08 Mar 5 ways to defuse stressful projects with better planning
With the first flowers already peeping through, and nights drawing out, spring can trigger renewed positivity and enthusiasm to get started on a new project at work.
Yet in the rush to get started, and take on new responsibilities on top of our existing ones, it can be tempting to just crack on without involving people in planning ahead.
Planning might seem like a luxury, but it’s never a waste of time
Meetings organised to kick off new programmes can feel like a waste of precious time because all they do is state the obvious. But giving people that time to think and voice their concerns in this initial phase is vital. It can really help get everyone on board with the same level of confidence, and help prevent derailment later on in the year.
There’s a lot of evidence to show that project leaders often cause teams more stress than they mean too, by not giving sufficient time to planning and reviewing their projects. This causes anxious feelings in people because they’re not clear what’s expected of them, and they don’t have any control over what happens next.
We’re all different (I’m a psychologist, so I should know!)
Leaders also often push people to bring solutions (not problems) to meetings, and this discourages people from asking questions that they really need answering, for fear of being seen as the dog in the manger. Though whether we like it or not, some people need a worst case scenario plan to show every eventuality has been accounted for – even ones that might seem incredibly unlikely.
The way to handle these difficult questions is as you would in a safety discussion.
Take a non-judgmental stance in these meetings and encourage engagement from every member of the team. And ask open questions which build confidence that their concerns will be listened too. Anyone who brings up a concern should be thanked for their contribution and it should be discussed as fully as any other.
Managed well, these planning and preparation meetings become a valuable tool, contributing to the success of the project.
If we can allay people’s fears early on, then the whole process feels more under control and is less likely to cause people stress when they progress further into the project.
We can all cope with a lot of pressure if we know why it’s there and how to manage it, but often people choose the ‘let’s wait and see’ approach. This breeds uncertainty, so people end up dropping off the perch with overwork and chronic stress symptoms they can’t cope with.
Here’s how to make the most out of your planning time
- Make sure time is set aside and all participants are available. It seems obvious but meetings often get derailed by other commitments.
- Ask for worst case scenarios, discuss potential barriers or weaknesses and as far as possible put them to bed with mitigation or contingency.
- Help people set their own time-frames and realistic milestones. This might not be what you prefer, but your project is more likely to be a success if people feel like they have some control over it.
- Build in time to revisit progress, deal with setbacks and reward positive behaviours people demonstrate. This keeps up morale and ongoing commitment from them.
- Celebrate success at the end of the project and make sure lessons learned are fed back in a positive, useful way.
Good luck to you if you’re beginning a project of any size this spring. You won’t regret building resilience into your team with the extra time spent on planning, I promise.