How to Create a Sense of Urgency with Your Team

May 22, 2013 Tim Clark

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Is your team afflicted by too much talk, not enough action? Or perhaps your team suffers from paralysis by analysis, and can’t seem to bring their plan into being.

It’s a situation many teams and their leaders get caught in. And the solution is not to hold another meeting. As management guru and forefather, Peter Drucker wrote, “Meetings are by definition a concession to deficient organization, for one either meets or one works.”

urgency in online project management

Here’s a project manager’s antidote: Inject a spirit of urgency into your team. This “urgency” is not a panicky, anxious urgency, but a spirited, engaged urgency that propels people to move ideas along and get busy.

Start an urgency plan with yourself, and a little self-examination. For example, it’s easy to see a lack of urgency in others, but can you see it in yourself? Do you think too long about projects and take too much time deciding on where to start?  Some decisions are so consequential that they require careful consideration – but most don’t. Make decisions quickly and often so your team can move forward. It’s easier to change direction if you’re moving ahead than if you’re standing still.

Urgency is a mindset, not a process. And too much process slows your team down.

project management and urgency with your team

“The companies that thrive in today’s economy will be those that can shift their cultures from the slower pace of business-as-usual to urgency,” writes Michael Hyatt in his Intentional Leadership blog. In his post Creating a Sense of Urgency, Hyatt describes a four-part method for injecting urgency into team operations.

  1. Activate – Think of this as getting unstuck. “Often the real issue is courage,” Hyatt writes. “The point of absolute certainty never comes. Instead, urgency requires that we activate quickly: Make a decision. Get off the dime. Do something!”
  2. Accelerate – After you get started, keep things moving, Hyatt says.  Minimize bureaucratic paperwork. To do this, find an effective online project management software product for the entire team – and use this tool to communicate with each other. As a project manager, your job is to identify obstacles and remove them; this is a responsibility that your planning software can facilitate by giving you visibility into what team members are doing. If inertia takes over, you’ll see the behavior reflected in the tool and you can take action before your project has a chance of dying.
  3. Achieve – Create a team atmosphere that is outcome-oriented, not task-focused. Meetings, paperwork, approvals and the rest are the means to produce results, but they are not ends in themselves. If you do all the bureaucratic necessities but don’t accomplish your goals, you have failed. Sure, everyone has specific tasks, but completing them is not the goal. Results are the goal. A sense of urgency produces results.
  4. Assess – To produce results faster means figuring out what works and what doesn’t. Eliminate the ineffectual actions that slow your team down. Question everything, including your own role and decisions, to determine what speeds or impedes the desired outcome. Urgency demands assessment.

In his 2008 book, “A Sense of Urgency,” author John Kotter opines that a true sense of urgency is rare mainly because “it is not the natural state of affairs. It has to be created and recreated.”

Model urgency every day

A leader’s role is to demonstrate and communicate the need for urgency – through action, behaviors and words. Try eliminating your team’s non-urgent tasks, delegate more work, speak with passion – even walk faster, to show a sense of purpose.

project urgency

There are many ways to walk the talk of high-energy engagement: Focus externally, not just inside your organization. Respond more quickly to email and phone messages. Update your status in your project management software; don’t become someone else’s excuse for not doing their work. Keep meetings short and stick with the agenda. In conversations, get to the point succinctly and insist that others do the same. If the current plan of action is not moving you toward your desired outcome, be quick to change tactics and do something else.

Approach the job of creating “urgency” in your team as one of lighting a spark of energy that motivates your team and is sustainable.

If you liked this article and would like to master some of the most common project management challenges, download our eBook, “How to Solve the Top 9 Project Management Challenges.”

Solve the Top 9 PM Challenges

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