A “Smart” MDP Project

Since the end of September when we kicked off our MDP projects it has been an exciting time.  Though over the summer I had been leading our team of interns and a group of students who were working on the Buffalo Connect project, this opportunity was different because it was working with the program that had given me my start at M&T.  My boss and I were co-sponsoring the project, but I was fortunate that she was letting me take on the responsibility of overall managing the project from the sponsor side.leading-team

I had learned so much from my project sponsors within M&T Securities during the program that I wanted to make sure that I could share my experience including lessons learned, best practices, things I wish I changed, etc.  I also wanted to make sure they felt empowered to make project decisions just like my sponsors had empowered me and my group.  With the MDP project on the sponsor side you have to walk the line of being over involved and not being involved at all (both of which happen, though I wish they didn’t).  What was great about this project was it was a great way to think about the bank overall as a customer and helping the community (one of our core values).

I knew this would be my first real opportunity to test out how I could walk the line of being a mentor, peer and also a “manager”.  Since I am only a year out from the program, it is definitely important to make sure that I don’t come across as a peer when you have to make tough decisions.  But I also wanted them to be able to ask questions regarding my experience and know that things they were experiencing during the project, I had probably felt them too – after all in the grand scheme of things, outside of this project, I was their peer.

Follow the leaderI am excited to see this group present in mid-February, but know we have a long way to go until that point. We have several practice sessions with unbiased audiences to get the team prepared for the “pressure” of the final presentation.  In my opinion, all the practice sessions over the next month will really make the team feel at ease on presentation day and any question they get – they should be prepared for.

What I have learned through both coaching and leading this project from a sponsor side is that I love being a mentor (at least I think that is how I am perceived).  It has affirmed that the role I want to play in life, whether it be formal manager or in-formal mentor to those around me, is just that – providing guidance to help others through life (fitting because my mom is a high school guidance counselor).  I want to inspire others with my passion for everything I do.  At Nichols, it is teaching my players that things won’t always go your way but how you overcome the adversity will ultimately make or break you.  It is also about reminding them that outside the bubble of high school and Buffalo, people don’t necessarily care who your parents are – but your work ethic and the way you lead your life is what matters to people.

At work, it is showing people that passion is so crucial in your career.  If you aren’t passionate about what you do it will feel like work.  When you put your all into everything you do – you will ultimately be happy and things will come to you.  Just like I said in the Interviewing Game – your first job shouldn’t necessarily be for the money you are going to make, it should make you happy and gives you experiences that you will carry with you throughout your career.  Money doesn’t buy happiness, although it does buy houses, clothes, and material things.  Finding something where you realize what you do matters to at least one person, now that is something.

The Interviewing Game

As I look back over the last few posts I have written, I realized I have been headlining these posts as games.  I want to be clear, recruiting and interviewing are not games to me but if you remember during my first post in this series, I compared these new role reversals to basketball and that to me is a game and a huge part of my past and present and future.

Now, as we have been actively recruiting for positions on my team it has been exciting because I have been involved in the interviewing piece both as a former MDP and one of the members of the team.  Our group works so closely together – it important to make the right hiring decision for the team whether it is for an intern, MDP, or any other position.

interviewingWhat I find exciting about interviewing MDPs in particular is that I was just in their shoes a few years ago so the process is still fresh.  I remember the challenges, the struggles, things that were going through my head, and the highs and lows which I think really helps in the interview process.  M&T tries to be really good with the onsite MDPs by having an alumni of the program take you out to lunch (this is not an interview).  This is the time that the candidate can ask the questions they want to know about the program.  If they are smart, they are also asking questions regarding things that can be used in later interviews.  During the program, I took several candidates out to lunch or coffee to give them this time.  Now, I am on the actual interview side which is even more fun in my opinion because I get to learn about the candidate in a more formal setting.  Any interview I give I like to see how comfortable people are with the Innovation Center, the space I choose, the questions I ask which aren’t always traditional, and overall what they know about the program.

I really like getting an interview put on my calendar, because I know that the candidate is going to walk into our Center and see something totally different than what they have been seeing all day.  I also like making sure my interviews are more conversational than formal interviews like what you would see in the movies.  We have a space in the Center that is perfect for this type of interview and I use it every time.

Whenever I am interviewing someone I like to learn about them, what they know about the company and the program.  There isn’t a lot of information out there on the MDP program, except for my blog and a few articles put out by the Buffalo News, a few postings on Glassdoor.  If you are going to interview for this program, I would at least do a google search about it or find an alumni to talk to from your college.  If you are reading this, you have already done that so congratulations.  I decided when I accepted my MDP offer that I would write about my experience through the program to help others who were considering joining the company know more.  interviewing checklist

The candidate who I am so excited to have start in our area of the bank for the 2016 class told me she had learned about the program through my blog, and that made me realize that what I am writing helps.  She isn’t the first one either, companies are learning now that organic blogs, if you can find a champion to write them, can go a long way.  I am not paid to write my experience, I am not paid to write good things, I purely write my opinion about my life in Buffalo, my experience in my first full time role (that I wasn’t also attending school during but I have also been transparent with the company that I would be writing this blog. The tone I use in my blog, is the same tone and word choice I would use if you asked me a question on the street.

Interviewing candidates is not about the number of people you talk to or the background that they come from. It is not about filling a quota or filling a spot just to have a body in it.  I look at interviewing as a challenge to find the best person who can meet/exceed my expectations and I have high ones because I know what I accomplished during the program.  That is why I am so excited about our candidate who is coming in – because I know she will be amazing!  When the candidate was weighing her decisions between offers, I told her I was happy to talk with her again and be honest, after all I was in her shoes 2 years ago.

individual-interviewIf you constantly put on the face of sunshine and rainbows, your company will get the reputation of being fake and people will leave extremely early especially people who are experiencing their first job.  We had an honest conversation about the pros and cons, the good and bad, the challenges and rewards. No job is going to be perfect and I think it is important to find the candidate who thinks the challenges are worth it and exciting to overcome, who feels the pros far outweigh the cons, and the good days will out weigh the rough ones – because at the end of the day you have to find a job that you are like and an experience that is exciting to you.  Not everyone invests that much time into a candidate but to me it is important, especially when you find one who is worth it.

My interview style plays right into my mentor, leadership and managerial style. I want anyone who is a part of my team to succeed but I want to make sure that we have the right people in place to make us successful.  It is just like my coaching philosophy, I would rather have 7 active and dedicated players, than seven girls who are engaged and 2 who are just distracting the rest of the team (but that is a whole different post that is coming very soon).

Stay tuned for my last post about leading an MDP Project team!

The Recruiting Game

recruitmentIt is funny as you go through life – you find yourself looking at the recruiting game from all different angles.  When you are getting recruited for college or to play for a sports team, when you are looking for your first job or you are a seasoned professional and you are getting head hunted by an executive recruiter – it is all the same game with slight tweaks.  I look at it like learning the game of basketball.  I started off in 5th/6th grade with my elementary school team, moved on to 7th grade basketball, JV in 8th grade, Varsity for all of High School, and then 4 years at RIT and college basketball. It is all the same game but you get better at it as you go along, this can apply to a employee or a recruiter depending on who you want to be in this scenario.

As a recruiter at career fairs for the newest professionals in the workforce it is a lot of explaining, sharing what M&T is like, what some of the day to day responsibilities look like for positions in the MDP program, talking to different managers about the candidates I saw at the career fair and working directly with HR to make sure we bring in the right candidates for the job.  It is not only about sharing the on-the-job responsibilities but also the cultural aspects: what Buffalo is like, what is like to be young moving to a new city, etc. You have to treat this candidate differently because typically they have never been through this process before and I am responsible for their first perception of the company.

This part is exciting because you are sharing your passion for your career and your job with the students and helping them determine if they would be a fit or not.  You may not always get the candidate but you know that hopefully they have made the best choice for them.  I think this is where my coaching experience comes into play because I want what is best for my players, just like I want new career professionals to enjoy their first job, to find what they are passionate about and not just go for a salary. I will talk more about sharing my experience and the getting to know the candidate in the next post in the series surrounding interviewing, stay tuned!

Speed Mentoring at Work

speed-mentoringEvery day I learn something new about the company that I work for.  Last night, I had the honor and pleasure to attend the first Speed Mentoring Event put on by our Women in Networking (WIN) group.

The resource group is one of the largest in the bank but the event still felt intimate with over 30 mentors and 30 mentees.

I had never participated in an event like this so I was excited to get to go and experience it to see how it was planned and also to see if I could find a mentor match.  I think there is also a misconception that this resource group is just for females and that isn’t true.  There were male mentors and mentees as well and I really felt that they helps the objective of the group – women need to understand men’s work habits and men need to understand women and I think groups like this can help create a mutual understanding.  Resource groups are about finding a common interest in most cases and feeling supported in the workplace.  I am a member of both WIN and iGen (future blog to come about that group) but there are 8 other groups to join at the bank with more chapters in the individual hubs of M&T.

The event was laid out similar to a speed dating session, I am told, as I have never participated in one of those either.  The group was broken out into three sets separated based on departments, manager’s relationships, etc.  Once everyone had talked a bit the event kicked off and was off and running.  Having six minutes to try and get to know another person is challenging, let alone trying to have them get to know you as well.  I was fortunate to have someone who I had worked with on a project in the past as my first pairing so it helped to get the butterflies out.

The mentors were a wide-range of levels, departments, and had spent different amounts of their careers at the bank.  Some had been there as little as a few months but had extensive backgrounds prior to joining M&T, while others had spent their whole careers with the company.  Diversity of perspectives was the name of the game and finding a mentor who you could truly connect with and feel comfortable with was the prize and everyone had the opportunity to be a winner.

Now, I am someone who thoroughly enjoys networking and connecting with people and learning about what they do.  MDP taught me a lot about how important it is especially at M&T.  But finding a mentor in this way was not something I was familiar with, I am sure very few people are.  To me finding a mentor has always just come naturally through a connection from sports, college, etc.  But to be placed in a room with people, about half of who I knew or knew of before the event and the other half I had never heard of before the event, was an exciting new opportunity and I think that is what this company affords its employees to do.

M&T was built on relationships whether they are with our employees, our customers, or our shareholders.  I believe having mentors of different skill sets and in different points in their career is important.  I am looking forward to following up on a few of the connections I made through the speed networking session without the six minute time constraint to see if there is a potential mentor relationship there.

Mentoring Word Cloud

***The opinions expressed in this blog are purely my own and are not the opinions of M&T.***

The Threat of Burn Out

Burn OutIn my last post I talked about millennials and I thought to myself, why not continue that conversation and be a millennial in the business world talking about real issues that come across my desk or others desk.  It can be nice to know you are not alone in feeling one way or another.  It is also okay to not agree with me at all, that is the best part of the world we live it – our experiences make us who we are and shape our opinions and no two people should be the same.

So this week I wanted to talk about something that has been really getting to me lately and I am sure it happens to everyone who is in their second year on the job or anyone in general at some point in their career. That thing I am referring to is Burn Out or the threat that it could happen.

Burn out is not always easy to see coming, I know for me it had been creeping up on me for a while I just ignored and kept going at the pace I was going.  I think often times we as millennials feel that we have to overcome the stereotypes of not being willing to work and we take on ridiculous amounts of work which isn’t right either.

What I realized this week as my work life started affecting my personal life; as well as, my energy levels when I got home –  that I had a problem that I wasn’t dealing with.  I was on a path towards burn out because I was doing what I felt like was a job and a half.  Now I am not trying to toot my own horn or talk about how long I would work but there were days I would get in around 8 and not leave until after 8.  I know this happens all the time in the Big 5 and other industries but it is not the norm for the company I work for, they believe in work life balance, so I knew something was wrong.  I also knew because for 4 days in a row I had no energy to get out of bed at my normal 5am time to work out and go run and to me that starts my day off on the best foot.

As I let the little tasks that I was being asked to take on get to me, I began to dread doing them which made me not look forward to work because I always wondered what little task that I felt was not in my job description would come next.  Please don’t get me wrong, I am all for being a team player but what my issue was that my role was not expanding I was just being asked to do two jobs and expected to get my objectives, projects, and task done for my official job.  This became the issue because I would be staying 2-3 hours after everyone else had left to complete my normal job assignments because the day had been filled with the other tasks.

Finally, I was at my breaking point, as my manager was referring to another task, I nearly broke down at the thought of another task being added to my “responsibilities”.  I told her how thin I was being stretched and that my capacity level was to the maximum.  I explained that I wanted to be involved and that I wanted to help in every way that I can but not without her realizing the additional responsibilities I was carrying on to make everything continue to run smoothly in the space and with the team.

It is really hard for me to ask for help or to say enough is enough because I have always been the do it all girl and do it the best that I can but to do that I was breaking my neck and ultimately making myself unhappy.  I can see now why my generation job hops so frequently (no I am not leaving my position because at the end of the day I love the company I work for, the team I work with, and the work that I do I find meaning).  But I just mean that it is easy for my generation to leave jobs for a better sounding one because of one little thing, that is not me and will never be me.  I still find a thrill in engaging projects it is just when I am doing tasks that don’t make me think or challenge me it is hard for me to stay engaged.

But what I found out was that my boss did realize how thin I was being stretched and knew she wasn’t using me the way she wanted to but because of the way our team is right now we have to chug along, we know we need additional resources but at this point it is about getting done what we can, doing the best we can, and understanding not everything is going to be perfect and that is okay.

I am really fortunate to have a manager who I can have open conversations with, not everyone feels that way so I know I am very lucky.  I am lucky to work for a company that gives me the opportunities like I have been given to date in my career, so early on.  I am looking forward to this next step in my career and how our team develops over time.  After that conversation with my manager, I no longer feel that I am heading towards a burn out, I just want to make sure that I am utilized to the best of my abilities because for me it is about challenging myself, if I am not challenged that is when burnout will happen for me.  I will gladly work on challenging problems until the sun comes up because I am engaged and excited about problem solving.

Has any other millenial felt this way?

The Millenials are Coming

millennialsEveryone seems to be talking about the millenials and the generation that is going to define the workforce over the next few years. The statistics will vary but 30-50% of the workforce by 2020 will be the millennial generation. If this is going to be true and the other 50% of the workforce is not a millennial how are we going to deal? This period of time is unique; we have four generations working side by side across the world to me that should be more of a focus than how are we going to make the millenials happy.

Everyone seems to put so much focus on the millenials but in my opinion we are just people, the world should be focusing on how we are going to work with multi-generations who have all been raised drastically different. How as a manager can you be fair but accommodate someone who wasn’t born digital and someone who was? How do you balance experience vs. getting something done quickly if it involves digital?

The Millenials - who are theyI am a millennial and like so many of my counter parts, have grown up digital. We are the group that will be the first to grow up with cellphones, the Internet and many more items.  Call us what you want, Millenials, Gen Y, the ‘I” generation, etc. Our education has been different then generations before us and we have a work ethic that is different than those before us. Not all of us believe in staying 9-5 just to show face. When we are done with our work for the day we don’t want to sit at our desks and twirl our thumbs til the clock strikes 5 but when there is something to get done we are more than willing to stay “late” because to us that is just part of the job.  We do not believe in ideal time and that can drive some of our co-workers or family members crazy.

Lately I have been having several conversations with co-workers, peers, friends at other companies, millenials and non-millenials alike. The conversation doesn’t focus on workforce arrangements, technology or lack-there of in the workplace, or work-life balance. It focuses on the fact that generations before us see millenials as greedy and unwilling to work for what they have. There is a rumor floating around that millenials feel entitled to promotions and raises and have high expectations right off the bat and we challenge the status quo but that rumor has been set by those who have had a bad experience with one milllenial and is stereotyping us all into one group.the-great-divide-workplace-perceptions-that-millennials-need-to-rise-above-to-get-hired_51a4caa9eaa6c_w1500 (1)

You are right we do feel entitled, we do have high expectations, and we do believe we should be promoted or receive a raise. But we don’t look at it or for it if it is something we haven’t earned. We do want to challenge the status quo and ask why not just because we can but because that is how we learn. We are not just asking to hear ourselves ask, we are asking because we genuinely want to understand the thought process and the decision science. We have seen many of our generation (and other generations) before us create amazing new products and services by challenging the status quo – ever heard of Mark Zuckerberg or Twitter? Who would have thought people could say so much in just 140 characters?

We have the highest expectations for ourselves and want to do right by the companies we work for. We want to make our managers proud; as well as, our families. But in turn we feel that we deserve the respect of our co-workers. However, if the respect needs to be earned, we are willing to work for it and show those who doubt us or doubt our intentions what we are good for.

What is hard for us to understand is how someone who simply has “experience” can make double what we make when we are willing to work twice as hard. Now please don’t get me wrong, people older than us should make more money than us, they have poured their blood, sweat, and tears into their jobs for years often times before we were ever born.  No, those people have earned it.  I am not referring to the people who work hard everyday or those who add value to everything they do, the teams they are on, and the people they inspire but if you can look around your office and say that everyone is that way and gives 100% all the time or even 90% effort all the time, man I want to work there.

The people who work hard everyday, do their job, try and do better and do the best they can for the company they work for have earned what they make, the promotions they receive or the bonuses that are awarded to them.  I am referring to the people that are not like these people.  That may not even give 50% of their effort to a job they are making twice what a millennial is making (the math is simple and it doesn’t add up).  It is hard for us to comprehend the rules that have people sitting in a role when everyone on their team knows that person is not a contributor, rarely shows up, is always doing things that don’t relate to the help, is not a team player yet still earns a paycheck. This is probably the most frustrating piece for us and is also the single most de-motivating things out there for the millenials. I am fortunate to not be a part of a team like this, everyone is a contributor on our small team and we work as a team.  If we didn’t we wouldn’t be able to accomplish half of the things we do.

If we are a generation that is going to define the workforce in the next few years, we will not allow these people to continue on as they are. Our mission is to inspire others to work harder but we can’t do it alone. We need help from companies, no longer can it be okay that people sit idle and just accept a paycheck and the solution may not be what many companies out there do – fire the bottom performers – it may involve getting innovative with how you inspire those bottom performers to want to achieve more.

If the millenials, a generation stereotyped as greedy, spoiled, and unwilling to work can make a change and prove the previous generations in the workforce wrong – than as the millenials we have to give companies who use the excuse “because we have always done it this way” a chance to prove us wrong. The road goes both ways. And we are willing to learn.Top Brands for MillenialsThis post is solely based on conversations I have had with peers from around the country and research that I have been doing on this topic, it is in no way a reflection on any of the companies I have worked for or currently work for.  This is a growing issue and a topic of hot debate.  I am excited to see how it plays out through 2020 and beyond.

Difference Are Key to Success

I realize it has been awhile since I last blogged and I apologize for that. Life has been crazy busy, work has picked up, training for the half marathon has picked up, trying to enjoy summer, taking some trips, and fitting in a semi-normal social life has been taking up most of my time.

So what has happened since I last blogged, well this could take a few posts but lets start with my career to date for starters.

I have said before that I will never regret my decision for going to RIT and spending my four years of higher education there. It taught me so much not only in the classroom, on the basketball court, but also about myself.

I learned that it is okay to be different, it is important to understand your strengths and weaknesses but not be afraid to stand up for who you are. It is important to be yourself and not allow peer pressure to make you do things you don’t want to do.

I think the most important lesson though that I learned from RIT was how to get along with all different kinds of people. How to understand that differences are what make a team stronger, make a company better, and make individuals better. Having the ability to not judge those for their differences in a negative way but see them as positives and see the amazing things that can come from collaborating among differences is a strength that I can only credit to the way I was raised and my time at RIT.

The team I am working on now has grown from 2 to 3. The new hire on our team is someone with a vast amount of experience from a different industry (difference #1). There is a generational divide between us (difference #2). And there is a personal experience divide (difference #3). Those are just a few of our differences but we also have a lot in common. We both have passion for Innovation, a goal to see the team succeed and a willingness to learn about each other.

Types-People-You-WorkWhat I have learned from her is that you a have a few choices when it comes to your co-workers:

  1. Be Friends
    1. Sometimes it is nice to have a friend at the office but walk the fine line of sharing to much personal information with someone you have to have serious conversations with.
  2. Fake It
    1. This doesn’t work for many if any because it takes to much energy and it will stifle creativity. This is probably the option I prefer the least and do not recommend.
  3. Simply be Co-Workers
    1. You do not have to be friends with all of your co-workers, frankly it won’t happen but you need to be able to be professional. I recommend not being “besties” with the people you work closely with because it becomes

The way our team is set up it would be impossible for us to not get along. We are in such close quarters and all open space that it is absolutely necessary to communicate. If something rubs you the wrong way, the other person may not realize it. I am learning in the workplace it is so important to keep honest communication. I think that is what is going to make our team succeed (of course we several other things) but honestly and communication is crucial to success of a small team and as we grow it will be important for new hires to see that strength in communication and continue it on.

As a team we are building the right way in my opinion, start small and build in reasonable and manageable increments. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Pilot everything and then implement. Life is good, I am loving my job, my team, the place I work, the company I work for, stay tuned for another update about the new area of the bank I am working in!

MDP Graduation

It’sgraduation hard to think that just last week was MDP graduation.  It was the last time that all of us would be together as one group, as MDPs.  It seems funny that less than a year ago, the 40 of us in the green group and the other 40 in the gold group did not know each other.  At this time last year we were all thinking about enjoying the last few weeks of the summer before our real world journey began.

Graduation week was fun with happy hour events, a boat cruise, a capstone project, final thoughts, and a conversation with Mark Czarnecki, the President of M&T and the COO.  Now, I know what you must be thinking when I say graduation and no there were no cap and gown or diplomas; however we did receive our 1 year anniversary gifts and a class picture which we had taken the first week.

Most people aren’t as lucky as I was to be able to learn about a great company, make instant friends because of a common experience being in the program, and have a true hands on experience on the job that never once felt like an internship which often times programs can.  If I had to go back and do it over, I would do it again in a heart beat.  I am one of the lucky ones of my friends from college, who love what they do.  Who enjoy going to work every day and has found something I am passionate about.  So I encourage you to consider M&T’s MDP program or another development program if you feel that it is right for you.  Never take a job because someone else says its good or someone tells you to do it. Take a job because it scares you, take a job because it makes you nervous, often times those are the best experiences.  But hey, I have only been in the working world for a year so what do I know.M&T Plaza

With MDP now over and for those of you who have followed this blog over the course of my first year in the real world, you must be thinking what next? Well, I will work as a Business and Planning Analyst in the Innovation Center of Excellence.  It is an exciting time for banking and don’t worry my blogging doesn’t stop just because the program is over.  No way!  I am in the real world to stay and this is just the beginning of my journey in Corporate America. I have ambition and big dreams which I intend to make a reality.

Transformational Leadership

Be the change you want to seeFirst let me say as an MDP who has been through Transformational Leadership at the bank I highly recommend given the opportunity you take it.

Tranformational Leadership is not a course that can really be described it has to be experienced and if that is to vague or ambiguous for you, you may not want to take the course.  But if you need a little clue into what the course is all about, it is focused on looking in on situations from the balcony, experiencing situations yourself, getting to understand the perception of you from others and behaviors you can change.  It is about understanding how you work in groups and being able to take a step back and work for the common good of the team rather than just yourself.

In the real world life isn’t always going to go your way but often times if you give a little you may gain so much more.  We did an exercise that really helped to show this.  It was case study and without giving away to much, it really showed us how things work in the real world surrounding business.  There isn’t always going to be a happy medium and sometimes giving a little can benefit the overall goal and big picture more than if you had stuck with your idea.

At the end of the course we had done several exercises that talked about “the drift” and the concept of getting caught in the drift.  Before I go on, the concept of the drift to me is the idea that you are stuck in the day-to-day working to get something done and never taking a moment to look up.  Then one day you take that chance to look up and you realize you have no idea how you got where you are.  At M&T it was explained to us that it is easy to get caught in the drift.  But is the drift necessarily a bad thing? It was explained in the course that if you realize you are caught in the drift and are okay with it that is fine, the problem happens when you don’t even realize you are caught in the drift.

Some people refer to this as being stuck in cruise control and just coasting through life.  For me, being caught in the drift is not something I think anyone at this age should ever be.  I love my life but constantly being on the go and working on new things is something I value because it makes life interesting.  There is a reason that I work at M&T, coach and train for races.  I love keeping my mind active.

Do you feel like you are caught in the drift? Do you feel Be transformationallike you are so far in there is no way out? What is the answer to pulling yourself out of your current drift and will you just fall back in our into a new drift? These are fears that people have everyday, it is normal!  You just graduated school you are now getting ready to start this great adventure called LIFE and a big kid job that is scary and you may not feel like you are in a drift because everything is changing or are you? You went to school because you felt you had to, you got good grades because you felt you had to, you worked hard, you graduated, you got a job, these are all these you did because you had too (for most of you) is that a drift? Think about it, do you know how you got to where you are today and why?  If so, did you make those choices for you?

But even by the end of the class I was confused, was I caught in the drift and didn’t realize it, had I just moved myself out of the drift? I had to go and ask our SVP who was running the course for a little bit of feedback; as well as, advice.  Read about what he told me in my next post.  I will also cover how to not drift through life.

Top 10 Tips for Working on Team Projects in the Real World

team projectsTeam projects can be stressful.  They can be a lot of fun but there are a lot of challenges that you will have to overcome that you may not have thought of.  As MDPs at M&T, you know coming into the bank that you are going to be put on a project team that is going to be the main focus of your MDP experience.  The project feedback from your teammates, group sponsors, managers and the outcome of the project plays into your review.  Not to say that this is the only thing that will go into your review because there will always be more factors including your on-the-job work but the project does make a difference because you are working with managers from other areas of the bank and all senior managers are invited to the presentations.

So through my experience with my team and through the presentations I have come up with a list for both future MDPs and also professionals working in team projects.

  1. conference calls at workWorking in team projects in college is different than working in team projects at work.  In college it is easy to meet up at the library with your teammates and hash out a project but with workplace projects you are not always able to meet in person.  My group was spaced out between 3 buildings in Buffalo, one person was in Syracuse and the other was Baltimore.  We found ways to make it work by holding conference calls, having a group message going on and through solid email communication.  We had a team SharePoint site set up at the very beginning of the project to help keep our documents organized as well.
  2. Procrastination barely worked in college, it definitely doesn’t work in the real world!  MDP projects are completed from September to February.  Putting off your work can be detrimental to the projects.  Almost all of the MDP projects require a lot of research and you will not be able to analyze that research if you wait until December to even start.  Starting early and meeting regularly will help keep your team on track.
  3. Don’t expect the project deliverables to be laid out for you from your sponsors.  This is the real world, you are not going to be given all answers when you are presented with a problem.  My group’s project was focused around the client experience and our sponsors wanted us to form our own opinions on the process so they didn’t want to give us a lot of background which at the beginning was frustrating but we made it work in the end.  I really believe we delivered a very successful presentation for the department.
  4. Schedule your meetings at the beginning.  The thing that made my group successful and not have to deal with people skipping meetings or having a lot of conflicts come up was scheduling meetings at the beginning that worked for all parties involved.  We scheduled meetings at 830am for our group’s weekly call which was half an hour and we scheduled an hour at 8am with our sponsors on a bi-weekly basis.  This helped us get on our sponsors calendars and it also made sure we stuck to the commitment and hit our weekly deliverables.  The early morning times may not have been ideal but when you are working with groups that are both on the corporate track and in the branch network it is important to consider all parties.
  5. Understand things will come up.  As a group we made sure that we were always forth coming with things that were coming up with our calendars.  As a future MDP it is important to understand whatever role you are filling in the M&T footprint – if you are on the corporate or retail track, if you are in Buffalo, Baltimore or another location things are going to come up and you have to be able to communicate with your team and just be honest.  As one of our team leads I wanted to make sure that the two members we had on the retail track who were studying for their Series 6 knew we understood that their test was bigger than the project for that week and I really wanted them to be able to take the time to study without the pressure of the project.
  6. There is another step to working with people beyond college.  Any RIT grad or other real-world project based university grad will tell you they feel extremely comfortable working in projects.  I would be lying if I said to me it was completely different but there was one variable I wasn’t expecting.  After working in so many project teams, being a member of sports teams throughout my life and working in different work positions since I was 16, I thought I knew what it meant to work with people coming from diverse backgrounds.  But the difference with our MDP groups and school projects was the fact that we all came from different education backgrounds which meant different techniques, learning experiences, different courses and degrees.  At RIT everyone learns how to work in teams and work with real world clients but once we were assigned to our MDP groups it became very apparent different schools have different methodologies and some are more theory based, others are more research and others are more project based.  That was something I quickly had to learn and was an obstacle for me.  In the end I think it worked out but be aware that when you get put into work project situations everyone is going to bring something different to the table and that is the beauty of the MDP project, you get to learn from 4 or 5 other people.
  7. Create a project plan for your team’s benefit and also your sponsor’s benefit.  At the beginning of the project we created a team charter but to follow that up our group had a project plan that outlined when we were going to get things done including when we would start, aim to complete and what the actual finish date was; as well as, the status of the project.  This plan was kept on the SharePoint site so that the President of M&T Securities (MTS) could show his manager and reports what our group was working on.  It helped the group stay committed but also ensured our sponsors we were moving toward the end goal.
  8. Run your recommendations by your sponsors early and often.  My group started running our initial recommendations by our group sponsors in early December.  We had a large list of things we had started to put together as observations rather than recommendations to start the conversations.  This gave us the ability to gauge our sponsors responses on our initial impressions of the research we were doing.  We ran our recommendations by our sponsor’s HR business partner, many different levels at MTS, the people we were interviewing, former MDPs in MTS and of course our sponsors repeatedly. It is important to keep your sponsors updated as they know their business best and will be able to give you input regarding the status of select things that are being worked on currently.
  9. Learn to accept criticism and expect questions from all angles.  You will get a lot of positive feedback but you will also receive a lot of criticism.  What is important to remember it is all meant to make you a better professional.  Coming out of college our generation has a lot of stereotypes that we have to overcome which can be a challenge but it is possible to overcome them when you learn to accept criticism. We are not the trophy for everything generation but that is the next generation to hit the workforce which will be my generations problem as managers to overcome.  But being so young in our careers and really anytime throughout your professional track, taking feedback both positive and negative is important and taking it the right way can be just as important.  Everyone giving feedback has your group’s best interest at heart so it is important to accept it and really consider what that person is saying.
  10. Understand your teammates and their strengths. Identifying your teammates strengths early in the project cycle is important.  As an MDP you will spend two months with the larger group before your projects and teams get selected but that can be hard to learn about everyone in that group of 40 or 80 people.  Once your groups are determined the best thing our group did was talk about our past experiences, we looked at our DiSC assessments (something we did through MDP) and talked about roles.  It can be easy to get lost in the concept of the team leader but in reality it doesn’t mean as much as it does in say high school.  Being the team lead you have more responsibility but you don’t make all the decisions you help the group work as a team.  The most successful teams work in a collaborative environment rather than in silos.   I was very fortunate to have a team that worked extremely well together – not everyone will be that lucky but that is the real world and you have to roll with the punches especially with work projects.millenials