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Building sustainable relationships in project teams

Patrick Bird
February 28, 2011

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.

Team characters

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. They are 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 a 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, drivers 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!

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Patrick Bird
Patrick Bird is the founder and managing director of InterActive Performance Management has more than 30 years senior corporate experience in blue chip companies, acting and coaching qualifications.
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