You Want the Team to Step Up? Then, Step Back!

Pair of athletic shoes on stepsMy daughter recently got married. We didn’t employ a wedding planner and did much of the work ourselves. She and I developed a very good, detailed plan so that everyone involved knew what the couple wanted, what the individuals helping were responsible for, and when things were supposed to happen over the course of the rehearsal, ceremony, and reception. Given that much of my professional work is in the program and project management arena, I was feeling very pleased with the depth and completeness of the plan. I knew that it was likely something would happen that wasn’t expected, but, I would be there to direct the adjustments. It was at that moment that my friend Carol said to me, ‘Lorrie – you are the Mom, not the project manager. You need to step back so that others can step up.’
The more I thought about those two sentences, the more I thought about my role in the wedding. I had been thinking of myself as the project manager. And, I really did want to create an environment where the wedding team could step forward and step up – taking responsibility for their part of the event. The wedding team, who had come together from 8 different states, definitely had the capacity, skills, and commitment to do the work. They would also ask for help if they had questions.
So that left me with the question, what was needed for them to really step up? The answer, was one of those simultaneous “Hooray” and “Aw crap” moments when you realize: “Hooray, it is me” and, “Aw crap, it is me”. Truth be told, while I wanted the help of the wedding team, I also wanted to direct and control all of the outcomes. I wanted to make sure that it turned out well and what we had planned. And, I, like many managers have a healthy dose of compulsion and perfectionism that I bring to any project I work on.
I wanted, and needed, the team to step up, so I had to figure out how I was going to step back. What did I need to know or see to let go? The first thing I did was ask for help from my friend Carol. I needed a lead person, or a ringmaster as I describe the role at a wedding, to run point during the wedding. Not only did she have all of the skills and judgement needed, she had seen the need for me to step back at the very beginning and hadn’t been afraid to tell me so. I knew she had my back and that I could trust her to handle whatever came up.
Secondly, we assembled the team and updated the wedding plan with their questions and input. While the changes seemed minor, the team discussion, and understanding, of what the bride and groom wanted was major. At the end, everyone on the team was describing the same picture for the wedding and reception.
Lastly, I embraced the concept of Autopilot. I promised that I wouldn’t step back in and ‘take it all back’ if something happened during the course of the wedding. I would let the folks who were responsible handle it. On the wedding end, things happened, like they always do in big, complicated projects. The electricity for the venue went out for 2+ hours and the caterer arrived 45 minutes late. But, the team handled the issues and I didn’t have to. I got to look at the ceremony area, take a deep breath, and help walk my daughter down the aisle. I got to simply be ‘mom’ and enjoy the wedding – knowing that my team had it.
The next time I am working on a project and want my team to ‘step up’, I am going to remember the wedding and understand that it starts with me.  Former Yale University Professor H.E. Luccock said, “No one can whistle a symphony. It takes at orchestra to play it.” Step back as the whistler so that the orchestra can step forward and take their seats. You will not only get better immediate results but will also build capability, flexibility, and resilience in the team – positioning them for success the future!
Let us know how you step back to let your team step up. We’d love to hear from you.

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