3 Ways a PM can help the team De-stress

With Project deadlines looming, stress is often a factor that project managers have to deal with, especially with the team they are managing, with a clear correlation between the level of stress indured and the quality of work produced, not to mention emotional endurance. Let's face it, almost every project (most likely every project) is under the pump at one stage or another during the lifecycle, and duress is something, as a Project Manager, you certainly need to deal with.

With fixed resources, fixed time and budget, things tend to go awry, whether it is a strong dependency of a delivery from one team, a technical difficulty that cannot be resolved, scope changes, resource changes, and your job is to make sure things don't go belly-up. Negative stress influences teams by de-optimizing their work efficiencies, resulting in lower-than-expected sprint velocities, dampen creativity and constructive thinking, resulting in mental fatigue, resulting in even simple coding errors creeping in.

There are of course specific PM courses of action you can take to address the problems, and this article isn't about that, it's more about how you can leverage your influence to act as a mentor, or guru to project positivity, in order to boost the morale of your team. Here are 3 Ways a PM can help the team De-stress.

#1.Empathy

The most important attribute I believe a project manager should possess is empathy. Empathy - em·pa·thy - the feeling that you understand and share another person's experiences and emotions : the ability to share someone else's feelings (source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

Measured as emotional intelligence, a powerful leadership quality is the ability to connect with each of your team-members on a non-technical, but emotional level, and understanding their needs, concerns and helping build a stronger and safer mental state for your team-member.

"Leaders with empathy," according to Dr Daniel Goleman of the Harvard Business Review ("What Makes a Great Leader"), "do more than sympathize with people around them: they use their knowledge to improve their companies in subtle, but important ways."

This tool, empathy is powerful not just in the sense that it allows you to help console a team-member, but also a strong negotiating tool. That is, empathy doesn't infer you need to agree with someone, but rather substitute agreement for empathy, showing a genuine concern for the other person's concerns, feeling and motives, thereby portraying a greater level of reasoning that leads to a response that is in tune with what the person is going through.

#2. Rallying Your Team

Empathy should not just in the form of words, but actions, and you know the saying work hard, play hard, that's something that PMs should always do. Ideally, you want your team to bond and gell well, in order to build a strong sense of synergy and dynamics, and while that takes some time to form, you need to help facilitate the fostering of positive relationships. One way of achieving this, is through providing down-time, or socializing activities for your team.

For instance, start with something simple as pizza Fridays, catered lunches during meetings, and lunches outside of the office. Allow your team members to get to know each other on a more personal level, and the bond will directly translate into the team rallying together for a common cause, or goal.

One analogy I like to give is to compare it to the ancient Roman or Greek battle-cries, where a strong army morale with inspiring rallying, leads to armies defeating other armies of even greater sizes. Morale therefore is one of the most powerful emotional states a team can have.

"Schedule monthly get-togethers to reaffirm the project goals, congratulate the team on their successes to date and boost their confidence in doing what it takes to complete the project successfully. Make sure that each person leaves the meeting energized and passionate about finishing the remainder of the project.” (source: Jason Westland. “Managing Projects of all Sizes.” ProjectManager.com, 2014)

With sprints, this is also where retrospectives come in, where you always make sure that you recognize success, and attribute success to each member always.

#3 Prevent Negative Members from Influencing the Team

Sometimes its not external influences but internal influences that causes stress in the team. It could be someone from another team, say a product owner, that is the instigator. As a Project Manager, you play a fundamental role in shielding your team from negative outside influences, you bat for the team, advocate for the team (I'm looking at you, overzealous product owners).

Identify the instigator and use your personal negotiation skills (remember we talkd about empathy as a tool as well) and directly come to agreements so that they go through you. While listening to his or her perspective on the matter, you also put forward a strong stance that you won't tolerate negative influences on the team, to hinder their performances.

If the instigator is someone from within your team, you need to quickly pin-point the stress point (weak points) early on, provide a concrete action plan that will improve the situation. Of course, to be respectful of that person and everyone else, do this in a private manner.

Remember, as a PM you need to always practice what you preach, and be a positive influencer, for others to follow. You don't lead through authority but rather through influence, so your charismatic and empathetic attributes as a great leader will greatly determine whether your team is performing at its optimal or not. Rubbing out negiative influences, and instead rallying around your team, with positive re-inforcement, will allow you to achieve more, with less, all thanks to the comradership of each of your team-members.