(This article originally appeared in ComputerWorld USA and ComputerWorld Netherlands.)
Sometimes it feels as if our basic assumption about project leadership teams is that they can’t work well together — as if collaboration is out of the question and we’re ready to settle for a cold peace based on limited communication and mutual suspicion.
But I refuse to accept that. I think we should be able to examine the dynamics of project teams to unravel the causes of these tense relationships and build productive and even enjoyable connections.
The prototypical project leadership team consists of a project manager, a technical lead and a business sponsor. Their relationships form the core of the project culture, which spreads out to the rest of the team. If the core group works well together, displays patience and respect for one another, adopts common goals, and trusts one another, the rest of the team tends to interact accordingly. If they treat each other with legalistic caution and reserve, that too spreads throughout the team. The tone is set in that core.
The three people who fill these roles tend to be very different from one another. They represent the interests of dissimilar parts of the organization and have different educations and professional experiences, which give rise to distinctive assumptions about how businesses should work and even different ways of talking. And they tend to have rather divergent behavioral styles — styles that reflect the very different departmental cultures they represent.
But they do have at least one thing in common — though it seems to undermine their collective collaboration. That one thing is what I call “the avoidance collusion,” which stems from the fact that none of them is terribly concerned about his relationships with the other two.
Business sponsors are usually midlevel or senior managers from a functional department who take on project assignments in addition to their daily work. And the project is truly an add-on in their minds; their primary concerns remain their everyday responsibilities. They want their departments to gain the benefits of new technology with minimal disruption. They would like the technology to just magically appear, without much effort on their part. “Just give me the stuff” might be their mantra.
Project managers come from more diverse backgrounds, with some from the technical ranks and others from another business function. Most are driven types who are focused on setting and meeting goals. In an ideal world, they would be able to focus on one substantial project, but in reality, many split their time among ridiculous numbers of ongoing projects. If they can focus on a small number of efforts, they tend to be concerned with planning, tracking, proactive risk management and reporting. If their time is highly fragmented, they tend to just focus on tracking and reporting. Their mantra is “Just get it done — please.”
As for tech leads, they tend to be the best techies around. They focus on building the best products that they can, given the constraints under which they operate. Their mantra is “Just leave me alone. I’m creating.”
Their commonality is that they don’t see their relationships with the others as a means to their own personal ends. They agree that they don’t really want to engage with the others.
But this is the illusion. For each of these three roles, the contribution of the others is essential to collective success. To improve project outcomes, we have to embrace the interdependence within these leadership teams.
Copyright 2011 by Computerworld Inc., One Speen Street, Framingham, MA, 01701. Reprinted by permission of Computerworld. All Rights Reserved.
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