Why I won’t stop treating Projects as communities

What would you do if you were told to stop treating your project team like people?

Yeah, if you could stop treating your project team like people, that'd be great

I am a firm believer in mentorship to help grow my personal skills.  I will jump at every opportunity to sit down with someone more senior than myself, especially if they have worked with me, to solicit feedback on how to be more successful.

During one of the last sessions that I had with my Program Manager, I was reviewing some communication issues that I was having with a senior technical lead.  Without getting into too much detail, the senior technical lead was maliciously complying, and I kept letting him get away with it for fear of losing his focus on some fairly critical tasks.

We first focused the discussion around the PMI competency development framework, and how this was a challenge in the Personal Competencies area.  I acknowledged this, but it still didn’t help me understand how to move forward.

The next piece of advice that I was given really put me off – stop treating your projects like a community.  Immediately I had visions of Egyptian Task Masters, slave drivers, and Bill Lumberg.  We went back and forth as to what this truly meant, and ultimately settled on that I should first start treating my project team like swap-able widgets, and next stop trying to establish a productive and collaborative culture amongst my project team.  The implication was basically that I was being too laissez-affaire with team interactions, that I needed to dictate who was doing what, and needed to ride them to ensure that they didn’t break the schedule.

While I do not disagree that I was being too laissez-affaire, I disagree that I should stop trying to actively create a productive and collaborative culture with the project team.

My Program Manager’s broad stroke advice to stop treating projects like communities would be a very fast way for me to isolate myself from my team – both present and future – and sink the general productivity of the project team as a whole.  As soon as I stop treating the team members like adults, I would be sure to lose all gains that had been previously made.  There is a myriad of academic work that shows that the best way to improve productivity is to boost employee affiliation, and a whole lot more academic research and anecdotal evidence that shows that creating culture starts at the top.

Resolving this issue of malicious compliance would not be solved by stopping treating my project team as a community, but rather would be solved by working to build trust with a member of the community that did not reflect the values of the community.   First, I sought out the other project managers that he was working with to understand what was on his plate; next, I met with him to explain my frustrations and why his actions were negatively impacting the project; and finally, I worked with him to develop a plan as to how to rebuild the trust of the team and move forward on this project.

It was natural for me to be frustrated with the situation, but without explicitly discussing our shared values and being deliberate in creating a positive team culture, it was as much my fault as it was his.  I will not stop treating my project teams as communities, but will forever be more deliberate in working to establish a culture that I am proud of.

Whether you work in a functional, strong-matrix, or projectized organization, now is the best time to actively work on improving the culture of your project.  Now is the time to create that perfect community.


About Jason H Zalmanowitz
I am a nerdy Management Consultant / Project Manager with a MBA, have spent the majority of my career working for consulting firms in Calgary, and I race in triathlons because of (and thanks to) my wife. As a Project Manager, I have managed field implementations, strategy development projects, software development projects, and hardware implementation projects. As a consultant, I have helped companies articulate how and why they are going to implement and interact with sustaining technology to support their business.

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