Sleep is always the first casualty of anxiety, and as Selene stared at the neon glowing 4:34 AM of her alarm clock she knew she wouldn’t get much rest before she had to get up and face the conversation that had her stomach tied in knots.
Selene had known that taking on the role of Project Lead for the organization’s latest Africa project would have challenges, but when she pictured it in her mind she always saw herself handling tight deadlines with grace and delivering inspiring pep talks to a team of eager and talented colleagues. Instead she found herself struggling to manage a gaggle of conflicting personalities and coping with lackluster work as a result. Her team had missed a number of early deadlines because people couldn’t agree on mundane details, and Selene had started to feel that formulating a coherent direction for the project amongst an array of divergent visions might be impossible.
When the clock read 5:00am, Selene gave up on sleep and got out of bed; she made a pot of coffee, showered, and headed into work early. She went over in her mind the meeting she would call at 9:00am to have the difficult discussion with her team about their lack of progress and the changes she felt were needed.
When she had awoken from a fitful sleep so early in the morning, Selene realized that having this conversation with her team was the real source of her anxiety. She knew she would face resistance, even hostility. People didn’t like to be told that they were part of a problem and Selene didn’t particularly relish the idea of being the one to tell them, but she knew it was her role as Project Leader to do exactly that. Finding a way to do it productively, to keep everyone engaged and to inspire positive change, would be her biggest challenge of the project.
When she arrived in the office, she walked purposefully to the boardroom and started setting up. She brought in coffee and juice and the muffins she had picked up from a local bakery nearby. She opened the blinds to let the morning sunshine in, mostly to boost her own mood and confidence. Then she sat down to consult the notes she had made during the hours over the weekend preparing for this moment.
Begin by thanking everyone for their work so far, and acknowledge the good ideas that we’ve generated.
Explain the purpose for the meeting, and be blunt about the problem.
Tell them you want the team and the project to be successful and offer the opportunity for people to express their concerns.
Selene knew better than to criticize anyone directly in a public forum. She planned to explain to the team that she would meet with each of them individually over the week to discuss their individual contributions, and that on Friday they would reconvene as a group to form a plan going forward. She hoped that offering this face-saving measure would enable the team to put their personal egos aside and come together to work on the project more effectively.
The toughest part for Selene would be getting started. The idea of facing her team with the problem, knowing that they may become defensive or upset, made her stomach turn. She reminded herself that her role was not to be a perfect Project Leader but rather to be one with integrity and purpose, and she headed back to her office to send the meeting invite that would convene them all together that morning.