Finding focus to improve success

- November 2019

By Laura Ushay, Principal (Program and Project Management) at Parbery Consulting

You are bound to pick up a few tricks when working with a range of different teams as a lone contractor or consultant without a permanent team collective. Picking up insights and tools is the key to staying afloat in the ‘sink or swim’ environment that comes with embedded/contract consulting. Adapting to your new environment quickly is crucial for success when you have a limited number of days to deliver outcomes in accordance with your contract. With this in mind, I thought it may be useful to share some of my tips and processes for finding focus, with optimal means for implementing and integrating successfully when joining a new team.

The first step is recognising which of the following five types of workers you may be dealing with:

‘Energised’ employees: These people are generally either new starters or enthusiastic individuals following their aspiration to implement change. Such employees see value in improving how they do business both – individually and as part of the team.

‘Peacemakers’ or ‘Sheep’: This second type do what the majority do. They do not want to ‘rock the boat’. These people aim to fulfil their day-to-day duties while avoiding confrontation and disruption at all costs.

 ‘Disgruntled’ employees: These people will constantly whinge about things no matter what options may be available. There is very little you can do to influence them within a short time frame.

‘My way or the highway’ employees: These are the kind of people who prefer doing their own thing. They will also be the ones to question your expertise because they completed a one-day training course in Project Management many years ago (and have since never actively implemented Project Management delivery) – This is often the case despite the fact that you may have decades of experience and a background that makes you significantly more qualified.

‘Sheppards’: The last type are the leaders. These ones are liquid gold, and rare, if you come across them. They are excellent at making concise decisions, provide clarity, establish boundaries, can task and prioritise for their team. Interestingly, they may not be the current leader of the team – they have the soft-skill of enabling a group of people to function to the best of their ability.

Once you have identified the types of people you are now working with, focus on the energised (usually the change champion) and ‘Sheppard’ employees. These people are generally the most open to change, can steer the change by establishing a group ‘cooperative’, and the most effective at producing outcomes.

If you find yourself thrown into the middle of a chaotic situation, use the team you are working with to find clarity and develop a group-established vision to create the momentum and buy-in. I have often found that workshopping a schedule or plan in a collective manner can be a great place to start. The most important thing is getting ideas from heads to paper. This, in effect, captures their ‘to-do list’ and allows them to not have to stress about remembering tasks, priorities and when things are due. It gives them something simple and actionable that will create a sense of calm. This will help the team to think about the issues at hand in a rational, strategic and structured way.

Always follow up all workshops, with a written consensus. If there is a leader that cycles direction, changes their mind, or is unable to make effective decisions, use the group workshop to gain everyone’s ideas and written approval. This will allow you to use the group agreement as a reminder for the leader if/when they change their mind and assist in identifying the impact and consequence their ‘change of mind’ has on the team.

My next piece of advice is to use dashboards as early as possible. This helps facilitate information sharing both up and down the chains of command. They can be a great way to help create buy-in from stakeholders and identify opportunities or gaps in a strategy.

In addition to developing insights and accountability, develop relationships with the team. Get to know the individuals. Buy them a coffee, and get to know them personally. This helps to build a positive relationship, but also gauge their levels or understanding, commitment, and work style. This is also a great opportunity to clarify your understanding and let them clarify theirs. Don’t be afraid of repeating yourself if it helps you find clarity! They will always remember that you always had time for them – creating a sense of personal and professional value!

When working to fulfil your contract, be mindful not to venture out of the scope of work. Not everything is your responsibility, and it’s okay to push back if you are asked to do something that’s out of scope. While this is sometimes difficult, it is our responsibility as consultants to manage our workloads and complete the task we were hired for.

My final piece of advice – celebrate achievements. Acknowledge when individuals or teams produce a positive outcome or reach a milestone (no matter how big or small). This encourages higher performance, maintains momentum, and builds a sense of worth, throughout the team.