As a project manager, you understand that the success of your project doesn’t rest solely on your shoulders. To move a project over the finish line on time and with all of the goals met (or exceeded), you need a qualified, engaged team working in lockstep with you to complete your project plan.

Easier said than done, right? What do you do if you’re a brand new project manager, working with a new team (who might not have worked with each other before)? The good news is that one of the easiest ways to create a dream team is within your reach and doesn’t cost anything besides your time.

Think back to the last time you felt truly appreciated for the work that you do. It’s a great feeling, right? It motivates you to keep driving forward, meeting goals and doing your best work - even when the going gets tough. Now, think back to a time in your career where you slogged through your projects, day after day, and weren’t even sure if anyone noticed you. Not a great feeling.

So how do you ensure that your team feels invested in your project and in you as a leader? There are some simple leadership skills at your disposal to set the tone at the outset of your project so you can start reaping the benefits of a happy team.

Facilitate effective communication from the beginning

Projects typically move at a fast pace. You can’t afford to wait days for a response from team members. Poor communication creates a snowball effect - one delayed response leads to another delay, and soon your whole timeline is off track.

How do you combat black holes in communication? Set expectations with your team on day one about how and how often you will communicate as a team. Tell them how to reach you and when you’re available. Promise (and deliver) effective communication and ask them for the same thing in return. Your team will be far more likely to meet your expectations if you tell them what you expect.

Streamline communication so the message matters

We’ve all experienced “death by meetings”. There is nothing quite as frustrating as sitting through one more meeting that could have been handled in five minutes with an email or a phone call. Make it your mission to keep communication simple and limited to mission-critical information. Cut to the chase in your emails. Offer and stick to a clear agenda for meetings. Assume that your team is drowning in meetings, emails, and notifications (because they are), and strive not to add to the flood unnecessarily. They’ll be much more likely to read and act on your requests when your communications are respectful of their time.

Be transparent and empathetic

Dale Carnegie once said, “To be interesting, be interested.” This is one of the best pieces of advice a project manager can follow to get their team to engage. As you get to know individual members of your team, make sure that you are truly listening to them. What are their concerns? What do they need from you to be successful? Do they have perceived limitations or obstacles that will prohibit them from meeting milestones on time? By understanding and empathizing with the needs of your team, you’ll be able to address potential issues before they even have a chance to get in your way. If your team feels heard by you, the lines of communication will be more open and transparent.

Establish shared goals to build rapport

Does your team know the purpose of the project? Are they bought into the end result? For some team members, the goal of the project they’ve been tasked with might seem too far and obscure to be relevant to them as an individual. As you introduce the project, share your personal goals as the project manager and ask each of the team members to brainstorm how the success of the project could have a positive impact on them. It may be something as simple as meeting a performance goal or as complex as impacting profit sharing. The key is to connect each team member in a personal way to the overall goal of the project.

Now that you’ve laid the groundwork for effective communication with your team, you’re ready to take communication to the next level: making a conscious effort to express appreciation for your project team. If it seems like just “one more step” in an already complicated project plan, you’re looking at it the wrong way. The proven benefits of employee engagement are a priceless return on your investment of time.

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A happy team is a productive team

If you still suspect that appreciating and engaging your team is just a bunch of feel-good fluff, consider this: Nearly 40% of employees say they are motivated to work harder when they feel happy in their work and appreciated for what they do. Impressive, and yet 65% of employees report feeling underappreciated for their efforts. Imagine if more leaders spent the time to make their teams feel appreciated. It isn’t just fluff-- it translates into productivity and revenue and tangible business outcomes. In fact, organizations with engaged employees outperform those with disengaged, disgruntled workers by over 202%.

You, as a project manager, have a unique opportunity to act as the CEO of your project and run it in the same way you would run your own company. Show your team that they are appreciated, and you’ll find that you have a motivated, invested team, willing to do what it takes to complete the project successfully.

Appreciation builds loyalty

No matter the role within an organization, relationships with our fellow human beings is the most important factor for success. We are hardwired to operate with a “pack mentality.” We group ourselves with those who make us feel secure and protected. When we, as project managers, show our team appreciation, it communicates security. What we get in return is loyalty and a commitment to the project team or “pack.” If members of your team operate as lone wolves, with a “look out for number one” mentality, your job will be much harder.

All it takes is a conscious commitment to set aside time to recognize and engage with your team. No money required. In fact, over 70% of employees in a recent survey report that the times in their professional life where they felt most valued had no monetary attachment or dollar value. Make it a priority to show appreciation for your team to cultivate loyalty and create a stronger “pack.”

Confidence creates capability

Have you heard of the concept of “a self-fulfilling prophecy”? Essentially, it means that we have a certain measure of control over our own success. As a project manager, if you continually berate your team and tell them all of the ways they are doing things incorrectly, they will lose confidence in their ability to do anything right. On the flip side, if you express appreciation for what your team does well, they will be more confident as the project progresses, and more likely to approach work with a positive attitude instead of negativity and self-defeat. 70% of employees report that they would feel more motivated if they were simply offered a “thank you” for their work. Sure, we’re all working for a paycheck and not for pats on the back, but feeling as if your work matters...matters. Create a positive “prophecy” for your team and then watch them fulfil it.

You may need positive feedback in return someday

We’ve all heard the old saying “you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours.” It paints a strange visual image for the workplace, but the sentiment holds true. Think of your investment in people in terms of “goodwill currency.” What you give, you get back. The more you pour into others, the more they will pour into you. At some point in your career, peer recommendations will become a valuable resource.

As you make goodwill “deposits” with your team, keep in mind that different personalities respond to outreach in different ways. Don’t assume that each member of your team feels secure and appreciated. Ask them. If they aren’t fully engaged with the team and your mission, find out what it will take to get them there.

Our work is never done when it comes to our ability to positively impact the humans we come in contact with every day. We can always improve. As a start, strive to be the kind of project manager that people can’t wait to say nice things about. If you consciously invest in and appreciate your team, the return on your investment will be well worth it.

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