Team 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.
- Working 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.