Project Leadership and Teambuilding

Posted on 6th July, by JimYoung in Blog. Comments Off on Project Leadership and Teambuilding

With effect December 2019 the PMP exam is to be structured around three domains, including the first domain: Leadership and Teambuilding that will represent 42% of the marks. This topic is not addressed in the PMBOK, hence this blog article.

However, a much more thorough explanation of project management soft skills is the subject of my soon to be published book “Princess – A Soft Skills Companion for Prince2” that explores the human factor that every project manager, regardless of the project management methodology applied, should master whether or not we are contemplating the PMP credential. “Princess” will address the following topics:

Chapter One: Introductory Stuff
Chapter Two: Leadership and Project Teams
Chapter Three: Communication
Chapter Four: Stakeholder Engagement
Chapter Five: Delegation
Chapter Six: Motivation
Chapter Seven: Personal Time Management
Chapter Eight: Issues, Problems and Decisions
Chapter Nine: Negotiation and Conflict Management
Chapter Ten: Change Management

Project managers also need to be leaders. A recent Project Management Institute (PMI) study concluded that the most important acquired skills needed for project managers to successfully manage projects are leadership skills. While good leadership won’t guarantee a successful project, the lack of leadership is one of the most cited factors for unsuccessful projects.

Project leadership is an increasingly popular field of investigation as our projects become larger, more complex, comprise heterogeneous teams, and possess greater risk and uncertainty. Project leadership is our ability to establish vision and direction, to influence and align others towards a common goal, and empower and inspire our project team to achieve project success. In short, leadership is all about helping people to get the best out of themselves.

Project leadership is different from general leadership in that besides coping with greater risk and uncertainty, project leaders have to create and develop a team to undertake a unique job. Project team members can be deployed on a full-time or a part-time basis and once the temporary task is accomplished the team is disbanded.

We recognise that those who have “leader” in their title do not always demonstrate leadership competences; similarly, individuals who do not have hierarchical seniority or status can demonstrate leadership competences without the leader title. And nobody ever said that being a leader would be easy. The first thing it takes to be a good leader is hard work. Good leaders nearly always start out as bad leaders. We then become more proficient by first being less ineffective. Our growth comes from personal motivation, unmasking flaws, learning from failures, seeking feedback, listening to those with more experience, and refusing to settle for mediocrity. Realising our leadership abilities is not a single event or training course; it’s an everyday effort.

Complementary Roles

We project managers have two complementary roles – one as manager and the other as leader. Even a sole project endeavour has stakeholders who need our leadership. Given that successful project managers are those who understand and demonstrate both strong management and effective leadership, I thought that I should look at some authoritative references. But that proved to be frustrating.

I found that much leadership literature proposes great leaders from history for our emulation. This was inspiring in a sense, but it was discouraging too. These historical champions are not like most of us. We’re more likely to be ordinary people, with ordinary lives. We mostly manage ordinary projects and we have ordinary problems. We don’t necessarily want to alter the course of history, but just want to deliver our projects to the satisfaction of those involved.

Currently a popular topic concerns the difference between leadership and management. Some scholars consider them to be quite different while others use the terms interchangeably. But in the practical project management world I suggest there is more overlap between management and leadership than there is separation, where leadership involves managing and management involves leading.

I’m not advocating that leadership is more important than management, or that project managers should stop managing and only lead. The key issue is that many project managers do only manage; they don’t lead. In practice we need a healthy balance between the two approaches. Both are important.

Leadership Skills

I see project leadership as the business of leading people towards a common goal. Our focus is on inspiring and empowering our team. By mostly asking rather than demanding we are more likely to get buy-in and loyalty. We work to motivate and speak to the team’s emotional core rather than offering a dry intellectualism that omits the human part of the process. Those who lead seem to possess some common attributes – they inspire others to share their vision, they motivate them to realise that vision, and they help them overcome obstacles in pursuit of that vision. Some of the often quoted core values or abilities possessed by competent project leaders are these:

  1. Goal-Focused. As a leader, we need to keep our eye on the project goal. And we need to help people maintain that focus. There is no point being a wonderful and inspiring project manager if we aren’t goal focused.
  1. Communication. Our ability to properly disseminate information and listen to others actively is an essential leadership credential. The four types of communication used by project managers include interpersonal communication, nonverbal communication, written communication, and oral communication.
  1. Motivation. As a project manager getting people to willingly do what we need them to do is important. It is about stimulating people to accomplish project goals, given that motivated people are invariably more productive.
  1. Delegation. Knowing that we can’t do everything ourselves, delegation is about entrusting others to help us carry the load by completing assigned tasks. Delegating is also a great way of encouraging our team members to develop themselves and for us to coach.
  1. Positivity. Keeping a positive and optimistic outlook, regardless of the situation, helps maintain our own and other’s morale. Perhaps more than almost any other factor, our perspective affects our own and our project team’s ability to get work done. Of course being positive doesn’t mean we ignore problems.
  1. Trustworthiness. People aren’t going to listen to us or do what we ask if we don’t instill in them a sense of trust. Trusting someone means that we think they are reliable, we have confidence in them, and we feel safe with them. Without trust, there are no followers.
  1. Creativity. There will always be problems that can’t be solved by rote; we must also think creatively and be open to taking reasonable chances. Creativity is about turning our own and others’ imaginative ideas into reality.
  1. Collaboration. Us leaders need to cultivate the ability to foster collaborative working for mutual benefit; working across functional, organisational and geographical boundaries; connecting team members, clients, stakeholders and sub-contractors to successfully deliver; building effective internal and external networks, and helping others to do the same.
  1. Feedback. Leadership doesn’t take place in a vacuum. We need to listen to the team and other stakeholders, and take their opinions seriously. We also need to provide our project team members with timely, balanced, accurate and useful feedback.
  1. Responsibility. We can’t expect people to follow us if we’re not taking responsibility for our own behaviour. Responsible behaviour gives us influence, and accelerates our leadership growth.
  1. Commitment. We need to be committed to project success. And to be a leader who inspires commitment, we need to praise team achievements, advocate for the team, and treat every team member with respect.
  1. Flexibility. Flexibility is an increasingly important leadership trait in our rapid changing environment. Excessive rigidity can ruin a project, so we must be agile and willing to adapt as reality unfolds. In effect, we need to revise our leadership style as the situation dictates.
  1. Persuasion. In a workplace that’s increasingly connected and less hierarchical, developing our persuasion skills can be one of the most valuable investments we can make. Some people believe persuasion is about manipulation or getting our way. Rather, persuasion is about making sure our best ideas get a fair hearing.
  1. Empathy. Empathy is a necessary ingredient for successful leadership. It’s the ability to identify with another person’s experience. Developing empathy allows us to imagine ourselves in another person’s shoes, to respond to others, and even to vicariously experience others’ feelings of emotions. When we demonstrate empathy, we create connections with others, which can help build teamwork and forge stronger interpersonal connections.
  1. A Sense of Humour. Finally, I suggest to be an effective leader we need a sense of humour. Who doesn’t enjoy laughing? It’s the great diffuser of tension and conflict. We don’t have to be comedians, and certainly there’s a time and a place for humour, but a sense of humour might be one of our more essential skills. Humour relieves stress for us and our team, and only when tensions are lifted can smart actions and ideas show themselves. A sense of humour also helps with our team’s morale.

Thus, the role of leadership in a project situation is to maintain and promote the project vision, reinforce positive relationships, build an environment that supports effective teamwork, raise morale, and empower and inspire team members. Organisations might relate such leadership skills to their own project management competency frameworks.

Management Skills

Management is essentially the process of dealing with or controlling things and people. But the emphasis is mostly on things rather than people. Project managers plan, organise, coordinate, and control. We are likely to be methodical and frequently assess project progress to make sure things are proceeding as planned. We are comfortable with processes and methodologies. We approach things systematically, and use tools and metrics to monitor progress and keep our project on track. To manage effectively some important soft skills are these:

  1. Interpersonal Skills. While managers aren’t exclusively dealing with people, we still must interface effectively with them.
  1. Communication. Being able to manage requires we are able to listen to others and communicate what they need to know in a timely and accurate fashion.
  1. Motivation. Motivated team members are invariably more productive. We need to develop and maintain a motivating environment.
  1. Organisation. We must be well organised, recognising that management is made up of many parts, and we cannot handle them all on the fly.
  1. Delegation. We can’t do everything ourselves, and if we try, we’re going to fail. So we share responsibilities and tasks with others.
  1. Planning. As a manager we are a planner who looks towards the future and we know how to set ourselves up for this today.
  1. Strategic Thinking.Part of our planning requires we think strategically about the project, our organisation’s purpose and values, and how to align them.
  1. Problem Solving.We managers face issues daily, and often we must often think creatively to solve them.
  1. Awareness. Managers don’t work in a vacuum. We need to have a keen sense of the environment in which we operate.
  1. Mentoring. In order to help get things done we managers must also be mentors, offering guidance and training where it’s needed.

Project leaders often need to both work in the project and work on the project. Working in the project involves dealing with the day-to-day issues. Working on the project takes a more strategic stance, sitting somewhat removed from the project in a position to interact more freely with the different stakeholders and see our project from the outside. In normal operations, most managers are faced with an existing structure with people in the fixed roles and established reporting lines and responsibilities. In a project, such structure doesn’t exist at the start, so the project manager has the opportunity to create this from a blank canvas.

Project Leadership Characteristics

As business books have it, “managers require, leaders inspire”, although in practice, project managers are both leaders and managers. But rather than attempt to further identify differences between managers and leaders, let’s identify some key points on project leadership that most experienced project managers seem to agree with:

  • – As soon as our project involves people other than ourselves as the project manager, we are in the leadership business with the need to promote the project goal, encourage positive relationships, support effective teamwork, raise morale, and empower and inspire our team members and other stakeholders.
  • – The idea that leaders are born – not made – is outdated. Most people can be taught to lead, and we can all become leaders, often by first acting like leaders until such behaviours become second nature.
  • – We project managers must lead in several directions – upwards to maintain the support of our sponsor, outwards to win the support of stakeholders, and inwards to lead our project team.
  • – Project leaders need to generate everything from the vision for the project, through a clear plan, to working with our teams to ensure they follow that plan. Plans give confidence and assurance, yet a leader also knows that they quickly become out of date unless we remain alert to changes and are flexible in our
  • – Since projects are often one-off pioneering endeavours with different team mixes, there is no single “right” style of project leadership. Every project and situation is different and we need to adjust our leadership style accordingly. But, project management, like management in general, is often caught in the bind of only knowing what was good and bad leadership after the fact.
  • – Leadership in the project context has an added complexity and challenge. People in our project team are often strangers, are only temporary team members, and in the matrix organisation often retain strong ties to their functional areas or departments. And not every individual is a good team player.
  • – Leadership is largely in the minds of our followers. The position of leader is granted by followers who make the decision to follow. And as project leaders we too must be able to follow, since some of our projects will be part of a programme (ie, related projects) that also have their leaders.
  • – The relationship between us project managers and our team varies depending in part on our authority. In some cases, us project managers may also be the team’s line manager with full authority over the project team members. In other cases, we may have little or no direct authority over our project team members.
  • – Anticipating risk or being risk aware is an important attribute for a project leader. Anticipating enables the leader to avoid being caught off guard. By recognising the signs or triggers that something is about to happen, we can be prepared. To our team, this preparedness looks impressive and helps build our status as project leaders. Project risk may be negative or positive – threat or opportunity.
  • – Project leadership is about judgement. Project management methodologies may produce accurate data about progress and adherence to the plan, but project leadership is about the future. What is to be done next? There is no data about the future, so decisions have to be based on judgement, intuition and experience.
  • – As project managers, we help develop our team members through good quality performance feedback. So, we need to develop the skills for giving feedback to our project team members. The best feedback is specific, objective, balanced, one-on-one, day-by-day, and two-way. Often, we get our own performance feedback by simply observing the results. But it’s too easy to miss details. That’s why we also need ask our stakeholders to give us their feedback.
  • – Today’s most effective leaders provide direction, not directions, and resist telling team members how to do their jobs. Modern leaders are inclined to suggest rather than command. Conceptually, at least, leadership and power have been decoupled. A good leader talks less and listens more. However, I acknowledge that directing rather than discussing is usually more appropriate when we are dealing with those team members who possess limited aptitude and/or poor attitude, particular when we are working in a crisis situation or working to tight deadlines.

Leadership Influence

Sources of influence or power refer to the ability of us project leaders to persuade others to act for the benefit of our project. According to the Project Management Institute our sources of influence are usually some combination of the following:

  • – Positional Power. Also called “legitimate power,” is formal authority delegated to the project manager. This is the most obvious, and also the most common kind of power that is typically defined by a project charter, which is a contract that formally appoints us as the project manager. Positional power may be reinforced through personal power.
  • – Referent Power. This source of power refers to the ability of a leader to influence a follower because of a follower’s loyalty, respect, friendship, admiration, affection, or a desire to gain approval. Unlike formal power, referent power is bestowed on a leader by their followers.
  • – Expert Power. Expert power is based on the perception that the leader has relevant skills, experience or expertise that other members of the organisation do not possess. Expert power means that team members will naturally turn to us for guidance in areas related to our domain.
  • – Reward Power. This power refers to the degree to which the leader may reward others with praise, benefits, time off, gifts, recognition, promotions or increases in pay or responsibility. If a reward has been promised to an entire project team if they hit a milestone on time, then this can create a strong bond within the project team as everyone strives to achieve a common goal.
  • – Coercive Power. This includes the ability to demote or to withhold rewards. The desire for valued rewards or the fear of having them withheld helps ensures the obedience of the project team members. It seeks to force or compel behaviour rather than to influence behaviour through persuasion. This tends to be the very least effective form of power as it often creates resentment by team members.

In the historical project landscape, us project managers had the authority over project resources and we mostly used positional, reward and coercive power. However, when our team members are not direct reports and we work in matrixed projects, these techniques may be less effective. Therefore, in the current environment we project managers might rely more on referent power and must take more of a consultative approach in our interaction with stakeholders. Modern thinking is that leadership is not defined by the exercise of power but by the capacity to increase the sense of power among those led.

Leadership Styles

As project managers we need to gear our leadership style to the specific situation and the individuals involved. Consider the leadership style of anyone in charge of any project, and we find a myriad of ways in which they operate. Many of these differences are based on personality and what style of leadership we natural gravitate towards. So there is no one-size-fits-all leadership solution. However, understanding some different approaches to leadership can help us find the style that best suits the situation and our personality. Described here are some common leadership styles and their variants:

  • – Autocratic. As the name implies, this is a classic top-down leadership style. The leader is the one who makes all the decisions. Therefore, communication mostly goes in one direction – from the project manager to everyone else. Other viewpoints are seldom considered, and team members’ roles and tasks are clearly defined by the leader. While this style might sound draconian, it is most suited for those team members who are new, unskilled or unmotivated. An autocratic style can be turned on and off as needed, such as during a crisis that requires a quick decision. Some team members work best in this environment, where there’s little uncertainty, defined roles and clear expectations. In such cases, the team knows what’s expected of them, and there’s little confusion. However, the lack of input from the team may mean less than optimal decisions and cause some dissatisfaction for those keen to contribute. 
  • – Variants: Authoritative, Persuasive and Paternalistic. The authoritative variant is typically used when there is little trust between the leader and the team members. It is usually applied with unskilled team members. The leader dictates, but also coaches, and is constantly supervising. The persuasive style is similar in that the leader is making the decisions, but in a way that convinces the team that each choice is the right course of action and is in their best interests. What sets the persuasive style apart is that it can develop more trust between the leader and team members. A paternalistic style is different in that the leader treats teams in a more familial way. For the team member it’s like being a child, while the leader is the parent. Some team members might feel comfortable with this arrangement, but others can feel stifled and needlessly dependent. 
  • – Democratic. Just as the form of government that shares its name, the democratic leadership style is one in which everyone is involved in the decision-making. However, the final call is usually left to the leader, who invites ideas, measures their viability and then chooses what to do. One of the advantages of the democratic leadership style is that it is open to a wide spectrum of ideas and perspectives. With the team being part of the decision-making process, they inevitably feel more valued, which likely makes them more productive and motivated. The downside of the democratic approach is the potential for nothing getting done, at least not in a timely fashion. When we’re open to ideas from many others, the timeline to decide is obviously going to expand. That and conflict can arise, as differing views can become impassioned debates. Then, if a project team member’s idea isn’t taken up, there can be resentment.
  • – Variants: Consultative, Participative and Collaborative. Consultative leadership is a variant where the project manager and team work together to build trust and confidence. Participative leadership is similar, except that trust is complete and decisions are heavily weighed by team member input. This style can backfire, however, if the team members aren’t interested in being part of the decision-making process. The collaborative variant emphasises communication, with decisions resting with the majority. We might use this style because it gets buy-in from the team and gives them a sense of ownership in the process. A problem is that this approach can be time-consuming.
  • – Laissez-Faire. This style takes us to the logical conclusion of removing, or having very little input from the leader. In these circumstances, the team doesn’t need supervision because they’re highly skilled and motivated – they can do and will do. We project managers are free to take a hands-off approach and can devote attention to other matters. A benefit of this style is increased innovation and creativity, with possibly reduced productivity because of a somewhat directionless, unsupervised team.
  • – Variant: Delegative. A type of laissez-faire leadership is called the delegative style, which gives teams full responsibility for their jobs. We project managers will assign tasks with little direction, and the team will do them as they see fit. While we project managers are still the responsible party, the team decides the means. This leadership style can cause some uncoordination among teams, or teams might lack focus or direction.

A challenge with developing an ideal leadership style is that the leadership needed depends on the project type, phase, complexity, and level of uncertainty. Also, individual project team members may respond best to different leadership styles. As a generalisation, a participative style might be most appropriate during project planning when other’s input is needed, whereas during project implementation a more autocratic style might then work best particularly in a time-driven situation. Such flexibility in leadership styles is a challenge for many project managers who are predominantly of one style regardless of circumstances. In some situations, leaders with different styles may be appointed for project management phases. For example, a participatory style may be appropriate for project planning, whereas a more directive style may be appropriate when expediting the plan.

Project Leadership Matrix

If we want to get the best from someone, we need to choose a leadership style that suits the situation. We might consider our style, values, experience, how we assess the risks, and our confidence in those we lead. We might also assess their confidence and enthusiasm for the task at hand, how much relevant experience and expertise they have, and their preference for autonomy or following instruction. And the immediate situation is another factor to consider – the nature of the project, the time pressure we’re under, our organisational culture, policies and processes, and how effective our group are as a team.

Susanne Madsen recent book “The Power of Project Leadership” provides us with the following matrix that consists of four quadrants for helping us understand where our primary project leadership focus is and where it should be.


It’s unlikely that we sit entirely in just one quadrant, since most of us show a sampling of all of these four boxes. However, I suggest that the best project managers are those who adopt a mainly proactive style. The key components of this leadership matrix are examined here:

  • – People Focus. On the right-hand side of this diagram, is someone with people focus. This is where we inspire people. Project managers who operate here usually have a natural tendency to focus on people. They don’t rely on their authority, but rather appeal to people by finding out what motivates each person. People-focused leaders involve team members in developing plans, resolving problems and making decisions that affect them. We might call this a “pull” They pull people with them instead of pushing or forcing them.
  • – Task Focus. On the other side of the matrix, are project managers with a task focus. People who operate on the left-hand side of the matrix – who lead through tasks –have a predominantly rational and logical mindset and are mainly focused on skills, events and processes. They make use of their logic and authority when assigning work and will often tell their team members what to do. We could say that this approach to managing people is a “push”
  • – Reactive. At the bottom of the matrix, are project managers who are reactive and who focus on immediate issues. Those who operate in a reactive manner are drawn to immediate issues as they crop up. Even if they arrive at work with a clear intention of what they need to achieve, they may not achieve it because something urgent or unexpected comes up and derails their focus. They spend much of their time following the flow of events rather than defining them and are therefore often on the back foot.
  • – Proactive. At the other end of the scale – towards the top of the matrix – we find people with a proactive mindset. Leaders who operate here are concerned with the project’s strategic vision and they take steps every day to create a successful future for the project. They set their own agenda to the benefit of the project, the stakeholders and the team. They don’t make knee-jerk decisions and only firefight when a true crisis emerges that cannot wait and that no one else can deal with. In that situation they will strive to address root causes and put in place measures to help ensure that the issue doesn’t reoccur.


Some project managers may spend considerable time in Quadrant Two. That’s unfortunate, and it can be a vicious circle, because when we’re here, we’re not able to free ourselves up to be proactive where the real results come from. We have to plan for tomorrow. Ideally, we should be placed between Quadrant Three and Four.

Some believe that Quadrant Four is the best place to be. But if we’re solely here, what about planning? Who’s going to do that? We have to have a really good mix between the two. And we have to operate at the top of the matrix, because that is where we get results. We have to be proactive. There may be times where an issue comes along, and we will have to jump down and sort it out, of course. But it shouldn’t be our normal leadership practice.

Although many of us operate in all four quadrants depending on the situation, we most likely have a tendency to spend most of our time in one of them. Many of the project managers who are not getting the results they want probably operate in Quadrant Two. They spend too much time firefighting and dealing with events and tasks that urgently need to be resolved. They are good at getting things done but will seldom be successful at implementing a strategic change initiative as long as they operate from this space.

The biggest sign that something is wrong is the lack of clear direction and the number of project issues that crop up – interpersonal or otherwise. Sometimes projects are kicked off before they are fully defined, roles and responsibilities are still unclear, team members are not equipped to do the job, stakeholders are not fully engaged, requirements are too vague, and the project purpose is not aligned to corporate strategy. Ultimately the project fails to deliver the expected benefits – or if it does deliver them, it’s a long and arduous road to getting there.

Project managers must continue to be mindful of the task side of the project and will not be effective if they operate exclusively in Quadrant Four. Project managers who operate exclusively here likely have great ideas and are good at inspiring people, but will often have no concrete plans or operational strategies to back up their vision. It’s also worth noting that even most productive project managers may spend some time in Quadrant Two. But because they have set up the project correctly from the outset and have spent a significant amount of time building their team, the time required to put out fires is greatly reduced and is not a strategy they rely on to get results.

Some of us project managers find if difficult to break out of the reactive and task-oriented pattern. We don’t see how we can free up time and energy to proactively deal with people and the strategic aspect of the project. We are caught in the management trap and we find it hard to shift our over-reliance on control and rational thinking to a more people-oriented approach of trust and openness. After all, most of us are trained in mastering the detail and in thinking logically rather than building relationships and leading people. In addition, the more-with-less culture and the emphasis on reducing expenditure may not help. In some cases such practices may increase the workload and force people into an inappropriate reactive and task-oriented mode.

Whatever approach we adopt, we need to explain what we are doing and why. We share our assessment of their level of ability and their attitude. Then show how this leads us to select a balance of support and instruction that fits their needs. We check that they understand our thinking, and are happy with it. Then, critically, we fulfil our commitment, by offering the amount of support and instruction we promised. We then keep an eye on how well our approach is working and adjust our approach if necessary.

Cross-Cultural Leadership

Culture may be defined as the learned beliefs, values, rules, norms, symbols, and traditions that are common to a group of people.

Projects today may be global in nature with team members and stakeholders spread across the world representing different cultures. Of course, cross-cultural doesn’t have to be multi-national. While Māori were presenting New Zealanders with a bicultural perspective, immigration is making the country multicultural. Today we one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world, which can either, be a source of creativity and enlarged perspectives, or a source of difficulties and miscommunication.

There are two soft skills in particular that we project managers need to master in managing cross-cultural projects – influencing skills and assertiveness skills. We need to influence the stakeholders to come to a common decision by managing their expectations, interests and requirements. And we must also learn to say “no” diplomatically if the stakeholders’ demands and requirements are unrealistic or might have unacceptable impacts to the schedule, cost, scope, quality, risk and ultimate outcomes of our project. Here are some ideas to help minimise cross-cultural issues:

  • – Upfront we decide what the default language for communication will be and all team members need to be mindful of the situation and be respectful of other team members.
  • – Written documents allow recipients to review information at their own pace. They can also translate the document into their own language if they wish. Also, a picture says a thousand words in any language. We need to encourage people to present graphically as much as possible as this is less open to misinterpretation.
  • – Set up protocols for communication such as frequency, times, and methods. One issue here may be time zone differences; aim to cater for all team members. We need to stay reachable and keep an eye on how our fellow team members are communicating with each other.
  • – Never assume that what we say or send is completely understood. A way to combat miss-communication is to ask team members to recap what it is they think we meant. A lot can get lost in translation.
  • – Use questionnaires with very direct and clear questions to get a clear picture of different situations. Some people who would shy away from speaking their mind publicly may be more honest in this format. Likewise, those that are more ostentatious in meetings may tone their responses down.

I suggest that tolerance as well as respecting the other person and their culture is most important, and we need to factor cultural risks in our planning. Some common cultural differences are summarised in the following table:


Cultural differences can either be a source of creativity and enlarged perspectives, or they can be a source of difficulties and miscommunication. To achieve project goals and avoid risks, we project managers should be culturally sensitive. Our project management can succeed in a cross-cultural environment through effective leadership, cross-cultural communication, mutual respect, and reconciliation.

Gender and Project Leadership

Gender equality in the work place is a big topic today. While there is no proof to suggest that either gender make better project managers, historically project management has been male-dominated. However, the New Zealand experience is that women are increasingly out-numbering men in educational achievement and more effectively employ soft skills than do men. Also, although men still considerably outnumber women in this profession, I notice that on the project management courses I deliver women participants invariably outnumber the men – a significantly changed participant profile from 30 years ago perhaps due in part to the expansion of project management away from predominantly engineering and construction endeavours.

Given that women are often innately more sensitive and empathic, good at multi-tasking, and better communicators, the comparative lack of women in the local project management profession seems to be a failure to thus far fully exploit our Kiwi talent pool. It could, of course, be argued that the most successful project managers are not determined by their gender and in my experience there isn’t a standard project manager type. Successful project managers come in all genders, shapes, sizes, ages, and personality types.

Leadership Ethics

Leadership is dependent on ethical choices. An ethical framework instills confidence in the project management profession and gives us project managers some guiding principles that can help us make our choices in a consistent way – consistent both for us, and consistent with the prevailing norms of our culture, society, organisation, and professional project management community. However, it’s easy to be cynical about codes of conduct as they are open to the criticism that they sometimes do no more than embody platitudes. Nevertheless, local ethical behaviours for the project management profession might include:

  • – We maintain confidentiality and never use what people disclose to us in confidence, for our own advantage or to their detriment.
  • – We do what is right, not what is easy, and keep to the comitments and promises we make.
  • – We take an impartial stance in any decision-making, treat people with equal respect, and assess all information objectively.
  • – We take responsibility for everything we do, and learn from our experience, recognising that if we avoid responsibility for a mistake – we are less likely to learn from it.

The Project Management Institute (PMI) has determined that honesty, responsibility, respect and fairness are the chief values that drive ethical conduct for the project management profession. Some organisations falsely believe that being ethical is an expensive practice that causes an organisation to forego profits. In fact, ethics is about following what is right for society, customers and stakeholders while keeping the organisation’s long-term vision in mind. The PMI Code of Ethics may be viewed at: 

Leadership Case Study

This leadership case study is based on a realistic project scenario, accompanied with 20 test questions and suggested answers with detailed explanations.


Your company has just won a contract for an outside customer. The contract is for one year, broken down as follows: R & D: six months; prototype testing: one month; manufacturing: five months. In addition to the risks involved in the R & D stage, both your management and the customer have stated that there absolutely will be no trade-offs on time, cost, or performance – all are fixed.

When you prepared the proposal six months ago, you planned and budgeted for a full time project staff of five people, in addition to the functional support personnel. Unfortunately, due to limited resources, our staff will be as follows:

Tom: An excellent engineer, somewhat of a prima donna, but has worked very well with you on previous projects. You specifically requested Tom and were fortunate to have him assigned, although your project is not regarded as a high priority. Tom is recognised as both a technical leader and expert, and is considered as perhaps the best engineer in the company. Tom will be full-time for the duration of the project.

Bob: Started with the company a little over a year ago, and may be a little “green behind the ears”. His line manager has great expectations for him in the future, but for the time being wants to give him on-the-job training as a project office team member. Bob will be full-time for the duration of the project.

Carol: She has been with the company for twenty years and does an acceptable job. She has never worked on your projects before. She is full-time on this project.

George: He has been with the company for six years, but has never worked on any of your projects. His superior tells you that he will be only half time on your project until he finishes a crash job on another project. He should be available for full-time work in a month or two. George is regarded as an outstanding employee.

Management informs you that there is nobody available to full the fifth position. You’ll have to spread the workload among the other members. Obviously, the customer may not be too happy about this. Remember; these individuals are “dotted” to you and “solid” to their line manager, although they are in your project office. The balance of power favours line management. Record your selected choice on this table and on completion of the exercise we will score your results.


Situation 1:     The project office team members have been told to report to you this morning. They have all received your memo concerning the time and place of the planning kick-off meeting. However, they have not been provided any specific details concerning the project except that the project will be at least one year in duration. For your company, this is regarded as a long-term project. A good strategy for the meeting would be:

  1. The team must already be self-motivated or else they would not have been assigned.       Simply welcome them and assign homework.
  2. Motivate the employees by showing them how they will benefit; esteem, pride, and self-actualisation. Minimise discussion on specifics.
  3. Explain the project and ask them for their input. Try to get them to identify alternatives and encourage group decision-making.
  4. Identify the technical details of the project – the requirements, performance standards, and expectations.

Situation 2:     You give the team members a copy of the winning proposal and a “confidential” memo describing the assumptions and constraints you considered in developing the proposal. You tell your team to review the material and be prepared to perform detailed planning at the meeting you have scheduled for the following Monday. During Monday’s planning meeting, you find that Tom (who has worked with you before) has established a take-charge role and has done some of the planning that should have been the responsibility of other team members. You should:

  1. Do nothing. This may be a beneficial situation. However, you may ask if the other project office members wish to review Tom’s planning.
  2. Ask team members individually how they feel about Tom’s role. If they complain have a talk with Tom.
  3. Ask each team member to develop their own schedule and then compare results.
  4. Talk to Tom privately about the long-term effects of his behaviour.

Situation 3:     Your team appears to be having trouble developing a realistic schedule that will satisfy the customer’s milestones. They keep asking you pertinent questions and seem to be making the right decisions, but with difficulty.

  1. Do nothing. If the team is good, they will eventually work out the problem.
  2. Encourage the team to continue but give some ideas as to possible alternatives.       Let them solve the problem.
  3. Become actively involved and help the team solve the problem. Supervise the planning until completion.
  4. Take charge yourself and solve the problem for the team. You may have to provide continuous direction.

 Situation 4:     Your team has taken an optimistic approach to the schedule. The functional managers have reviewed the schedule and have sent your team strong memos stating that there is no way they can support your schedule. Your team’s morale appears to be very low. Your team expected the schedule to be returned for additional iterations and trade-offs, but not with such harsh words from the line managers. You should:

  1. Take no action. This is common in these types of projects and the team must learn to cope.
  2. Call a special team meeting to discuss the morale problem and ask the team for recommendations. Try to work out the problem.
  3. Meet with team members individually to reinforce their behaviour and performance.       Let them know how many other times this has occurred and been resolved through trade-offs and additional iterations. State your availability to provide advice and support.
  4. Take charge and look for ways to improve morale by changing the schedule.

Situation 5:     The functional departments have begun working, but are still criticising the schedule. Your team is extremely unhappy with some of the employees assigned out of one functional department. Your team feels that these employees are not qualified to perform the required work. You should:

  1. Do nothing until you are absolutely sure (with evidence) that the assigned personnel cannot perform as needed.
  2. Sympathise with your team and encourage them to live with this situation until an alternative is found.
  3. Assess the potential risks with the team and ask for their input and suggestions.       Try to develop contingency plans if the problem is as serious as the team indicates.
  4. Approach the functional manager and express your concern. Ask to have different employees assigned.

Situation 6:     Bob’s performance as a project office team member has begun to deteriorate. You are not sure whether he simply lacks the skills, cannot endure the pressure, or cannot properly assume part of the additional work that resulted from the fifth position in the project being vacant. You should:

  1. Do nothing. The problem may be temporary and you cannot be sure that there is a measurable impact on the project.
  2. Have a personal discussion with Bob, seek out the cause, and ask him for a solution.
  3. Call a team meeting and discuss how productivity and performance are decreasing. Ask the team for recommendations and hope Bob gets the message.
  4. Interview the other team members and see if they can explain Bob’s poor performance. Ask the other members to assist you by talking to Bob.

Situation 7:     George, who is half time on your project, has just submitted for your approval his quarterly progress report for the work he has done on your project. After your signature has been attained, the report is sent to senior management and the customer. The report is not very clear or comprehensive, is only marginally acceptable and not at all what you would have expected from George. George apologises to you for the report and blames it upon his other project, which is in its last two weeks. You should:

  1. Sympathise with George and ask him to rewrite the report.
  2. Tell George that the report is not satisfactory and will reflect upon his ability as a project office team member.
  3. Ask the team to assist George in redoing the report since a bad report reflects upon everyone.
  4. Ask one of the other team members to rewrite the report for George.

Situation 8:     You have completed the R&D stage of your project and are entering phase II – prototype testing. You are entering month seven of the twelve-month project. Unfortunately, the results of phase I – R&D indicate that you were too optimistic in your estimating for phase II and schedule slippage of at least two weeks is highly probably. The customer may not be happy. You should:

  1. Do nothing. These problems occur and have a way of working themselves out. The end date of the project might still be met.
  2. Call a team meeting to discuss the morale problem resulting from the slippage.       If morale is improved, the slippage may be overcome.
  3. Call a team meeting and seek ways of improving productivity for phase II.       Hopefully, the team meeting will come up with alternatives.
  4. This is a crisis and you must exert strong leadership. You should take control and assist your team in identifying alternatives.

Situation 9:     Your rescheduling efforts have been successful. The functional managers have given you adequate support and you are back on schedule. You should:

  1. Do nothing. Your team has matured and is doing what they are paid to do.
  2. Try to provide some sort of monetary or non-monetary reward for your team (ie, management-granted time off or a team dinner).
  3. Provide positive feedback/reinforcement for the team and search for ideas for shortening phase III.

Obviously, your strong leadership has been effective. Continue this role for the phase III schedule.

Situation 10:   You are now at the end of the seventh month and everything is proceeding as planned. Motivation appears high. You should:

  1. Leave well enough alone.
  2. Look for further ways to improve the functioning of the team. Talk to them and make them feel important.
  3. Call a team meeting and review the remaining schedule for the project.  Look at contingency plans.
  4. Make sure the team is still focusing on the goals and objectives of the project.

Situation 11:   The customer unofficially informs you that his company has a problem and may have to change the design specifications before production begins. This would be a catastrophe for your project. The customer wants a meeting at your plant within the next seven days. This will be customer’s first visit to your plant. All previous meetings were informal and at the customer’s premises, with just you and the customer. This meeting will be formal. To prepare for the meeting, you should:

  1. Make sure the schedule is updated and assume a passive role since the customer hasn’t informed you of their problem.
  2. Ask the team to improve productivity before the customer’s meeting. This should please the customer.
  3. Call an immediate team meeting and ask the team to prepare an agenda and identify the items to be discussed.
  4. Assign specific responsibilities to each team member for preparation of handout material for the meeting.

Situation 12:   Your team is obviously not happy with the results of the customer interface meeting where the customer has asked for a change in design specifications. The manufacturing plan and manufacturing schedule must now be redeveloped. You should:

  1. Do nothing. The team is already highly motivated and will take charge as before.
  2. Re-emphasise the team spirit and encourage your people to proceed. Tell them that nothing is impossible for a good team.
  3. Roll up our shift sleeves and help the team identify alternatives. Some degree of guidance is necessary.
  4. Provide strong leadership and close supervision. Your team will have to rely upon you for assistance.

Situation 13:   You are now in the ninth month. While your replanning is going on (as a result of changes to the specifications), the customer calls and asks for an assessment of the risks in cancelling this project right away and starting another one. You should:

  1. Wait for a formal request. Perhaps you can delay long enough for the project to finish.
  2. Tell the team that their excellent performance may result in a follow-on contract.
  3. Call a team meeting to assess the risks and look for alternatives.
  4. Accept strong leadership for this and with minimum, if any, team involvement.

Situation 14: One of the functional managers has asked for your evaluation of all of her functional employees currently working on your project (excluding project office personnel). Your project office personnel are working closer with the functional employees than you are. You should:

  1. Return request to the functional manager, as this is not part of your job description.
  2. Talk to each team member individually telling them how important their input is and ask for their evaluation.
  3. As a team, evaluate each of the functional team members, and try to come to some sort of agreement.
  4. Do not burden your team with this request. You can do it yourself.

Situation 15:   You are in the tenth month of the project. Carol informs you that she has the opportunity to be the project leader for a new job starting in two weeks. She has been with the company for twenty years and this is her first opportunity as a project leader. She wants to know if she can be released from your project. You should:

  1. Let Carol go. You do not want to stand in the way of her career advancement.
  2. Ask the team to meet in private and conduct a vote. Tell Carol you will abide by the team vote.
  3. Discuss the problem with the team since they must assume the extra workload, if necessary.
  4. Talk with her and explain how important it is for her to remain. You are already short-handed.

Situation 16:   Your team informs you that one of the functional manufacturing managers has built up a brick wall around his department and all information and requests must flow through him. The brick wall has been in existence for two years. Your team members are having trouble with status reporting, but always get the information after catering to the functional manager. You should:

  1. Do nothing. This is obviously the way the line manager wants to run his department.       Your team is getting the information they need.
  2. Ask the team members to use their political behavioural skills in obtaining the information.
  3. Call a team meeting to discuss alternative ways of obtaining the information.
  4. Assume strong leadership and exert your authority by calling the line manager and asking for the information.

Situation 17:   The executives have given you a new person to replace Carol for the last two months of the project. Neither you nor your team have worked with this replacement before. You should:

  1. Do nothing. Carol obviously filled him in on what he should be doing and what is involved in the project.
  2. Counsel the new man individually, bring him up to speed, and assign him Carol’s work.
  3. Call a meeting and ask each member to explain his or her role on the project to the new man.
  4. Ask each team member to talk to this man as soon as possible and help him come on board.

Situation 18:   One of your team members wants to take a late afternoon course at the local polytechnic. Unfortunately, this course may conflict with his workload. You should:

  1. Postpone your decision. Ask the employee to wait until the course is offered again.
  2. Review the request with the team member and discuss the impact on his performance.
  3. Discuss the request with the team and ask for the team’s approval. The team may have to cover for this employee’s workload.
  4. Discuss the individually with each team member to make sure that the task requirements will still be adhered to.

Situation 19:   Your functional employees have used the wrong materials in making a production run test. The cost to your project was significant, but absorbed in a small “cushion” which you saved for emergencies such as this. Your team members tell you that the test will be rerun without any slippage of the schedule. You should:

  1. Do nothing. Your team seems to have the situation well under control.
  2. Interview the employees that created this problem and stress the importance of productivity and following instructions.
  3. Ask your team to develop contingency plans for this situation should it happen again.
  4. Assume a strong leadership role for the rerun test to let people know your concern.

Situation 20:   All projects must come to an end. Your project has a requirement for a final report. This final report may very well become the basis for follow-on work. You should:

  1. Do nothing. Your team has things under control and knows that a final report is needed.
  2. Tell your team that they have done a wonderful job and there is only one more task to do – the final report.
  3. Ask your team to meet and provide an outline for the final report.
  4. You must provide some degree of leadership for the final report, at least the structure. The final report could easily reflect on your ability as a project manager.

Suggested Solutions to Leadership Exercise

Situation 1

  1. Bad assumption. Since three of these people have not worked for you before, some action is necessary.
  2. The team should already be somewhat motivated and reinforcement will help.       Team building must begin by showing employees how they will benefit. This is usually the best approach on long-term projects. (5 points).
  3. This is the best approach if the employees already understand the project. In this case, however, you may be expecting too much out of the employees this soon (3 points).
  4. This approach is too strong at this time, since emphasis should be on team building.       On long-term projects, people should be given the opportunity to know one another first. (2 points).

Situation 2

  1. Do nothing. Don’t overreact. This may improve productivity without damaging morale. See the impact on the team first. If the other members accept Tom as the informal leader, because he has worked for you previously, the results can be very favourable. (5 points).
  2. This may cause the team to believe that a problem exists when, in fact, it does not.
  3. This is duplication of effort and may reflect upon your ability as a leader.  Productivity may be impaired.       (2 points).
  4. This is a hasty decision and may cause Tom to overreact and become less productive. (3 points).

Situation 3

  1. You may be burdening the team by allowing them to struggle. Motivation may be impacted and frustration will result.       (1 point).
  2. Team members expect the project manager to be supportive and to have ideas.       This will reinforce your relationship with the team. (5 points).
  3. This approach is reasonable as long as your involvement is minimal. You must allow the team to evolve without expecting continuous guidance. (4 points).
  4. This action is premature and can prevent future creativity. The team may allow you to do it all.

Situation 4

  1. If, in fact, the problem does exist, action must be taken. These types of problems do not go away by themselves.
  2. This will escalate the problem and may make it worse. It could demonstrate your support for good relations with your team, but could also backfire. (1 point).
  3. Private meetings should allow you to reassess the situation and strengthen employee relations on a one-to-one basis. You should be able to assess the magnitude of the problem. (5 points).
  4. This is a hasty decision. Changing the team’s schedule may worsen the morale problem. This situation requires replanning, not a strong hand.       (2 points).

Situation 5

  1. Crisis management does not work in project management. Why delay until a crisis occurs and then waste time having to replan?
  2. This situation may require your immediate attention. Sympathising with your team may not help if they are looking towards you for leadership. (2 points).
  3. This is the proper balance: participative management and contingency planning. This strategy is crucial for these situations. (5 points).
  4. This may seriously escalate the problem unless you have evidence that performance is substandard. (1 point).

 Situation 6

  1. Problems should be uncovered and brought to the surface for resolution. It is true that this problem may go away, or that Bob simply does not recognise that his performance is substandard.
  2. Immediate feedback is best. Bob must know your assessment of his performance. This shows your interest in helping him improve. (5 points).
  3. This is not a team problem. Why ask the team to do your work? Direct contact is best.
  4. As above, this is your problem, not that of the team. You may wish to ask for their input, but do not ask them to perform your job.

Situation 7 

  1. George must be hurting to finish the other project. George probably needs a little more time to develop a quality report. Let him do it. (5 points).
  2. Threatening George may not be the best situation because he already understands the problem. Motivation by threatening is not good. (3 points).
  3. The other team members should not be burdened with this unless it is a team report.
  4. As above, this burden should not be placed upon other team members unless, of course, they volunteer.

Situation 8

  1. Doing nothing in time of crisis is the worst decision that can be made.       This may frustrate the team to a point where everything that you have built up may be destroyed.
  2. The problem is the schedule slippage, not morale. In this case, it is unlikely that they are elated.
  3. Group decision-making can work but may be difficult under tight time constraints.       Productivity may not be related to the schedule slippage. (3 points).
  4. This is the time when the team looks to you for leadership. No matter how good the team is, they may not be able to solve all of the problems. (5 points).

Situation 9

  1. A pat on the back will not hurt. People need to know when they are doing well.
  2. Positive reinforcements are a good idea, but perhaps not through monetary rewards.       (3 points).
  3. You have given the team positive reinforcement and have returned authority/responsibility to them for Phase III.   (5 points).
  4. Your team has demonstrated the ability to handle authority and responsibility except for this crisis. Dominant leadership is not necessary on a continuous basis.

Situation 10

  1. The best approach. All is well. (5 points).
  2. Why disturb a good working relationship and a healthy working environment?       Your efforts may be counterproductive.
  3. If the team has done their job, they have already looked for contingencies.       Why make them feel that you still want to be in control? However, if they have not reviewed the Phase III schedule, this step may be necessary. (3 points).
  4. Why disturb the team: You may convince them that something is wrong or about to happen.

Situation 11

  1. You cannot assume a passive role when the customer identifies a problem. You must be prepared to help. The customer’s problems usually end up being your problems. (3 points).
  2. The customer is not coming into your company to discuss productivity.
  3. This places a tremendous burden on the team, especially since it is the first meeting. They need some useful guidance.
  4. Customer information exchange meetings are your responsibility and should not be delegated. You are the focal point of information. This requires strong leadership, especially during a crisis.       (5 points).

Situation 12

  1. A passive role by you may leave the team with the impression that there is no urgency.
  2. The team is motivated and has control of the project. They should be able to handle this by themselves. Positive reinforcement will help. (5 points).
  3. This approach might work but could be counterproductive if employees feel that you question their abilities. (4 points).
  4. Do not exert strong leadership when the team has already shown their ability to make good group decisions.

Situation 13

  1. This is the worst approach and may cause the loss of both the existing and follow-on work.
  2. This may result in overconfidence and could be disastrous if a follow-on effort does not occur.
  3. This could be very demoralising for the team because they may view the existing program as about to be cancelled. (3 points).
  4. This should be entirely the responsibility of the project manager. There are some situations where information may have to be withheld, at least temporarily. (5 points).

Situation 14

  1. This is an ideal way to destroy the project/functional interface.
  2. This consumes a lot of time, since each team member may have a different opinion.       (3 points).
  3. This is the best approach, since the team know the functional personnel better than you do. (5 points).
  4. It is highly unlikely that you can accomplish this.

Situation 15

  1. This is the easiest solution, but the most dangerous if it burdens the rest of the team with extra work. (3 points).
  2. The decision should be yours, not your team’s decision. You are avoiding your responsibility.
  3. Consulting with the team will gain support for your decision. It is likely that the team will want Carol to have this chance. (5 points).
  4. This could cause a demoralising environment on the project. If Carol becomes irritable, so could other team members.

Situation 16

  1. This demonstrates your lack of concern for the growth of your employees. This is a poor choice.
  2. This is fruitless. They have obviously tried this already and were unsuccessful. Asking them to do it again could be frustrating.       Remember, the brick wall has been there for two years already. (3 points).
  3. This will probably be a wasted meeting. Brick walls are generally not permeable.
  4. This will thicken the brick wall and may cause your team’s relationship with the line manager to deteriorate. This should be used as a last result only if status information cannot be found any other way. (2 points).

Situation 17

  1. This is a poor assumption. Carol may not have talked to him or may simply have given him her side of the project.
  2. The new man is still isolated from the other team members. You may be creating two project teams. (3 points).
  3. This may make the new man uncomfortable and feel that the project is regimented through meetings. (2 points).
  4. New members feel more comfortable one-on-one, rather than having a team gang up on them. The team should make briefings, since project termination and phase out will be a team effort. (5 points).

Situation 18

  1. This demonstrates your lack of concern for the growth of your employees. This is a poor choice.
  2. This is a personal decision between you and the employee. As long as his performance will not be impacted, he should be allowed to attend. (5 points).
  3. This is not necessarily a problem open for discussion. You may wish to informally seek the team’s opinion.       (2 points).
  4. This approach is reasonable but may cause other team members to feel that you are showing favouritism and simply want their consensus.

Situation 19

  1. This is the best choice. Your employees are in total control. Do nothing. You must assume that the employees have already received feedback. (5 points).
  2. Team members and their functional managers have probably counselled employees already. Your efforts can only alienate them. (1 point).
  3. Your team already has the situation under control. Asking them for contingency plans at this point pay have a detrimental effect. They may have already developed contingency plans. (2 points).
  4. A strong leadership role now may alienate your team.

Situation 20

  1. A poor choice. You, the project manager, are totally accountable for all information provided to the customer.
  2. Positive reinforcement may be beneficial, but does nothing to guarantee the quality of the report. Your people may get over-creative and provide superfluous information.
  3. Soliciting their input has some merit, but the responsibility here is actually yours. (3 points).
  4. Some degree of leadership is needed for all reports. Project teams tend to become diffused during report writing unless guided. (5 points). 

Types of Project Teams

Project management is moving away from traditional managerial hierarchies and processes to a more collaborative approach, which emphasises teamwork and cooperation.

A project team consists of a number of people committed to achieve a common goal that none can achieve alone. But there are many definitions of a team. An expanded definition is: 
A project team is a temporary group of people, with various complementary skill sets, who collaborate to achieve the project goal.

There are a variety of project team types. The following are examples of some basic project team compositions:

  • – Dedicated. In a dedicated team, the project team members are assigned to work full-time on the project. The project team may be co-located or virtual, and members report directly to the project manager. This structure is simple, as the lines of authority are clear and team members can fully focus on the project. Dedicated project teams are often seen in projectised organisations where most employees are involved in project work rather than business-as-usual, and where project managers have considerable independence and authority. In fact, business-as-usual work might be outsourced.
  • – Part-Time. Some projects are established as temporary additional work, with the project manager and team members working on the project while remaining in their existing organisations or functional areas and continuing to carry out their business-as-usual jobs. The functional managers maintain control over the team members and the resources allocated to the project, and also the project manager is likely to continue performing other management duties. Part-time team members may also be assigned to more than one project at a time. Such project teams are common within functional organisations.
  • – Partnership. A project may be established as a partnership, joint venture, consortium, or alliance of several organisations through agreements. In this structure, one organisation usually takes the lead and assigns a project manager to coordinate the efforts among the partners. Partnership-based projects can offer flexibility at lower cost. These advantages may be offset by the project manager’s diminished control over their team members. Partnership projects may be set up to undertake ventures that one partner could not afford alone, or for political and strategic reasons. New Zealand Public Private Partnership projects (PPP) currently include projects in our Education, Corrections and Transport sectors.
  • – Self-Directed. A self-directed team is not that dissimilar from any team we might assemble for a project. However, in traditional project management methodologies, there is usually top-down management. This approach has been challenged with the rise of agile project management, as more teams prefer collaborative, self-directed approaches to top-down directives. As with other project teams, self-directed teams consist of a group of skilled professionals, often employees of the same company, whether in one location or distributed. But a self-directed team is different in that these teams are designed to bring together cross-functional individuals or groups, each with their own specific field of expertise. These individuals then work towards a common goal without the usual managerial supervision, and instead rely on effective cooperation and communication. The first statement of the Agile Manifesto is “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.” “Over” does not mean “instead of” – processes and tools are still important to Agile development, but the focus is on the people.
  • – Virtual. A virtual team (also known as a geographically dispersed team, distributed team, or remote team) usually refers to a group of individuals who work together from different geographic locations and rely on communication technology in order to collaborate. A project manager who is leading a virtual team needs to accommodate differences in the culture, working hours, time zones, local conditions, and even languages. Virtual teams allow organisations to use the best people, with the appropriate skills and talents, wherever they might be located in the world. However, even with today’s technology, communication is tough compared to face-to-face interaction, where team members might catch up with one another by walking over to each other’s desks. Often, feedback from virtual colleagues is slow and communication is difficult. Without the instant feedback of body language, people are more likely to misinterpret information, which can lead to misunderstandings. Some must-haves to help ensure that virtual teams work together productively are:
  • – An unambiguous shared vision, outcomes, and sense of purpose.
  • – A face-to-face meeting at the start of the project.
  • – Regular virtual meetings with specific agendas.
  • – Clearly defined roles and responsibilities.
  • – An open culture, with each person able to ask for help from the others.
  • – Technology that’s easy to use and up to the challenge.
  • – A common repository that everyone can readily access.

Regardless of team type, project teams are comprised of people with assigned roles and responsibilities for completing the project. Team members often have varied skill sets, may be assigned full or part-time, and may be added or removed from the team as the project progresses. Although specific roles and responsibilities for the project team members are assigned, the involvement of all team members in project planning, problem solving and decision-making is beneficial. Participation of team members adds their expertise to the process and typically strengthens their commitment to the project.

Team Roles

Building successful project teams is largely about slotting the right individuals into designated team roles and fostering team spirit. One way to build the team is to use the Belbin team roles framework. Belbin’s team roles also help a team to understand ways in which it could improve performance. Belbin proposes that ideally a team should have a healthy balance of the following roles:

  1. Shaper – drives work forward and gets things done.
  2. Implementer – looks for ways to turn talk into action.
  3. Completer-Finisher – focuses on completing tasks.
  4. Coordinator – observes and manages team dynamics.
  5. Team Worker – helps the team to work effectively together.
  6. Resource Investigator – gathers resources and information.
  7. Plant – generates ideas and creative solutions.
  8. Monitor-Evaluator – critically assesses ideas and proposals.
  9. Specialist – brings expert knowledge.

While it’s beyond the scope of this book to discuss the profiles of the Belbin roles in detail, it’s suffice to mention that leadership roles are Shaper and Coordinator; delivery focused roles are Resource Investigator, Implementer and Completer Finisher; and the cerebral roles are Monitor Evaluator, Plant and Specialist.

These team roles or behavioural tendencies have been accused of oversimplification and despite having well-defined roles, the interaction between the different personalities can be a source of conflict. 
However, when used wisely to gain insight about the working of the team and identify the team strengths, weaknesses and imbalances this model can be useful. Appreciate that in a smaller team, people can, and do, assume more than one role. Of course, every team’s requirements are different – the precise role balance required will depend on the specific parameters of the project.

Project Teambuilding Process

One of the biggest challenges for the successful implementation of our project concerns the evolution of our project team. Our challenge is take a diverse group of individuals, with varying backgrounds and experience, from different functional areas, sometimes with conflicting agendas, and have them join us as their project manager who is not their direct supervisor.

Lumping individuals together makes them a group, but only when they can work to- gether productively will they be a team. A group of people are likely to pass through a number of stages of development before they can function as an effective project team. Building the team is the project manager’s responsibility. Good leaders know their strengths and weaknesses, so build their team in a way that mitigates their shortcomings and enables them to work to their strengths. Building the team is more challenging if there is a mix of permanent and contract staff, and virtual team members.

It takes time and energy to transform a group of people into a team. The individuals likely come from varied backgrounds and they may have different reasons for being involved in the project. They may represent different levels from various departments within the organisation, or come from other organisations and locations altogether. There may also be age, gender, cultural, linguistic, religious, or social diversity among team members, and it often take time for them to get to know each other and understand each other’s abilities and motivations. Also, team composition often changes during the project life as various experts are needed and then depart. And even if all team members are committed to the project, they may have different reasons for that commitment and different perspectives on what constitutes project success.


Perhaps the biggest pitfall in teambuilding in the project context is not dedicating enough time to the formation of the team. Often the expectation is that the team members will immediately cooperate and work in productive harmony, but this is seldom true.

In what has become a popular de facto standard for describing and understanding team development, psychologist Bruce Tuckman formulated the “forming, storming, norming, and performing” phases of team development that start from the time our project team first meets until the project ends. Tuckman later added “adjourning” to capture the closing phase of a project:

  1. Forming. The focus in this first stage of team development stage is on bringing the people together and establishing the team’s purpose. It can take some time to get the group defined and brought up to speed. If possible, we bring all the team members together at the start of the project when they introduce themselves and talk about their backgrounds, experiences, and skills. If the team has never worked together before, we might include some icebreaking exercises, a motivation audit, or a Briggs Personality Quiz.
  1. Storming. The storming stage is the most difficult and critical stage to pass through. The focus in this stage of development is typically on defining the basic ground rules and debating the team’s purpose and approach. Personalities likely clash, problems surface, and differing views of the project are argued over. In theory at least, this period of discord is helpful as it brings everything to a boil.
  1. Norming. In this stage, things begin to click and the team members learn how to work productively with their various styles of work to accommodate the requirements of their members and the task itself. Who does what, when, and where, and how meetings and discussions are conducted – all those details of cooperative relationships have to be worked out so that the team can communicate well and share work effectively. A team contract may be created as well as monitored by the team, where for example the agreed norms might be:
  • – We will be open and honest.
  • – We will encourage a diversity of opinions that will be heard and considered.
  • – We will decide as a team on how to communicate and resolve conflict.
  • – We will have the opportunity for equal participation.
  • – We will perform and contribute to the best of their ability.
  • – We will use only constructive criticism.
  • – We will practise participatory planning, problem solving and decision-making.
  1. Performing. At this stage, the team is in theory, well-ordered and cohesive and ready to move forward and perform at or near its potential. But note that the team had to go through a kind of trial-by-fire development process in order to get here to this most productive stage. The key point of this model is that we cannot expect project teams to perform well immediately upon their formation. It takes additional work and time to bring them up to speed and turn them into productive teams. We also need to watch for “deforming”. And given that project teams are temporary it is appropriate to add a further stage to this model.
  1. Adjourning. During this stage, the team commences to break up as their project duties are completed and products are handed over to owners and users. Most typically, contracted members go first, then core members depart. Sometimes called the “mourning” phase, which is sometimes followed by “reforming” for enhancement work or for another project. Different people will handle the team’s break up differently, but we do need to evaluate our own and our team’s performance, prepare a project report, and celebrate the work that the team has accomplished.

While the Tuckman model is popular and useful for analysing the process of team development, occasionally teams may skip stages or even pass through stages in a different sequence, and storming is not always a stage so much as a constant occurrence. And even the smoothest running projects may face the following challenges as they move towards closeout:

  • – An evaporating team. People get that “end of project” feeling and itchy feet to go with it. We should not release core team members or schedule a celebration, until all work is properly completed.
  • – Fear of no future work. Some team members may drag their feet towards the end of the project when no further work is in the offing.
  • – The 95% effect. This is where our team members get bored when almost all the work is done, and can’t find the motivation to finish off the last 5 per cent. We might then allocate the finishing tasks to a junior team member, for whom closure can be a project in itself, and a useful developmental opportunity. Or allocate closing tasks to a team member who likes finishing off and can’t stand loose ends.
  • – No formal closure. Some projects take on a never-ending characteristic as new variations pile up. It’s often better these late changes be viewed as separate product enhancement projects to be undertaken later.

As leaders we evolve with the maturity of our team. During the forming stage, we are likely to play an authoritarian role, provide instructions and guide the team members through every step. On the other hand, once the team attains the performing stage, we may then play the role of team champion, facilitating performance by way of collaborative thinking and problem solving, and act as a mentor and a coach for our project team members.

Obstacles to Project Teamwork

Bringing individuals together for a project is usually pretty easy, but having them perform as a team is difficult. Giving them tasks is easy, but obtaining their best performance is tough. Some common obstacles to productive project teamwork are:

  • – Absence of team identity. Our project team members may not feel mutually accountable to one another for the team’s goal and objectives. There may be a lack of commitment, little collaboration and effort, or conflict between the project goal and members’ personal goals. 
  • – Difficulty making decisions. Our team members may rigidly adhere to their positions during decision-making or make repeated arguments rather than introducing new information.
  • – Poor communication. Our team members may interrupt or talk over one another. There may be consistent silence from some members during meetings, allusions to problems but failure to formally address them, or false consensus when for example people keep quiet or nod in agreement without truly agreeing.
  • – Inability to resolve conflicts. Conflicts cannot be resolved when there are heightened tensions and team members make personal attacks or aggressive gestures.
  • – Lack of participation. Our team members fail to complete assignments. There may be poor attendance at our team meetings or low energy during meetings.
  • – Lack of creativity. Our team is unable to generate fresh ideas and perspectives and doesn’t turn unexpected events into opportunities.
  • – Groupthink. Our team is unwilling or unable to consider alternative ideas or approaches. There is a lack of critical thinking and debate over ideas. This may happen when our team is overly concerned about agreement. See too Chapter Eight.
  • – Ineffective leadership. Us leaders can fail teams by not defining a compelling vision for them, not delegating, or not representing multiple constituencies.

Project Teambuilding Activities

Done properly, our teambuilding encourages team members to get to know each other, improves team cohesion, teamwork, morale and engagement, makes people feel valued, helps create a fun culture, develops communication and collaboration, and builds trust.

Teambuilding activities can vary from a five-minute item during a status review meeting to an off-site, professionally facilitated experience designed to improve interpersonal relationships. Some project management activities, such as identifying and analysing project stakeholders, developing a project Work Breakdown Structure, preparing a network diagram, and identifying and analysing risks may not be explicitly designed as team-building activities, but can increase team cohesiveness when these activities are structured and properly facilitated.

It is also important we encourage informal communication and activities because of their role in building empathy, trust and establishing good working relationships. Teambuilding is of course more that getting our individual team member buy-in. Also, keep in mind that this is a process, and there will be bumps along that road. It’s important we monitor the project team’s health as they make this journey, and help them when they need help, which is part of how trust develops. Some further important considerations are:

  1. The team needs a common goal to strive for. The goal needs to be achievable, challenging and worthwhile. Shared goals are vital. They create unity of purpose.
  2. Team members need to know what is going on. Good communications to and from the team and within the team are essential.
  3. Teams need to do things together and not only their prime task, but also occasional social or perhaps sporting get-togethers with which they are comfortable. Commando weekends and expensive bonding spend-ups aren’t usually needed.
  4. Team members need to feel they can speak their minds, and share their ideas, problems, opportunities, and interests. Some conflict is helpful, but does need to be resolved.
  5. Differences are best resolved by consensus seeking techniques rather than a majority rules approach that can be divisive.
  6. All team members need to participate and be involved in deciding issues that directly affect the team. “Nothing about us, without us” is usually appropriate.
  7. Team members need to develop a healthy respect for each member’s contribution. Members must recognise their interdependence.
  8. Team members need to be team people, not strongly individual, but people who fit in. The team should have some say in its membership if practicable.
  9. Team members must recognise each other’s good performance, and give thanks, praise and encouragement when appropriate.
  10. Each team member should show respect for themselves, their team members and us as project managers.
  11. Team members need to develop a healthy attitude towards mistakes by other team members and where appropriate provide assistance. This is a reciprocal arrangement. Team members are then not apprehensive about the possibility of making mistakes. We can all learn through mistakes. Tolerance is important.
  12. Team members need to be able to cope successfully with personal conflict and feedback – both negative and positive. Individuals must also recognise their limits.
  13. The rewards of good team performance need to be shared fairly among the members of the team.
  14. Team members do not make personal attacks on other members behind their backs. Communications are open. Honest feedback is encouraged.
  15. Teams do not allow cliques to form within the team. All members are of equal importance.
  16. Team members take an interest in the health, wellbeing, morale and welfare of other team members. Empathy, caring and helping are important.
  17. The team continues to function effectively even when the leader is absent for a period.
  18. Team building strategies should focus on building cohesion within the team. This can be done through formal and informal methods of training.

Team Building Exercises

Here are three experiential learning teambuilding exercises. The Lego tower exercise is my favourite activity for teams each comprised of two to five members. It has proved to be very effective, particularly if participants’ behaviours are then analysed using the associated questionnaire. The exercise, including the critique, usually takes about 60 minutes.


Exercise One: Lego Tower

Your firm, Ogel Company Limited, has a contract to construct a self-supporting model tower with not more than 95 Lego bricks. There are more than 95 bricks in each container. Your project goal is to build the model given the following objectives:

  1. Make maximum possible profit. A price of $3,000 has been agreed with the client. Each brick used will cost you $10.
  2. Tower to be as high as possible, but at least 20 cm. The client wants a tall tower and will reward you with a bonus of $100 for every centimetre of tower height over 20 cm.
  3. You must complete entire project within 60 minutes. Each minute from the start of the exercise until you open the brick container will cost you $20 planning time.       Each minute from when you take out the bricks will then cost you $60 in construction. Minimum planning time is 15 minutes.
  4. Earthquake anxiety means that the finished tower must withstand at least 18 degrees tilt from vertical in all directions without collapsing (ie, 1:3 gradient). Periodically check tower stability with the template provided.
  5. Blue bricks, if used, may only be used at the base of the tower (ie, first two layers of bricks). Only bricks may be used in the tower.
  6. The project team leader is responsible for achieving the goal.       The leader is to employ team members as appropriate, but is not to touch the bricks at any time.
  7. The purpose of this exercise is to practise you working as a team to optimise the cost, time and quality objectives for this project.       You must meet the material, height, colour, time and stability constraints, take care with risks, yet realise maximum profit (the success criterion in this instance).

Don’t dismantle your tower until after the exercise final critique.


Time Cost


Material Cost




Profit Formula


Sky Tower Evaluation



Exercise Two: Lost at Sea

In this activity, participants must pretend that they’ve been shipwrecked and are stranded in a lifeboat. Each team has a box of matches, and a number of items that they’ve salvaged from the sinking ship. Members must agree which items are most important for their survival.

This activity builds problem-solving skills as team members analyse information, negotiate and cooperate with one another. It also encourages them to listen and to think about the way they make decisions.

What is Needed

  • – Up to five people in each group.
  • – A “lost at sea” ranking chart (see below) for each team member. This should comprise six columns. The first simply lists each item. The second is empty so that each team member can rank the items. The third is for group rankings. The fourth is for the “correct” rankings, which are revealed at the end of the exercise. And the fifth and sixth are for the team to enter the difference between their individual and correct score, and the team and correct rankings, respectively.
  • – The items to be ranked are: a mosquito net, a can of petrol, a water container, a shaving mirror, a sextant, emergency rations, a sea chart, a floating seat or cushion, a rope, some chocolate bars, a waterproof sheet, a fishing rod, shark repellent, a bottle of rum, and a VHF radio. These can be listed in the ranking chart or displayed on a whiteboard, or both.
  • – Time needed is flexible, but normally between 25 and 40 minutes.


Divide participants into their teams, and provide every individual with a ranking sheet. Ask team members to take 10 minutes on their own to rank the items in order of importance. They should do this in the second column of their sheet. Give the teams a further 15 minutes to confer and decide on their group rankings. Once agreed, they should list them in the third column of their sheets.

Ask each group to compare their individual rankings with their collective ones, and consider why any scores differ. Did anyone change their mind about their own rankings during the team discussions? How much were people influenced by the group conversation?

Now read out the “correct” order, determined by the experts at the US Coast Guard (from most to least important):

  1. Shaving Mirror. Can use it to signal your location by reflecting the sun.
  2. Can of Petrol. For signaling as petrol floats on water and can be lit by a match.
  3. Emergency Rations. Valuable for basic food intake.
  4. Plastic Sheet. Could be used for shelter, or to collect rainwater.
  5. Chocolate Bars. A handy food supply.
  6. Fishing Rod. No guarantee that you’re able to catch fish. Could be a tent pole.
  7. Handy for tying equipment together, but not vital for survival.
  8. Floating Cushion. Useful as a life preserver.
  9. Shark Repellent. Potentially important when in the water.
  10. Bottle of Rum. Useful as an antiseptic for treating injuries.
  11. Chances are that you’re out of range of any signal.
  12. Sea Chart. Worthless without navigational equipment.
  13. Mosquito Net. If shipwrecked in the Atlantic there are no mosquitoes.
  14. Impractical without relevant tables or a chronometer. 

Ranking Chart


Advice for the Facilitator

The ideal scenario is for teams to arrive at a consensus decision where everyone’s opinion is heard. However, that doesn’t always happen naturally: assertive people tend to get the most attention. Less forthright team members can often feel intimidated and don’t always speak up, particularly when their ideas are different from the popular view. Where discussions are one-sided, draw quieter people in so that everyone is involved, but explain why you’re doing this, so that people learn from it.

After everyone has finished the exercise, invite your teams to evaluate the process to draw out their experiences. For example, ask them what the main differences between individual, team and official rankings were, and why. This will provoke discussion about how teams arrive at decisions, which will make people think about the skills they must use in future scenarios, such as listening, negotiating, and decision-making skills, as well as creativity skills for thinking “outside the box.”

A common issue that arises in team decision-making is groupthink. This can happen when a group places a desire for mutual harmony above a desire to reach the right decision, which prevents people from fully exploring alternative solutions. If there are frequent unanimous decisions in any of your exercises, groupthink may be an issue. Suggest that teams investigate new ways to encourage members to discuss their views, or to share them anonymously.

Exercise Three: Egg Drop

In this classic (though sometimes messy!) game, teams must work together to build a container to protect an egg, which is dropped from a height. Before the egg drop, groups must deliver presentations on their solutions, how they arrived at them, and why they believe they will succeed.

This game develops problem solving and decision-making skills. Team members have to choose the best course of action through negotiation and creative thinking.

What is Needed

  • – Ideally at least three people in each team.
  • – Raw eggs – one for each group, plus some reserves in case of accidents!
  • – Materials for creating the packaging, such as light cardboard, cellotape, rubber bands, plastic bottles, plastic bags, straws, and scissors.
  • – Paper towels for cleaning up, if necessary.
  • – Somewhere higher up – ideally outside – that you can drop the eggs from. (If there is nowhere appropriate, you could use a stepladder or equivalent.)

Time Needed 

Around 15 to 30 minutes to create the packages. Allow enough time for the demonstrations and feedback (this will depend on the number of teams).


Put people into small teams, and ask each to build a package that can protect an egg dropped from a specified height (say, two-and-a-half meters) and slow its descent with the provided materials. Teams must drop their eggs, assess whether the eggs have survived intact, and discuss what they have learned.

Advice for the Facilitator

When teams are making their decisions, the more good options they consider, the more effective their final decision is likely to be. Encourage the teams to look at the situation from different angles, so that they make the best decision possible. If people are struggling, get them to brainstorm  – this is probably the most popular method of generating ideas within a team.

Ask the teams to explore how they arrived at their decisions, to get them thinking about how to improve this process in the future. You can ask them questions:

  1. Did the teams take a vote, or were they swayed by an individual?
  2. How did the teams decide to divide up responsibilities?
  3. Did everyone do the job they volunteered for?
  4. Was there a person who assumed the role of “leader”?

Exercise Four: Cup Stack

The Cup Stack is a fun, yet challenging activity that promotes team work.  The supplies are basic: five cups per team, string, rubber bands. The challenge is to stack the cups by only holding onto their individual string. A similar exercise requires the team to draw a shape with strings attached to a felt-tipped pen.


Team Building Practices

Whether we’re heading up a new project team or taking over the reins of an existing one, leading a project team for the first time can be daunting. Summarised here are some proven practices to help us establish and maintain a productive, collaborative team while developing our leadership talents along the way:

  • – Make time to lead. To be effective, we need to invest time in our leadership role. As a project team leader we need to be visible to the team and available to support them. If we’re predominantly tied up with our own tasks, we won’t be. So, let’s review our commitments and if need be re-negotiate our workload.
  • – Get to know the team. Leadership is largely about how we influence our team to achieve, which is something we’ll struggle to do if we don’t get to know our team members and what makes them tick. Take time to listen to them, find out what their issues and aspirations are, gather ideas, and identify potential strengths and weaknesses. Only then can we formulate a leadership approach that stands a chance of success.
  • – Communicate, communicate, and communicate. Once our team is up and running, it’s imperative to keep communication going to build relationships, solicit ideas, assess progress, and identify risks and issues. Plus, we’ll get more engagement from team members if they see us investing time in them and showing interest in their activities. In particular, make expectations and responsibilities clear so that everyone knows who’s doing what, why, and by when.
  • – Lead by example. Think about the behaviours we want and expect from our team members and be sure to exhibit those behaviours ourselves. Like it or not, we’re role models, so what we say and do will impact the team’s work habits and attitudes. But do be ourselves, since if we attempt to fake it, we’ll soon be unmasked and lose credibility and trust.
  • – Be open and honest. Treat everyone on the team fairly, with respect and without favouritism and we’ll find those behaviours returned. Extend the same courtesy to other stakeholders as well. Also, don’t undermine or criticise other individuals in front of the team, and do make it clear we’re all there to work towards project success.
  • – Reward the good and learn from the bad. Most people like to be recognised for their good performance, and some thrive on recognition. Be quick to recognise a good performance and reward it where appropriate. We might not be in a position to hand out pay raises and promotions but a little bit of verbal praise goes a long way in showing our team we are both aware of and appreciative of their achievements. And be equally as timely in tackling poor performance issues. The longer we leave them, the tougher they’ll be to fix. Look for the best in people and understand that mistakes will happen. If we need to have a challenging conversation, do it in private with no public floggings. And don’t try to win a popularity contest. Not all our feedback and initiatives will be well received, and if we concentrate more on being everyone’s friend instead of being a strong leader, project work will suffer, as will our integrity.
  • – Delegate. Trust the team to do its job. Being a leader doesn’t mean we’re there to do other people’s work for them. Be clear on what’s expected and allow them to get on with it. Remember to also set work priorities. See Chapter Five.
  • – Be decisive. Don’t procrastinate. Be bold and grasp the nettle when we need to. It’s all too easy to defer the difficult decisions, but often costly for the job in hand and how we’re viewed as a leader. If things go wrong, take a breath, gather the information we need to make an educated decision and make it. Don’t be afraid to seek help. See Chapter Eight.

As project managers our most valuable resources are our team members and we must excel at leading these people.

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