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Getting Into the Trenches – Building and Inspiring Trust

We’ve all been there before as project managers – your team is struggling and we need to help them. Maybe your project is falling behind, perhaps there’s been additional constraints put on your project, maybe there’s some unforeseen technical challenges. In any case, when you see your team struggling it’s important critical that they know you have their back. So how do we do this? There’s a few ways, one of which I’m going to talk about here.

Getting into the Trenches

Often times as project managers, we come from a technical background (not always and a lot of time not always current) but we do understand the basics of what our team is doing technically. Maybe there’s an opportunity to roll up your sleeves and get alongside them and take some of the load off. While this is not a recommended long-term approach, by actually getting into the details of the work you’re achieving two things – 1) You’re lightening the load off your team and potentially moving your project back on track; 2) You’re proving to your team that you’re in it as much as they are. I recall managing an application development project some time back where as a junior project manager, I was making a lot of rookie mistakes (like most of us do) and found myself with a red project that desperately needed to get back on track. Knowing the tools and technology we were using and having a familiarity with them, I didn’t hesitate to get right into the action. While it was a long two months of 14-hour days (don’t forget, you have a project to manage in addition to all this cool technical work you’re doing), we managed to get the product delivered to a happy client. I say “we” because my team was working by my side throughout.

While this may not be an option in a number of cases, it’s just one way to build trust and confidence within your team. The key element here is ensuring that they know that you’re going to be there for them when you need them. Even if it’s something as simple as waiting at your desk checking your text messages at 9:30 pm while they finish configuring the build, or running out to get sandwiches or pizza for them while they finish coding a module it says a lot when your leaders are willing to give up as much as they’re asking you to give up.

As a leader, you’re responsible for the output of your team. But to build your project outputs you first need to build your team. By giving your team a sense of “we” and making sure they know that you’re there to support them, you’re positioning yourself to build a high-performing team.

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