How to minimise Turnover in your teams

Since PMXPO, I’ve been receiving a lot of emails from Project Managers asking for advice about issues they’re having in their projects. This theme has appeared in several emails so I wanted to bring it out on my Blog in case it can help others.

I have been trying to work out a “magic formula” for this as team turnover /loss can be a major factor in why projects can be delayed, fail to meet their objectives or there is increased stress in trying to reach the project objectives. As a consultant, I regularly get exposure to different organisations, teams and see the different dynamics which may influence an individual to leave.

Example: Caroline has been working a content developer in company A for 3 years. She’s well respected, does her job well and is liked within the organisation. Over the past year there has been a new CEO and changing objectives/priorities. This has led to a series of redundancies and uncertainty. There is a rampant rumour mill within the company and its always negative. Over a series of months, Caroline feels demotivated, underappreciated and doesn’t feel like she is making any difference within her role. After an extremely negative Town hall where the CEO was hostile and extremely demotivating, Caroline makes the decision to find another job. She leaves within 6 weeks.

Why do they leave?

One of the first things that I ask Project Managers who have a high turnover in their projects /organisation is: why are people leaving? Do you know the reason? A few common reasons could be:

  • Changing culture
  • Job uncertainty /risk of job loss
  • Conflict within the organisation/team
  • The people in the team they’re in
  • Personal reasons
  • Lack of flexibility
  • Under appreciation (from management/team lead /managers/ team)
  • Better opportunity elsewhere (headhunted)
  • Demotivated

Whenever someone leaves my team, I ask to have a completely honest /off the record chat about their reasons for leaving, if there’s anything I could have done and potential improvement points. This has really been appreciated and often I’ll get some interesting feedback that I can feed back into my leadership style or discuss with management (if needed).

When it comes to personal conflict between team members or having “toxic” team members in your team, you need to try and remove the negative players from your team before they cause others to leave. They may be great at their job but if they cannot perform within a team environment this needs to be addressed accordingly. In a previous project, I did have this example as this person’s negativity was causing such an issue within the team that there was a risk of the entire project failing.

What makes your team happy?

This is the next thing to consider. Why do people stay in your team? Or within your organisation? What makes it worthwhile? A few common reasons may be:

  • Organisation culture
    • Team culture/ethos
  • Friends /colleagues
  • Enjoy the work /work is challenging enough
  • Respect
  • Opportunities to develop /improvement
  • Recognised by colleagues/management for the work they do /what they contribute to the organisation
  • Well paid /good benefits

Understanding why your people stay and what motivates them to continue working is a great way to know if you’re doing the right thing as a leader or if you need to “switch it up”.

Things to consider changing:

There are a few easy ways to improve your team dynamics or understand what you can improve. One question I ask myself is: “How would I want to work?” What would that team look like? Are the team empowered to own their tasks? Or do they need closer observation? What is the “vibe” of the team? Is it supportive or cut throat?

Questionnaires or polls can be a great way to understand what’s going well or not. You can always use team retrospectives for this and get immediate input on a team level based on the scenario:

  • What do we need to keep doing (Green)
  • What do we need to stop doing (red)
  • What do we need to keep an eye on/be aware of (yellow).

Examples of this could be:

What do we need to keep doing?

  • Recognising team /individuals contributions
  • Keep giving opportunities for team members to develop/try new skills
  • Being strict about project admin
  • Respecting each other
  • Team lunches

What do we need to stop doing?

  • Stop multiple meetings on the same topic
  • Remove unnecessary meetings /give one free day a week to work
  • No meetings after 4pm

What do we need to keep an eye on?

  • Meetings need to have a clear agenda /time control
  • Need to be stricter with project admin /how we’re working in software
  • Need to remain accountable / own our tasks. Be responsible!

When looking at what you’re able to change as a Project Manager, there may be very little you can do regarding remuneration but if you are able to give guidance to management, recommend that your team are paid a fair market wage for their work. Within this, I like to make sure that if my team work weekends/evenings that they are paid for this additional effort (either in time off or as paid overtime). As a small effort, it shows the team that I value their time and respect that they’re giving up their private time to work.

Conclusion:

Looking at the reasons why people want to work in your team and also looking critically at why they want to leave is vital for this exercise. It can be difficult to have this self reflection of the potential issues that might exist but you will have a stronger team as a result.

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