A Personal Guide to Inspiring and Connecting with Your Product Team
Wearing the hats of a product manager and team leader has shown me that motivation isn't just a checkbox activity - it's the pulse of a thriving team. In this extended exploration, let's dive deep into the art of inspiring your team, steering away from clichés and immersing ourselves in the magical realm of creativity, camaraderie, and meaningful connections.
1. Being Human in Leadership
Connecting with your team on a personal level isn't just a leadership tactic; it's the heartbeat of a thriving workplace. To truly inspire your team, recognise the humanity in each member. Everyone carries their set of dreams, challenges, and aspirations. Go beyond the standard water-cooler chit-chat and take a moment to genuinely connect with your team members on a personal level.
In the beginning of one of the projects I was part of, during a one-on-one check-in, I discovered our FE developer's passion for tea and dancing. This insight led to numerous casual conversations in the following months, during which I was finding out more and more about the culture and the driving force behind her day-to-day actions. We ended up building a great relationship and are now much more comfortable and considerate with each other.
Make it a habit to regularly check (ideally it would be in person) with team members on a personal level. It's not just about discussing projects and deadlines; it's also about understanding their well-being. Take a genuine interest in them and build a foundation of trust that encourages team members to approach you with their challenges, struggles, or innovative ideas.
2. Leading by Example
Leadership isn't a podium—it's a collaborative dance where everyone plays a vital role. And nothing motivates a team more than a leader who actively participates and leads by example. If you expect a high level of commitment, be the first one to roll up your sleeves and dive into the challenges alongside your team. During my work as a product manager on various projects, I've observed that team members are inspired when they see their leader actively engaged in problem-solving and decision-making. However, be careful of how exactly you portray yourself as you don’t want to be perceived to be micromanaging the team.
A few years ago, in the midst of a product launch hiccup, I didn't play the blame game. Instead, I plunged into the complexities alongside the team, armed with a metaphorical toolbox. The visible commitment resonated, and together we transformed a potential setback into a victorious milestone. Yes, we did end up delaying the actual launch by a week, but in the end the result was something we were all proud of.
Whether it's staying late to resolve an unexpected issue or immersing yourself in the intricacies of a task, embody the work ethic and enthusiasm you want your team to embrace. This not only sets the tone for a dedicated work culture but also creates a sense of shared purpose.
3. Unconventional Motivation
Injecting innovation into your motivational approach doesn't stop at the product; it extends to how you engage with your team. The mundane simply has no place in a world driven by innovation. Break free from traditional methods and embrace the unconventional.
A way that I've done this in the past is to swap generic icebreakers for events tailored to shared interests. Our board game enthusiasts convened for a game night, diving into narratives beyond product roadmaps. Meanwhile, our competitive spirits found joy in online game nights with ‘Among Us’, where laughter became the soundtrack of team bonding.
These unconventional activities transcend the workspace, creating bonds based on shared passions rather than job titles. The resulting camaraderie spills over into the professional realm, enriching collaborative efforts with a sense of shared purpose.
4. Attitude Matters
In the ever-evolving landscape of product management, attitude isn't just a mood - it's simply contagious. Share ideas with a spark in your eyes and approach the challenges with a positive mindset, viewing them as opportunities for growth rather than obstacles. Maintain open lines of communication and encourage team members to voice their opinions without fear of judgment.
Years ago, in the beginning of my Product Management path, my team was confronted with a project snag and I declared a "Challenge Accepted" day. The positive attitude permeated the team, turning the seemingly insurmountable challenge into a series of achievable milestones. Celebrating small wins reinforced the belief that setbacks are merely part of the journey toward success.
Foster a culture that appreciates effort and learning over perfection. Celebrate small wins and acknowledge the journey, reinforcing the idea that setbacks are stepping stones toward success. This positive attitude becomes the driving force behind a motivated and resilient team.
5. Gamify the Mundane
In the world of product management, not every task can be a thrilling adventure. Meetings and routine tasks often carry a sense of monotony. This is where gamification can come into play.
Your weekly progress meetings may undergo a makeover with "Project Pictionary." Each team member has to illustrate their updates, turning routine discussions into a playful guessing game. Not only would this infuse energy into mundane tasks, but it would also spark creative thinking by approaching updates from a different angle.
Another idea is to turn meetings into engaging sessions by introducing challenges or friendly competitions. For instance, transform a status update into a collaborative puzzle, where each team member's progress is a crucial piece. Celebrate achievements, and watch the mundane transform into moments of shared success.
6. Storytelling as a Connection
The art of storytelling is an important skill for every product manager to master. Apply this to your leadership style by weaving a narrative that connects your team to the broader vision. Share stories of challenges overcome, illustrating the collective strength of the team.
Once, during a team-building retreat, I shared a personal story of an epic failure-turned-success. Gathered around a metaphorical campfire, the team realised that every failure is a plot twist leading to a grand finale. This shared narrative created a sense of unity and purpose beyond individual roles.
Humanise the journey by incorporating personal anecdotes. Introduce fictional characters or metaphors to represent team members, making the narrative relatable and engaging. This storytelling approach not only communicates key messages effectively but also creates a shared sense of purpose and identity.
7. Embracing Vulnerability
Great leaders aren't impervious—they're human. Share your own moments of doubt, learning, and growth. By demonstrating that vulnerability is not a weakness but a source of strength, you create a culture where team members feel safe expressing their uncertainties and seeking guidance.
Some time ago, in a moment of vulnerability, I admitted my irrational fear of public speaking. The team rallied behind me, turning our fear into an opportunity for growth. We ended up taking turns doing lightning talks, discovering hidden talents and fostering an atmosphere where experimentation is encouraged.
Encourage open discussions about failures and lessons learned. Embrace vulnerability, sharing moments of doubt, learnings, and quirky quirks. This not only humanises your leadership but also fosters an environment where team members feel safe expressing uncertainties and seeking guidance.
As we wrap up this journey into the heart of nurturing brilliance within a product team, it's clear that leadership (regardless if by an official role or by an informal recognition) is not a static role but a dynamic dance, where every step influences the rhythm of the entire ensemble. Motivation isn't a mere checkbox - it's the pulsating life force that propels a team toward greatness. So, go ahead, take the upcoming holidays to think of your own innovative style to motivate your team! And let us know how it goes - there is always a new and interesting method that we can try.
Thanks for reading Product Breaks! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.