Do you ever get the sense that your project team is becoming disconnected – from their work, their common purpose, from you their leader, and from each other?

A team without focus is not one supportive of value creation – but why has this happened, and how can you reignite their commitment and enthusiasm?

Here are a few ways project leaders can ensure their teams are performing to their best capacity, without resorting to damaging practises like micromanagement.

1. Monitor more than the health of the project

The personal, emotional wellbeing of each project team member will always impact the total wellbeing of the project team – and health of the project itself. Just as you schedule in regular project health checks, you should check in on the wellbeing of team members. Identifying and addressing their concerns could be the only thing you need to do to get back on track.

As a project leader, you can build activities into communications with your team to stay aware of their mental health and create a psychologically safe environment. Take the time to really listen to team members when they express frustrations and difficult emotions. Examine the particular team dynamics to assess whether any personality clashes need addressing. Keep track of individual workloads to ensure that no one is feeling overwhelmed or unsupported. Acknowledge that your team has a life outside of work and there may be personal factors impacting their demeanour or energy levels.

Creativity, focus, concentration, decision-making and problem-solving skills are all affected by our emotional state – so, as well as benefits to the individual, managing the emotional wellbeing of your team can be highly beneficial for the success of projects.

2. Know when your support is needed – and when it isn’t

Your role as a leader is to respond effectively when you identify your team needs additional support to overcome obstacles or avoid fatigue within each project phase. But always resist the urge to control. Workplaces where teams are governed by a culture where the focus is on management control and maintaining stability (rather than supporting with empathy and flexibility) have been found to be consistently lower performing.

Project leaders can become so absorbed in completing immediate tasks and reaching targets that they forget to develop and appreciate on of the most important yet underrated project leadership skills: the ability to step back, watch and listen.

Sometimes the best way to support a team is not by trying to take charge, but by knowing when not to. By instead combining active listening skills with reading subtle, unspoken communications and drawing on the power of your own emotional intelligence, you may be better able to identify what is truly the core cause of the team’s disconnection and address it holistically to refocus and reinspire them.

3. Identify and develop your personal rally cry or team mantra

A rally cry is defined as ‘a word or phrase or a belief which encourages people to unite and to act in support of a particular group or idea’. Now doesn’t that sound like exactly what a distracted project team needs? So why not try it!

Work together with your team to brainstorm a phrase or word that exemplifies what or who the team wants to be – an ultimate vision to focus them on pushing forward with delivery. Alternatively, you might like to reflect on the rally cry that you use to encourage yourself in difficult times, and see if that’s of use to share with your team.

Whatever you choose will create a common theme that you can stand behind together and refer back to when future challenges and obstacles arise, cultivating a sense of unity, belonging and allegiance.

Focussing on the intended project vision and outcomes, and how beneficial they will be for the intended users can be very unifying and motivating for the team. This is especially powerful when the outcomes are transformational or have a strong moral and meaningful purpose.

4. Be an authentic leader

Adaptation and flexibility are the keys to survival for successful project teams, and project leaders. A study on high-performing workplaces in Australia found that these organisations have higher levels of authentic leadership. That is, leaders who clearly understand future goals, lead with integrity and communicate future vision in a compelling way to their teams.

Being an authentic leader means monitoring the mood of your team, and being able to adapt your leadership style in an emotionally intelligent way to support them to succeed.

When many goals must be met in an immediate way and your team is unfocused and distracted, a pacesetting leadership style may be an advantage. Pacesetting leaders focus on performance and meeting goals – expecting excellence from their teams but also being willing to step in and work on projects themselves to ensure goals are achieved.

Small steps to increase the focus and tempo of activity can be very helpful – for example, increasing the frequency of your status review points, and ensuring everyone in your project team is clear about the need to focus on the tasks at hand and build delivery momentum – can make a big difference within the team.

Does your team have a rally cry? How did you choose it and how do you use it?

Author: Jeremy Cotton is a Senior Program Manager at Victoria University (Melbourne, Australia) where he provides leadership, oversight, support and mentoring for all project managers within the project management office. His focus is on improving the execution, change, and risk management effectiveness of teams, ensuring successful delivery of every initiative, and delivering ongoing methodology improvements.

Lead your projects to success

With only 25% of organisations reporting successful project delivery, it is essential that you have the skillset to lead and drive projects.

The Australian Institute of Project Management offers a series of two-day project leadership workshops to develop your knowledge and build your confidence. Learn how to create team cultures that build higher performance, and strategies for influencing, giving feedback, and conflict resolution. From leadership foundations to advanced influencing skills, you’ll learn the tools and techniques required to confidently lead your team and organisation to success.