I used to love getting this question in interviews, because I truly and passionately believed in my answer:
How do you motivate teams of people when you don’t have any authority over them?
At this point, my face would break into a big smile, and I would start describing my three-pronged approach:
1- Food (Kidding, but really, I’m a much happier person when I have food in my belly, so why wouldn’t others be, too?! For serious. Just ask my family, they’re more than happy to share horror stories of me turning into a low-blood-sugar crank-monster.)
2- Personal Ownership: a.k.a Having a stake in the outcome
3- Sharing the Load: Demonstrating a willingness to roll up my sleeves and get involved in tasks
And this is where the project management/team leadership cookie (the one I baked for prong #1 of my three-pronged approach) tends to crumble.
For managers who believe in multitasking as an asset, I was singing their song. They were hiring a twofer (or threefor?)!
I could project manage AND write a database stored procedure AND do quality assurance testing.
Recently, though, I’ve engaged in some interesting debates regarding whether or not an effective project manager/team leader should get involved in tasks.
I understand the theory and reasoning behind it.
In order to stay focused on the big picture, and in order to stay effective as a leader, you shouldn’t interfere with the work of the team. There is risk involved, since you might not be the most qualified to take on specific tasks.
There could be a conflict of interest too. As a project manager, it’s easy to focus on wanting to get the work done and completing your project on schedule, and therefore (consciously or sub-consciously) not focusing as much on finding bugs when testing, for example.
So, on an intellectual level, I understand the argument that it’s better NOT to get involved in tasks, and to let the team do what it does best.
But on a personal level, I can’t bring myself to say that in every single case, staying hands-off is the best policy. I find it hard to be working with a team that’s caught between a rock and a hard place and not get involved, especially if there are outstanding tasks that relate directly to my background.
Maybe it’s my sense that to really be able to bring out the best in a team, I have to be a part of the team.
Maybe it’s my desire to want to help.
Maybe I’m wrong.
To clarify, I don’t always get involved in tasks. It’s simply not practical, nor is it in the best interest of a team that’s learning to work together, do their best, and be highly productive no matter who’s leading them.
But sometimes, I do. I roll my sleeves up, find a pain point I know I can help relieve, and get to work.
What do you think of getting involved in tasks? Do you do it, or do you steer clear?