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It’s Not You It’s Us - Building a Client* Team That Stays Together

I am feeling a little nervous about writing this blog, because I’m not just writing about the perfect client relationship, but the ones that have gone wrong, soured and how to come back from the brink. This blog is inspired by my observation that there is still a great deal of the idea of ‘us and them’ being reinforced at the deepest levels when we approach working in a client or stakeholder team. There is a need to start breaking down the barriers, make the starting point about people and work on removing the ‘us and them’ from our mindset completely. Could we reshape the way projects are run by starting with the humans? And what can you do when the rot has already set in?

*I’ve used the word client here but the ideas in this article apply to the whole stakeholder spectrum, the full supply chain.

Let’s start with the story of what the ideal day to day relationship looks like. You get to work, pick up the phone and talk to your teammate about your teenager’s attitude, their house move, Saturday night out and, quite naturally, the ups and downs your teams are experiencing. You share ideas and experience on how to deal with any of those. Then, you brainstorm together how you are going to solve the upcoming deadline issues on the project and minimise the financial impact to everyone involved. You understand and empathise with each other’s drivers enough to be able to agree some options and a good way to float these to both your teams/senior leaders. The thought that the person on the end of the line technically works for another organisation doesn’t even cross your mind. Psychological safety built early on in the whole project team allows you to be completely honest with each other about all the factors impacting the issue you are solving together. No one is engaged in impression management.

Sounds ideal, yes? So how do you get to this happy, highly functional place? Where possible, begin at the beginning, place less focus on the contract and the technical side and more on the people at the beginning of the bid process. To the converted, this might sound blindingly obvious, but it’s not happening in too many cases. For those working on the bid and/or to be on the project team, bring them together early to focus only on the human context (controversial, I know).

Begin your project by asking these questions as a team to frame (more here on Framing) the project for sustained success, build psychological safety and motivate all parties from the outset:

Why are we here, what is our individual and team Why?

Why is each person on this team important?

How do we want to work together?

What can we learn from each other and from this project?

Work hard to ensure this is not just an add on to the technical work, but the most important workstream of the bid and then mobilisation. The workshops we have created at People Not Tech allow leaders to truly communicate and integrate Psychological Safety into project teams. Then when the opportunity arises, repeat with the whole project team - all stakeholders. And repeat, consistently, throughout the project. You will surprise and delight everyone by creating a team that can empathise with, understand and challenge each other resulting in continuous learning and success.