More and more, I find I’m helping my clients find their confidence when dealing with their teams, their stakeholders, or both.
Specifically, they are feeling swamped, fearful of losing their jobs and a lack of confidence to stand their ground and express their opinions, even when they know it will be beneficial for the success of the project.
Given the ever increasing pressure of modern times, I thought it was time for me to share my advice on how to speak up with confidence on your projects and find your voice.
Nobody starts out on a project with the intention of having a lack of confidence.
For the most part, projects start out in a positive way.
The team is formed. Scope, budget, and timelines are agreed. Deliverables are set. The team starts work.
And then things get tense.
You’re being asked to take on more than you had originally agreed to. You don’t agree with a lot of the decisions, but your opinions are not being heard or considered. You’re giving more of yourself and your personal time than you had signed up for.
The conversations you have are leaving you doubting yourself, your commitment, and your ability. And then negative remarks start to become personal.
You don’t feel senior enough or confident enough to push back, stand your ground, or offer your opinion. Yet you’ve been in this situation enough times to think you should know how to handle this, maybe even overcome it… But you don’t.
And you’re not alone. Most of the project team feels the same way.
You manage to scrape by, complete your tasks and get the project over the line. You have some celebratory conversations maybe even drinks over the ordeal. The word ‘scar’ gets thrown around. Everyone has a laugh and then everyone moves on to the next project.
This is anything but a positive experience and certainly not a positive project! Yet sadly, even after my 20 years in project delivery, it’s an all too common story.
So – why do things get tense? How do we break the circuit and find the courage to speak up and be heard?
Trust. Belief. Support. The 3 Elements of Confidence.
The best word to describe the reason we fall into these issues and at the same time, explains how we overcome them is confidence.
When we feel confident in ourselves and our team, we also become much more confident to stand up for ourselves and make recommendations that are in the best interests of the project. We feel confident to say exactly how we feel without trying to offend but rather because we can’t help but call out what doesn’t feel right.
Common definitions of confidence, describe it as the feeling that you can trust, believe in and be sure about the abilities or good qualities of someone or something.
Based on this, the three elements required to achieve confidence consistently are trust, a belief in something and ongoing support that helps maintain the trust.
Let’s play this out on a project.
To feel confident, we must be able to trust in the vision, the people, and the process.
Let’s call this the structure.
Our strongest and most defined beliefs are our values.
To be confident in the vision, the people, and the process, they must align to our values.
We are at our most confident when we operate within our value set.
To ensure our values are not compromised or breached we must create and enforce boundaries.
When you place some focus on these elements upfront on your projects, you will build a stronger, united project team with supported and confident people, and many more committed and satisfied project stakeholders.
How to lay the foundations for confidence.
While trust, belief and support are all extremely important elements in developing confidence, the order in which you tackle them is also important.
Trust is linked to values. Beliefs are linked to boundaries and support is linked to structure.
To truly develop and maintain confidence in yourself and on your projects, you need to be clear and comfortable with the values that power each project decision, the boundaries that guard those values, and the structure you need to support those project decisions.
Building the 3 Keys to Confidence
Now that we know how trust, belief and support are linked to values, boundaries and structure, let’s look at how you can use the three keys to confidence in your project delivery.
Everyone is driven by a set of values. These can include things like honesty, integrity, empowerment, freedom, security, loyalty, intelligence, connection, creativity and humanity.
Our values often dictate our decisions. They anchor where we spend our working time and determine where we feel most comfortable and motivated.
On a project, it’s important to establish a core set of values that the whole project team chooses to operate from. Operating from our values naturally draws us to feel more emotionally engaged in the process as well as the outcomes.
Without defined values, the team either stands for everything or they stand for nothing. Both result in a lack of focus that will limit the team’s success. If values aren’t defined by the whole team, key decisions tend to be left to the values of a single person in the team, and it will often be the loudest person in the team. When these decisions don’t align to the values of the project team, it leaves people with that ‘something doesn’t feel right’ sensation – or worse, it makes us feel demotivated, uncertain and unheard.
A project’s values will guide your project decisions and outcomes.
Let’s look at a project team who have agreed and committed to abide by the values of creativity, humanity, and security.
Their creative values will help them to focus on the design, visuals and aesthetics. Their humanity values will typically see them more engaged with their stakeholders, really factoring in what they want and what will make things better from a people perspective. The focus of security will govern their choices on privacy, data, and access.
These values help the team to ensure their decisions, interactions and deliverables are guided and aligned by the values most important to them as a group. These values also help to ensure the team has focus when dealing with stakeholders.
It’s also useful to know the operating values of your stakeholders, particularly when they dictate your project’s success.
If your stakeholders value creativity and learning for example, the project team will be best placed to focus on how the solution looks and feels and that considerations like training will be an important factor to include.
Values significantly improve the satisfaction between teams and their stakeholders and deliver more fit-for-purpose outcomes.
When the team operates under an aligned set of values, they feel more connected. This builds trust. They feel more supported. This promotes the confidence to speak up. And they will feel more inspired to succeed together.
Don’t leave it to chance. Get your team to come up with their own set of values to operate by.
Once the team has set and committed to their operating values, they need to be protected. And the best way to do this is by establishing very clear and strong boundaries.
When the team knows what they stand for, they become less distracted by things that don’t align to the vision or commitments of the project.
Values help us to feel united and confident about where we place our priorities.
Boundaries protect those values and help us to feel confident to speak up when we’re being asked to move away from our priorities. Boundaries also help to harness trust within the team and create a safe platform to empower each person to be able to confidently question the status quo and implement continuous improvement.
As is the case with values, boundaries should be considered both for the project team and their stakeholders. Knowing this upfront sets clear expectations for all parties to know when to speak up, how to speak up, and when it’s their turn to listen.
How do you create boundaries in your project? Here are some key questions your team can answer together, so they create boundaries that protect the project values:
When I talk about structure in relation to confidence, I mean the way we support the work we do as individuals, the collective work of the team, and the expectations of and from our stakeholders.
A well-defined structure will support the relationship we have with our team and stakeholders. It grows trust and helps us to feel safe to express our opinions and be heard.
What should a supportive operating structure include to grow confidence?
Everyone must be clear on why they are putting the effort in on the project and what you expect to achieve.
Everyone must be clear on the role they play and how this fits into the project team. Is everyone clear on what needs to be done, how to do it, and do they have all they need to get it done?
Everyone needs to be on the same page, know how to support each other and in turn, feel supported.
Make sure expectations are set and clear from both ends. Make it clear how everyone works and outline their operating boundaries. Agree the tangible measures of success.
Go forth, with confidence
To embed confidence in every move you make on your project you will need to work to build trust, belief and support into the foundations of your project.
Then back this up with a clear set of values, boundaries and a structure for how relationships work within your project team.
Confident people make confident teams. And confident teams, deliver powerful projects.
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