“Deep summer is when laziness finds respectability.” ~ Sam Keen
It’s hard to be a business or project leader in the summertime. Once the warm weather moves in and the barbeque season heats up, thoughts wander to outside of work activities like parties, picnics, beach days, fireworks, and summer holidays. It can be a real struggle to keep your team motivated and operating at full capacity.
Actually, outside-of-work distractions are always present. We constantly face “real life” events that distract us from the office. Whether it be a family issue, a health concern, or financial problems – there are always life events that impact on our ability to focus at work.
Summertime just seems to be more of a challenge as the nice weather, coupled with the end of school year, and the rotation of vacation bound employees can bring momentum to a halt.
So how do we keep ourselves and our team focused? How do you keep the pressure on to perform? How do you “keep them moving” when there are distractions that slow things down? Here are a few ideas:
Keep the “big picture” in focus. Now is not the time to forget why we are all working so hard. Highlight the value the summertime work brings to the big picture. Frame the summer deliverables in context of achieving the total plan. Keep the “end game” in focus.
Be upfront with your team about your concerns. It’s ok to say to your team that summer is here and you have concerns about losing traction. Talk about it as a team regularly, lay out your observations and be clear with everyone about your expectations.
Plan through the summer. Before summer starts, review your project plan and go through the detailed tasks and deliverables with your team. Highlight vacation schedules and possible resource short-falls. Reconfirm their commitments to completing the work then consistently follow-up over the summer.
Review assignments and deliverables each week with the team (be a nudge). In the summer, I like to hold more team meetings than any other time of year. You need to be constantly present and pushing people to keep the momentum. Bring energy to the team each week – don’t let the focus drift.
Know the signs of wandering minds. Walk around and interact with your team members. Talk to them each day – ask them what they will accomplish today. You have to make sure they have a plan and understand their assignments. Probe their work with them – if they push back then good, this is a sign that they are focused.
Allow freedom to hold up a hand and say I need help. Make sure your team knows that if they get behind that it is better to ask for help, than to wait until a deliverable is missed. Your team needs to understand that missing a deadline comes with consequences that are far worse if no prior warnings have been raised. Create and support an open work environment by rewarding transparency.
Build buffer into your plan or deliverables during the holiday season. Do not over-commit what you and your team will deliver over a holiday period. If your team will work at 80% capacity (due to vacations, etc.), factor this into your plan. Be realistic – in most cases, momentum and focus will wane in the summer (no matter how hard you push) so you better build a little buffer into your plan.
Plan contingency or backup resources. Have a plan to add resources as needed. Unfortunately, in today’s economic environment, resources are at a premium and spare capacity is hard to find. Still, identify the areas of highest risks and have contingency plans in place just in case you need to activate them. Do this before the summer or vacation period starts so you are prepared and not caught off-guard.
Lead by example. Your team looks for you to set the pace. If you are distracted and not focused, then they will follow.
As a good leader you strive to keep your team on target to deliver their commitments. It’s important you recognize that distractions happen and summertime is prime time for your team to lose traction. This is not the time for you to rest – in fact, leaders often work their hardest during these time. Have a good plan (with contingencies), and don’t wait for the summertime blues to negatively impact performance.