Personalities in Project Management and Building Teams

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

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 ( 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

Anderson, B. (2010). Project Leadership and the Art of Managing Relationships. T+D magazine, 58-63. Retrieved from

Whitt, J. [projectmanagervideos]. (2013, September 16). How to Manage Team Conflict [Video file]. Retrieved from

4 thoughts on “Personalities in Project Management and Building Teams

  1. This post resonates with me as I often struggled with the soft side of working with large teams. I find the difficulty of not knowing the team members/personalities and continuous change among the key players to be extremely inefficient. While it does challenge each member on a person level to adapt to change and overcome adversity, I do think there are benefits in continuity and performing tasks in the same manner so that tasks can be picked up easily and with minimum down-time. However, I have noticed throughout my career a lot of the frustration is driven by the incapable project leaders and and an inability to motivate/engage team members.. PMs that do take the time to know the team members and have the team member get to know each other are often the most successful ones. By putting names to faces and taking it a step further to engage the team members to know each other on a personal level motivates the group to work together. Communicating what the final product, customer, background story, and ultimate use of all the hard work also makes the the team members feel as if their part makes a large difference in the grand scheme of things. I think this often gets overlooked as people go through the daily grind of creating reports, doing testing, meeting suppliers, etc. Also, PMs are more able to distinguish how each person is motivated and leverage this new information to keep him/her performing to the best of their ability. These are some take-aways I have gained throughout my short career thus far and look forward to learning more in this class and I as progress throughout my career.

    A question that crossed my mind made me wonder if the most successful project managers adapt to their team or does the team adapt to the project manger? I’d be curious to see what project management techniques and guidelines say on the matter. My hunch is that is falls the often the change needs to be borne by all members so they reach a happy medium.

  2. Good question Thomas. From what I’ve read so far it is definitely a mixture of the PM adapting to the team and vice versa. There seem to be some leadership style frameworks that align with Tuckerman’s storming/norming team phases. Basically a PM can adapt their leadership approach as the team progresses, or backtracks, through each stage and monitor how the team is responding or adapting to that approach. It is not cut and dry by any means. However, I think it’s better to have guidelines than going in blind.

    I like Mike Griffiths’ honest explanation here:

  3. I try my best to relate somehow to my group members, even if its something small like enjoying coffee. Relating and asking questions to them will make them feel that you are interested in learning about them and they will slowly start to open up. I personally also like to smile and joke a bit. I try to make myself look as approachable as possible. I like to motivate by letting them see how motivated I am and how ahead we are with our work and let them know and show what good comments we have gotten. I think it is important to make the project fun and follow a schedule that way there is less frustration. When having trouble with people not doing their work I feel that it’s essential to keep moving and find another way to get that work done but letting that person know the hassle or she is putting the group in. I think workshops can help a lot with group issues and how to go about them. The most important is to learn how to work in groups by getting the experience of being part of one.

  4. Interesting post! I totally agree with you, being a Project Manager (PM) by itself is a challenging role with all deadlines. I kind of gone through a similar situation when I first joint my current employer three years back. I faced resistance from some of the team members for being new, enthusiastic, young, and educated with eight years of experience. To them, the decision of appointing someone from outside the company who is also young was a bad decision and wanted to prove the management wrong. Some of them tried to raise politics and build barriers only to see me fail. Yes, I had to suffer in the beginning to make them accept me as a person first then as a PM, I spent a lot of time with each member to build up a solid base for our relation and team structure since I knew that this will last for at least couple of years. Dealing with different personalities, backgrounds and cultures was challenging and interesting in the same time where at some point you will discover that each member is valuable and could add a value to the team in one way or another. Understanding each member capability is a key factor to assigning tasks, once figured, leadership and guidance take place and by then you enjoy watching how the team excels and discover their new limits. From my experience, I totally encourage team building workshops accompanied by fun activities as well as considering team breakaways every while and then to break the work routine hence boost the team’s efficiency.

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