We often regard our work colleagues as our second family – the teammates are like our brothers and sisters while the project manager is like our parent figure. In fact, the dynamics within a team are very similar to a family and the traits we see in our children are easily found within the teams we manage. So why not take a look at what our kids are seeking out daily and apply it to better understand our employees?
While from the young age, kids are very different, they do share some similarities. They want to know where they came from, copy their parent behavior, have a very short attention span, strive to take control of the situation and lastly want to be appraised for their accomplishments. For most of these needs we have natural reactions to accommodate our kids and maybe these reactions could be applied in managing a team.
First and foremost, to feel like they belong, any human being wants to know their history. It gives us certainty and a clear idea where we want to go. To make sure our kids have that, we tell them stories about our family, the world and everything else that surrounds them. This way, we make sure they feel comfortable and understand the world. So why not make the same effort with your team? If you want them to understand and work towards a common goal, there is no better way to start than from telling them what the company has been through and where it is going. Too often we forget that with frequently changing teams and team members, not all of them are up to date. And while that does not necessarily mean they will do a worse job than the rest, most of them will not feel as comfortable within the team and the company as you or they would like to.
Another thing that is clearly seen with our children is the importance of the parent figure. Children do copy everything we do, even the mood that we are in affects them more than we would often like. At some extent project teams are exactly the same – a stressed or tired project manager creates tension and unease within. For the team this immediately means the project is not going well, their working hours will be longer and this makes them shut down even before they hear anything the manager has to say. The same as with your kids, it is extremely important to set a good atmosphere for the team by managing what you put out there, because it will foster productivity and creativity for everyone.
The thing we get most tired of with our kids is probably the short attention span. Unless it is something extremely interesting to them, they will drop it soon and never look back. Therefore we try to make everything as short and as interesting as possible to keep their attention. Yes, your team probably does a much better job at keeping their attention on the job, but does this mean, they should be treated differently? When you think about it, making their tasks shorter does not only allow you to quickly see what is working or not, but also takes the fear of failing away from your team. When working on a two week project, the team will be a lot less afraid of failure than when working on a project that lasts for several months. Just like with your kids, make it short and fun.
Control is another thing we have over our kids and the more we control them, the stronger they rebel and try to do everything to break the rules. So instead of grounding them and punishing them endlessly, we turn the tables around and make them create the rules and the punishments for not complying. This way, the rules they have to follow are their own and they do feel responsible to follow them. In this case your team is exactly the same – the project schedule that is simply given to them will never feel as comfortable as the one that they had a hand in creating. So just like with kids explain the situation and leave it up to them to set the boundaries (with your supervision).
Lastly, what our kids love is being celebrated for their achievements. If they do a nice job in school or finish all their chores we make sure to award them somehow, sometimes simply by complimenting them. This small action reinsures them to keep doing the good job and keeps them wanting to do even more. The team you manage wants that as well. Of course it is different in a sense that you cannot celebrate completion of every task, therefore instead you should remember the power that the check mark has. For most of us, there is nothing more satisfying than putting a check mark next to a task we had to do. It gives us the sense of accomplishment as well as the sense of moving forward. Whether your team can move tasks to the done section on a project board or mark pluses next to the items on a list, they will be happy in doing so.
The same psychological tricks that work in disciplining and monitoring our kids can be applied in managing a team successfully. They simply have to be adapted to the professional environment and presented differently. Project managers should not underestimate the emotional stimulus that the possibility of short term success created, that being a part of something bigger gives, as well as the satisfaction of putting a checkmark next to a task. By looking at the psychology we use on our kids, we will be able to better understand and manage the little kids that are inside all of us.