Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Creating a culture of belonging on project teams

Just as politicians pay close attention and respond to the opinions of constituents, so must project managers when leading a project. For a project to be successfully delivered, it's critical to get collective action from a group of people who may have very different interests. Easier said than done.


Because team member opinions vary regarding the technical approach, structure, content, and outcome of the project, project managers may spend much more time communicating with team members than doing any another type of work in the project. The key to achieving collective action and creating a sense of belonging among team members is to engage them in playing an active role throughout the project process.

Team member opinions come with a host of beliefs, biases, attitudes, and positions.  The first step in moving toward engaging team members is gaining insight into their Perception and Expectations.  Spending time with team members, asking them questions, listening to their thoughts and experiences, and getting their perspective creates the opportunity to deepen their commitment and sense of belonging.  It’s also important for project managers to understand that emotions and thoughts are close, interactive partners that need care and feeding throughout the project for team members to feel they are part of the process. 

Gaining understanding of their Perception and Expectations is a component of the second step which is The Exchange with team members.  Prior to The Exchange, project managers must carefully consider what needs to be accomplished to have time together considered well spent and what the respective roles should be during The ExchangeWhether engaging team members to participate in solving a problem, giving advice, determining project direction, or brainstorming an approach, the following are simple steps to use during The Exchange that will give team members a deeper sense of belonging and being part of the project process:


  • Listen and probe with objective, reflective, and interpretive questions; paraphrase for clarity.
  • Establish mutual agreement on the issue/opportunity.
  • Collaborate to identify a solution.
  • Determine the steps needed to implement the solution.
For the first two steps to be effective, team members and project managers must commit to the third step of the process: Follow-through. It requires project managers and team members assume accountability, make adjustments throughout the project, and ask for help as needed. It’s also important to remember holding someone else accountable requires being accountable, which means doing what you say you’re going to do.

Working to understand team member Perception and Expectations, using the steps of The Exchange, and practicing Follow-through create a sense of belonging, which supports the team acting in a collective manner.  


It’s been said that people own what they help to create, and that means actively engaging team members at regular intervals to provide input and perspective.  Consensus won’t always be achieved, but if these steps are observed, a project team culture of belonging will be felt within the team and visible to project stakeholders.

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