everyone. Make sure your meetings are the exception. Only talk about things that matter and discuss each agenda item in a way that leads to clarity, commitment, and alignment. You can’t really motivate people—but your conversations with them can leave them aligned and engaged.
What do you need to change about the way you design and lead your meetings?
#5. Wrap up each conversation thoughtfully and deliberately. These four elements are often missing when concluding a meeting or a conversation:
- Check to see if all questions have been answered. Moving on too quickly can lead to a lack of clarity or sense of doubt.
- Check to see if everyone is okay and aligned with where the conversation ended and next steps.
- Make sure you have specific commitments identified—who will do what by when.
- Express the value created by the conversation—what are you taking away from this interaction? This honors and reinforces the group’s conversations and work together.
What is missing in how you wrap up a conversation?
#6. Issue clear and specific notes immediately after every meeting. I’m not talking about formal minutes, here—what’s needed is a clear summary of decisions made, commitments identified, actions to be taken, and deadlines set. Conversation has a way of disappearing rather quickly from people’s memories. Getting concise and precise notes out will keep the important points from the meeting working for everyone afterward.
Who on your team has a gift for capturing what happened in a conversation?
#7. Establish check points for every commitment and then follow up. Anything you want to happen in life must be tracked and measured. Commitments exchanged in a meeting need to be tracked. This is not an issue of trust or micromanaging. This is simply good project management.
What area of the project needs tighter tracking?
People love to add value, and you can ensure their success by being aware and compassionate about what they are facing elsewhere in their work and in their lives. Sincerity and honesty always work. Trust yourself and your group.
Paul Axtell has more than 35 years of experience as a personal effectiveness consultant and corporate trainer. He has spent the last 15 years designing and leading programs that enhance individual and group performance within large organizations. He is also the author of the recent book, Meetings Matter: 8 Powerful Strategies for Remarkable Conversation.
The Product Management Perspective: The principles discussed here apply specifically to product managers. Because you do not (typically) manage the teams that build your products, you need to find ways to effectively work with them, get commitments and move products to market. Applying Paul’s points, especially 1-3, will improve the effectiveness of your work as a product manager.