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Why our teams suck at doing what they’re told (and what to do about it)

By 25/11/2016Features, General
how to brief better

Why is it that our teams are sometimes such a disaster? Why can’t they do what we ask them to do?

They make all the right noises, smile, and nod happily while we’re briefing them. But when we go back to check on the work when their time is up, they’ve either haven’t finished it, haven’t done it quite right, or have done something entirely different to the original ask.

It’s one of the most common complaints I hear from project managers – the people they’re managing aren’t producing the work.

Why can't our teams do what they're told?

Even Brittany doesn’t get it sometimes…

And when teams aren’t producing what they need to, the timeline starts slipping, the project goes over budget, clients get mad, people end up working late, and everyone get stressed.

Why don’t our teams get it?

We can often wonder why we’re let down by our resources. Why are they so lame and why can’t they just do the job properly? We ask ourselves how they were even hired, how can it be that they can hold down a job, and haven’t been fired yet! The same can be true of people we manage. Why can’t people just do what they’re supposed to do?

But do they really know what they’re supposed to be doing?

Are we really managing and leading them into success?

I find the One Minute Manager helpful in describing the situation; ‘Everyone is a potential winner. Some people are disguised as losers. Don’t let their appearances fool you.’

It’s not you, it’s me

The role of a project manager is a busy one – and we can often feel like we’re struggling just to keep our heads above water.

Life as a project manager

Just another day in project management

In part, I blame the tools. While I love my project management tools just as much as the next project manager, if we’re not careful, with ten simultaneous conversations going on in Slack, notifications popping up everywhere, and our inbox being flooded with questions from our favourite clients, we can become slapdash with briefing our team properly, and then we’re surprised when they didn’t do what we wanted them to.

It’s because we never told them.

Yes, we might have copied them on an email, assigned them a ticket, created a task or @mentioned them in Slack, but that’s not a proper briefing. ‘We’re working agile’ and ‘the team’s just working on iterations’, isn’t an excuse either; you might be iterating, but you need to be clear what you’re iterating on – it’s going to be a waste of everyone’s time if it’s just a free for all.

The fundamentals of briefing properly

People don’t do what we want them to do because we haven’t been clear on what they need to do, why they need to do it, how they need to do it, and when they need to do it by.

We’re experiencing communication breakdown.

Clear communication and proper briefing is fundamentally about being understood. It’s a dialogue, not a one-way, garbled message.

The same applies to clear briefing. Do it once, and do it right.

Your team will love you for it.

i-love-you

Imagine a world where your team loved you…

Why you can’t afford not to brief better

In the same way that we manage risk by identifying potential problem areas and then actively mitigate against them, we need to apply the same rigor to the way we brief and manage our teams.

The risk is that they don’t know what they’re doing, the likelihood is high, the impact is that we waste time, budget and not only do we get annoyed with them, but they also struggle to do the work. So to mitigate against that risk, we need to start briefing properly.

“…Helping people to feel good about themselves is key to getting more done.” – The One Minute Manager

It’s a terrible false economy to think that you’re saving time and budget by half-assing your briefs. The brief needs to crystal clear, provide appropriate background and set expectations clearly. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to fit a proper brief into a tweet.

The truth is, briefing properly takes a lot of time. But it saves a lot of time and angst for yourself and everyone later.

How to brief better

Brief better.

Agency briefing templates

To help everyone think about briefing a bit better, we’re sharing three different templates, free to download, use and abuse. These three templates have been designed for use within a typical agency project workflow. Different briefs have different applications so we’ve included guidelines to help you know what brief should be used, when.

Download agency briefing templates

Books on briefing better

Ben Aston

About Ben Aston

I’m Ben Aston, a digital project manager and VP of Client Services at FCV, a full service digital agency in Vancouver, Canada. I've been in the industry for more than 10 years working in the UK at London’s top digital agencies including Dare, Wunderman, Lowe and DDB. I’ve delivered everything from video virals to CMS’, flash games to banner ads and eCRM to eCommerce sites. I’ve been fortunate enough to work across a wide range of great clients; automotive brands including Land Rover, Volkswagen and Honda; Utility brands including BT, British Gas and Exxon, FMCG brands such as Unilever, and consumer electronics brands including Sony.

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