A project manager (PM) has a challenging enough task to coordinate deadlines, resources, and workflows. Yet with many different personalities and expertise coming together on a project the PM also has a responsibility to build up a team. This soft side of project management, fostering internal team relationships, is crucial to a project’s success.
For a quick introduction to team conflicts at work take a look at this video by Jennifer Whitt, Director of ProjectManager.com:
Reflecting on the short time (3 months) I spent covering as a PM for a coworker, I found the soft side of project management to be the hardest. You can have an approved schedule and project plan but if conflicts occur within your team it immediately puts the project at risk. I encountered this recently coming into a team with members that already knew each other. Many of these members were accustomed to working a certain way and challenged changes I made to the plan. Others welcomed my support and guidance. However balancing these two extremes became stressful as I worked to transition the project back to my coworker.
In our first class we discussed the Technical and Sociocultural sides of project management (Larson & Gray, p. 17). While this framework is helpful in understanding the combination of hard and soft skills necessary to lead projects, I wanted to seek out additional information on how PMs handle personalities within a team. I discovered an abundance of study on high performance teams (Lake Superior Chapter ASTD, 2014). I also found some workshops focused specifically on this topic, along with other studies on personality assessments and team stages such as Tuckerman’s forming and storming model.
One theory that seemed most relevant to my conflicts at work is Elias H. Porter’s relationship awareness (Anderson, 2010). Porter developed an assessment called Strength Deployment Inventory (SDI) to explore relationships from the following four premises:
- Behavior is driven by motivation
- Motivation changes in conflict
- Personal weaknesses are overdone strengths
- Personal filters influence perception
Using Porter’s theory to reflect on my own experience I realized that I was so focused on meeting pre-existing deadlines and working within the norms, that I neglected to build a better relationship with the team. Coming into a team as a new member I did not take a step back to reflect on my own motivation. In addition, my perceptions were influencing my reactions to other team members. I often felt like an outsider trying to manage the big picture when other team members had more information being on the project for over a year.
Overall I’ve found that understanding your own personality and reaction to others is key in leading a team. If you become wrapped up in the day-to-day work and forget to handle the human side of your team, listening to and motivating others, you are not doing the project justice.
Additional questions to consider:
What tactics have you found helpful in building up project teams?
Are there any project failures you attribute directly to internal team conflicts? Do you think it was possible to overcome them or doomed from the start?
Are workshops on high performance teams worthwhile?
Would you use the SDI (http://www.strengthdeploymentinventory.com/sdi/about-sdi-an-overview/) for a project team at work?
Larson, E. W., & Gray, C. F. (2014). Project Management: The Managerial Process (6th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.
Lake Superior Chapter ASTD. (2014). Building High Performing Teams Certification Workshop. Retrieved from http://www.astd-duluth.org/event-877547
Anderson, B. (2010). Project Leadership and the Art of Managing Relationships. T+D magazine, 58-63. Retrieved from http://www.pmi.org/About-Us/News-PMI-in-the-News/~/media/PDF/Media/March%202010%20Project%20Leadership%20and%20the%20Art%20of%20Managing%20Relationships.ashx
Whitt, J. [projectmanagervideos]. (2013, September 16). How to Manage Team Conflict [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PHJ8eybXJdw