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Building Sustainable Relationships in Project Teams

~ By Patrick Bird

Business team brainstorming using coloured labels on an office table

A project manager's priority is always to deliver the project on time and on budget (or for less and earlier!).

We all know project management has many facets, parts of which are the processes and standards; however without the people in the team, and the wider organisation, a project will never be delivered.

Project teams are a microcosm of the organisation bringing with it the challenges of multiple cultures, possibly from different parts of the World and certainly other parts of the organisation, disparate skills, expertise, knowledge and different levels of seniority.

Building sustainable and flexible working relationships to create an effective working environment starts with the project team, but does not end there. They will also need to be built with others such as the sponsor, steering group, suppliers and of course internal colleagues. A project manager will need to influence a variety of people, sometimes without the necessary authority, to obtain information, input and commitment from them.

There are many skills to use when building relationships such as empathic listening, rapport, engagement, however before we use these skills it is useful to understand the individual types of people in the team and the attributes they bring to it. Understanding them can be complex and as a consequence working out the best way to manage them can be just as complex, you have to work hard to find out about, and understand them.

Let us consider first, four character types of people into which the team and the project manager may be grouped, helping us get a feel for how they may work as individuals and as part of a team. The project manager will also be able to identify the types of individual with whom they may need to flex their management style leading to better relationships and limit the possibility of conflict.

Analytical types value facts above all, and may appear uncommunicative, they value accuracy, time, competency and logic over opinions and are often risk averse. Usually cooperative, providing they have some freedom to organise their own efforts. In relationships, they are initially more careful and reserved, but once trust is earned they can become dedicated and loyal.

Amiable types care more about close relationships than results or influence. They usually appear warm, friendly and cooperative, minimising risk and often using personal opinions to arrive at decisions. They enjoy being part of a group and like to gain acceptance. They prefer to achieve objectives through understanding and mutual respect rather than force and authority. When managed by force without relationship they will cooperate initially, but will likely lack commitment to the objectives and may later resist implementation.

Expressive types are motivated by recognition, approval and prestige. They tend to appear communicative and approachable, often sharing their feelings and thoughts. They can be continually excited about the next big idea, but they often don't commit to specific plans or see things through to completion. They tend to be risk takers and place more stock in the opinions of prominent or successful people than in logic or research. Though they consider relationships important, they are competitive which leads them to seek quieter friends who are supportive of their dreams and ideas.

Driver types are results-oriented, tending to initiate action and give clear direction. They seek control over their environment. In decision-making, Driving styles want to know the estimated outcome of each option. They are willing to accept risks, but want to move quickly and have the final say. In relationships, they may appear uncommunicative, independent and competitive. Driving styles tend to focus on efficiency or productivity rather than devoting time and attention to casual relationships. They seldom see a need to share personal motives or feelings.

It is easy to see why misunderstandings, poor relationships and conflict develop if we do not understand the character types above and are therefore not able to flex our style to accommodate them.

Establishing what types of people are in the project team is a great workshop activity. It can bring about individual revelations and levels of understanding in the team very quickly which can help to build sustainable relationships very effectively.

This technique will give you a good starting point from which to build the relationship with your team, but don't forget a project manager will still need to get to know and understand what makes people tick in detail by sitting down and having conversation and exchanging meaningful feedback with them on a regular basis. And of course in a social setting!

So Let us turn now to the attributes that individuals bring to the team and how they can be harnessed for the benefit of the team and the project.

High performing teams usually have a number of attributes which are common to them and as such are common to the individuals and leaders making up the team. A sample list is detailed below:

CooperationAdaptability (Flexibility)

Try an exercise with your team to establish the key attributes they consider essential for working together as a team in order to build relationships and deliver the project.

  • Each team member to note down four or five attributes they consider important, combine the list removing duplicates to arrive at a master list. This may be similar to the one above.
  • Using the master list ask the team to rate where they expect the team to be for each attribute creating a target for the team. Use a scale of 1 to 10 where ten is good and one is poor.
  • Using the master list ask the team members to write down individually where they think the team is at the moment. Use a scale of 1 to 10 where ten is good and one is poor.
  • Combine these results and review with the team.

During the review of the results from the exercise it is not unusual to find that members of the team have different views of where the team is, reflected by the scores they give, and may be considerably different from the targets previously established. Identifying these differing opinions early will help the team to address them quickly thereby avoiding potential conflict later on.

In a relatively short article you are getting a flavour for some of techniques that project managers and team members may be able to use to establish the types of people and attributes they may bring and how that may affect their relationships. Using the information that is gleaned it will give you a base from which the relationship build can start using the skills mentioned previously.

Like it or not we are all a seething mass of emotions, we carry with us a vast array of history; hang ups, opinions, values, desires and motivations and are likely to see the world in a different way to other colleagues. As managers of project teams we need to be able to get under the surface of all this and find out what makes the people in our team tick for the benefit of the individual, the team and of course the project.

Good luck.

Patrick is passionate that in a very competitive and changing business environment excellent technical skills must be complimented by excellent leadership, personal and communication skills to ensure improved performance and satisfaction of the individual and the organisation. He shares this passion by speaking and presenting at conferences and events around these topics.

Following a successful corporate career and over 5 years as an executive coach, Patrick Bird established InterActive Performance Management in 2009. The aim is to provide medium to large organisations with coaching and mentoring in the areas of communications, leadership, team building and strategy.

For more information about inter-personal, leadership and communication skills to help improve efficiency, effectiveness and ultimately profitability and cost leadership visit InterActive Performance Management


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