Onboarding the Human Side Part 2 – Human Skills

Last month we looked at how to set up behavior norms as the first step in the human side of onboarding. A close second in the onboarding is the human skills. Having behavior norms is good – but if your team doesn’t have the skills to actually perform in accordance with the norms, then your end goal of having a productive, cohesive team will not be achieved. I believe that people do the best for what they know how to do. If you want them to do something different, you have to teach them a different way.
Project teams are in several ‘businesses’ that many never realize they are in. They are in the change business, the conflict resolution business, and the relationship business. Skills for these businesses are best learned and practiced together as they all affect each other. Change causes conflict – so having change and conflict resolution skills together are important. Additionally, few project teams have any direct authority over the people that they interact with on the project. However, they can have enormous influence – depending upon the state of their relationships. On a day when you really need something done quickly and you pick up the phone to ask someone to ‘do you a favor’ – the state of the relationship will determine how the other person responds. Having skills for these businesses helps prevent typical issues in projects and accelerates the team’s results.
Few project teams recognize that they are in these businesses until they are in the middle of a mess in the project. As a result, their communications and interactions are less effective. The team may fail to acknowledge that for a key customer, this project has upset their world. They may fail to recognize when people are just ‘waiting them out’ or being ‘maliciously compliant’. These are usually characterized by people doing precisely, and exactly, what they are told to do – even if they know that it won’t work or that the result will be negative consequences. It is critical that team members know, appreciate, and acknowledge what this project and change mean to those affected.
This miss frequently leads to a conflict. Many teams are skilled at arguing – but that is very different than resolving the conflict. Resolving the conflict means listening to the other side vs. preparing your next argument. It means putting your own bias and/or solution aside and putting yourself in their shoes. It means being capable of staying in the conversation, even while you are yelled at, so that the other person can express how they feel about the project and its impact on their life. It is hard and takes practice. But without this, you end up with an unresolved conflict that just adds to the pile.
The foundation for navigating through the change and the conflict resolution is the development and maintenance of the relationships. These relationships include relationships with other team members, with customers, and with stakeholders. The skill includes understanding what it takes to build a good relationship and then investing that time, upfront, with all of the players. There is an inverse correlation between relationship time invested upfront and conflicts later in the project – the more time invested upfront, the fewer conflicts later on. And, the conflicts that do occur, will surface earlier and be resolved faster. Bottom line is that the conscious building of the relationships develops a foundation of trust – essential to an effective team.
Lastly, there is an added bonus when using the human skills training in your onboarding. The training can serve as a terrific team building exercise. Recently, on a business trip, I met a man who had just gone through a team building exercise with his team. It was an event at a trampoline park. While fun for some, the man was only left with a sore back and no additional skills. Using the human skills training and the team’s real situations provides relevance for everyone on the team. They will have a shared experience that is practical and immediately usable. The training also provides a format for them to create, and develop or deepen, their relationships with each other – and experience what it means to support one another. These experiences prepare the team for what they are facing, or will face, during the project.
Imagine trying to navigate a major scope change, problem, customer requirement, or personnel issue without these additional skills. It isn’t fun. And this is typically how we do it. There is loads of extra work, many more meetings to work through hurt feelings and resolve the issues, and time lost as the work doesn’t get completed on the original timing. Work stops when the change or conflict are ‘too big’ and the relationships are ‘too small’ and team members become overwhelmed. Avoid this mess and the extra work! It is a recoverable! Start early and use the human skills training as part of your onboarding. Get the skills in change, conflict resolution, and relationship and set you, and your team, up for success!
Let us know how we can support you in developing the communication skills for your team.

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