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Leverage your team projects for talent development

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Last week, I listened to the familiar laments of bright and dynamic professional I know. Working for a global consulting firm, he joins a new project team every three to six months. Eager to have steady career progression, he is usually left on his own to grow his skills. He asked me if it is reasonable to expect his pressured manager to be more deliberate in giving him opportunities to grow.

Having met and worked with scores of development-oriented managers, my answer is yes — some managers purposely engineer development for their team right into the project. These smart team managers aren’t necessarily altruistic; they have a lot to gain. They become talent magnets for high-performing employees who feed a cycle of more development and greater performance. One such manager told me, “Team projects have got to be the best opportunity to grow the greatest number of people all at once. Plus, learning together is always more engaging than learning individually.”

What does this seasoned manager know that others do not? Here are four steps to be used during the flow of projects to develop an entire team, all at once.

1. Before the project begins, staff the project for maximum development possibilities

Resist the temptation to build a team of deep specialists who can crank the work out at warp speed (which is not so interesting for them). Instead, gear it for maximum results along with maximum development; team members will be grateful and come back for more. Take the time to know each team player’s talents and mix their skills sets (e.g., technical and interpersonal). One seasoned manager told me she always builds in multiple disciplines and tells people to get out of their silos and problem solve together. She said, “Learning together is extremely powerful, but it takes the manager to set it up and set the expectations.”

2. Launch the project with the requirement for development

Great project managers like you set the team up properly with mission, goals, targets, monitoring and decision-making authority. And if you are developmentally focused, you also require team members to grow their skills, as well as help others to do the same. Given the project deliverables, have team members come to a launch meeting prepared to articulate what they will contribute, where they hope to develop, and how they can help others grow. It will be a collaborative effort on all fronts. Then, embed development goals into the project metrics.

3. Once the team is up and running, demonstrate your ongoing interest in development

Consider these developmentally focused actions:

  • Monitor the amount of development taking place, and re-balance the assignments and players to provide efficiency in accruing results and development simultaneously.
  • Add complexities into the assignments that truly challenge the team to expand perspective and use new approaches.
  • Set up space and time (i.e., at staff meetings, brown bag lunches) for team members to ask for advice on their challenges and to share what is working particularly well.
  • Use pulse surveys to ask about additional resources they need and what they are doing to help others grow.
  • Substitute stating observations with the use of targeted questions that are focused on more expansive thinking and deliberate actions (e.g., “What’s the proof you have properly calibrated this deliverable to have lasting impact for the client?” )

4. At the close of the project, debrief for both business results and development accomplishments

Have team members come prepared with their best insights about what transpired for the client, the team, and for themselves. Ask about their most exciting learning experience and how that will lead to their improved performance in the future. Discuss ways to embed their learning into improved team approaches for the next team assignment.

So, does your reputation for project management entice team members with the possibility for lots of development? Make your project effort the place to be, where high-performing team members are excited about the work and their colleagues, and thrilled to be growing everyday while they deliver results.

Wendy Axelrod, PhD, is a recognized expert in manager-driven, work-centered people development. She is co-author of the practical “Make Talent Your Business: How exceptional managers develop people while getting results”. With over 30 years of experience as a corporate executive and external consultant, she has worked directly with thousands of leaders in workshops and as an executive coach. She speaks frequently at conferences and corporate workshops. Learn more about her consulting, speaking and coaching at TalentSavvyManager.com.

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