How as Project Managers We Can Avoid Becoming a Scapegoat like Kevin McHale

scapegoatSo my social media feeds were blowing up yesterday over Kevin McHale getting fired by the Houston Rockets and my immediate thought was “scapegoat.”  It got me thinking about how that might be applied to business and specifically project teams at work.  Imagine if you will that you are the manager (coach) and you have assembled an amazing team with tons of talent, but they just can’t seem to pull together to produce winning projects or maybe to really even get anything done.  If you are that manager here are some suggestion to avoid getting replaced like Kevin McHale:

  1. Find the source of the problem and conflict.  It sounds like a super simple idea (and it is) but for some reason people like to avoid conflict and that includes talking about the issues they have with teammates.  You can either do this individually or with the whole team but eventually you need the whole team to air it out.  For instance, I have led projects where there were problems based on the perception of how hard someone else on the team was working.  That caused the rest of the team to not be as motivated.  In reality there were things being completed that weren’t clear enough and the “solution” was just communicating more effectively in daily scrum sessions (it was an agile project).
  2. Find out if you have a bunch of ball hogs on your team.  In some cases, just like in basketball there are ball hogs on your project team.  People that want to hog all the good tasks and/or take all of the glory.  If you have a ball hog you may have to intentionally sit them out on some tasks to give the other team members a chance to shine.  If the situation doesn’t correct itself you may even have to permanently bench them.
  3. Make sure you have a strategy that plays to the strengths of each team member.  There are times when people get confused by the roles they are supposed to be playing on the team (a developer acting like the business owner or a back-end developer acting like a designer).  A good manager (coach) needs to clear that up and make sure that the best person for each task is the one executing the task.  Maybe you have a shooting guard doing a majority of the ball handling instead of the point guard for instance.  That’s not maximizing the individual value of that team member.
  4. You are going to be held accountable for the wins and losses of your team so accept and embrace that responsibility.  In the end you have to find a solution that works.  Continuing to do the same thing and expecting a different outcome will likely lead to everything unraveling for you and the team.  Make changes and do everything you can to position your team for success.  Don’t make your demise be the lack of trying different solutions to making it work.
  5. Don’t bank on past wins to be enough for you get a pass on present failures.  Kevin McHale just LAST YEAR led the Houston Rockets to the western conference finals.  That’s solid!  However, in reality it didn’t save him from being fired after a terrible start to the season.  So what happened?  Daryl Morey accepted his responsibility as a leader to execute on #4 above and try a different solution.

What happened to Kevin McHale is actually pretty common in the business world as well.  Having amazing team members alone isn’t enough to make your business or your project successful.  You have to constantly be working to get the most out of them.  While it’s true that the players/team still has to perform there is no escaping that the project manager is the one likely to hear “You’re FIRED!”  Just ask The Donald…