Zarina was told at her appraisal that she would be promoted to lead a project as soon as the next project was approved by the customer. She was a very confident young woman who demonstrated technical and interpersonal skills. Shortly thereafter, she was assigned as a manager to the promised project. She had two of her previous project members who looked up to her, and three others who were her peers but were previously in another project. In fact one of them Sanjay, was her lunch companion and traveled by the same cab every day. She noticed that on the very first day, Sanjay was a little uninterested in participating in the discussions, and his attitude seemed almost bordering on resentment for being assigned this project. Zarina was perplexed. She thought that he would be happy to be working with her. She also noticed that the other two members had a bonding with Sanjay and would follow whatever he did. Zarina was keen on the project success and she wanted to create an environment of trust in the project. What should she do to earn Sanjay’s trust? Would that suffice or should she reconfirm the trust of all members?
What would you advise her to do?
Zarina is starting a new project and she is a new manager. So even though she knows most of the people personally and professionally, it is better for her to set up a meeting to get an opportunity to share the vision for this project and more importantly listen to the ideas and concerns of her team.
While setting team norms, and getting a consensus from the team, she can express her confidence in the team and how trust can be mutually built. Values that she believes in can be shared and an open discussion can be had to see if there are any differences in opinions. Any expressions of concerns must be genuinely listened to without getting defensive, and addressed rationally. If she faces any dilemma about how a certain challenge may be addressed, she could seek the counsel of her manager or peers who have had some experience. Once these are ironed out, Zarina has to walk the talk.
Different team members may need different levels of guidance and encouragement in order to build the trust and she must consciously invest that time effort and time to it. She must keep the team appropriately informed about any decisions from management or client, that affect the project. Communication must be open, trustworthy and confirming that her team has her support. Much as she wants the team to trust her she must trust them too. This often includes times that team members don’t keep commitments, don’t collaborate, make technical or protocol misjudgements, etc. These are precisely the opportunities where trust can be reiterated and strengthened. This is when she must draw the team back to the agreed norms and shared vision.
Now coming to Sanjay, if Zarina notices open hostility, she must have a private conversation with him to understand his feeling. If he expresses his frustration she should genuinely listen and see how best she can address it. It may not be personal or it may be something just for that day. Whatever the case may be, Zarina must not ignore it and pretend that it will go away if she does not pay attention to it. The sooner it is addressed the better it is for all.
With all this done in her very first project, she may not learn all there is to build trust, but she will be on a sure footing in the right direction for the next project.