The (Lost) Art of Taking People With You

If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together – but how?

In two days, the world’s oldest and largest annual ultra marathon takes place in South Africa; the Comrades. The vast majority of participants tell you far more about their experiences with others along the way than the pleasure of crossing the finish line. Even the name of the race tells you; the people you travel with in life really matter – but it won’t happen by itself, you need to actively take them with you.

Leading a large IT programme is no different. You will need to build and maintain a team, establish trust and relate well with stakeholders, and very importantly; manage and support those people who will actually use your software. Despite the high pressure of such endeavours you need to invest in these relationships. Don’t sacrifice long term distance for short term (and lonely) speed that may look good initially.

Firstly, try being vulnerably competent – you need to be able to drive the journey successfully but be open about where you need help or don’t know the answers. This is crucial with stakeholders; be open to advice (and implementing it), it builds trust and gives people a handle on the roller coaster that is usually the nature of such projects. This also requires really listening to people, I’ve written previously about knowing when to shut up.

Building a talented, motivated team is fundamental – I won’t consider a programme truly underway until there is a critical mass of skills onboard (learn here how to achieve that). You don’t take a team with you from the beginning of a race, you take a group of individuals over the starting line and the team forms, storms and norms through the journey. This means you must invest in coaching and mentoring one on one, there is simply no short cut – just treat people for who they are and they will come with you.

The third main group of people you need to take with you on large IT programmes are your users – build great software, solve their problems, make their lives easier and you are some of the way. The rest of it is change management; a great theory of which is the 8 step model, researched and developed by John Kotter. Ultimately the art is to run the race well, but pace it and bind yourself to the people around you – the pleasure of getting over the finish line will be much greater.

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