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The Psychology that can be beneficial for the Project Managers

abhishek mishra careers leadership Jan 18, 2021
PMO Leader training, learning psychological safety

Prologue

Those who are carried out with routine work in a traditional organization can only work more or less with the same colleagues starting from their training period to retirement. During this period, they know them well: the good sides, bad sides, and their complete characteristics. With each passing year, this long drawn relationship helps draw an order and team structure in the department and learn to deal with other colleagues individually.  In this article, I will explain the psychology that can be beneficial for a project manager and how it has helped and will help in the future.

Challenge

New tasks are continually being mastered in the Project. Different tasks always required a different set of competencies, and the Project team is gathered to ensure they meet the upcoming challenges and the common goal. Working together as a team is becoming increasingly popular and sometimes seems to be challenging with remote working. If the project team is continuously being reorganized, there are many chances that team members will not get to know each other so well, whereas they may end up working together. The risk of misunderstandings and conflict will indeed increase considerably in such conditions.

Understandings

Dealing with such a superficial relationship within a project is an obvious task for a Project Manager. The PMs who can understand the psychology behind such a situation will always have the upper hand. Because they can better assess the behavior of their team members, and whenever required, they can route it in a positive direction. It is about how people react to a particular situation or certain conditions like the following.

  • How people react when they see each other for the first time?
  • How differently can people react to unfamiliar conditions?
  • How do the project team's behavioral norms establish themselves very quickly?
  • How does a Project team develops a group and able to deliver successfully?
  • How does corporate culture influence project work?
  • How can personal conflicts become a disruptive factor in a Project?

Ideally, a successful Project manager is expected to deal with all the mentioned aspects and sometimes more of them with respect to human behavior. If they deal with such human behavior and take them into account in their Project Management and route it accordingly, there is nothing called a failure for such PMs. So, Project Managers should be well-versed with the Project Management processes and methodologies and the psychological aspect of human cooperation as this is one of the critical factors that can seamlessly show success to the entire Project Team.

Learning Styles within the Project team

Usually, a Project Manager mastered the new and existing tasks in a Project. The new tasks come with their own set of set challenges, obviously the tasks performed for the first time, then one will not be knowing how to achieve the same task effectively, and the risk associated with the task will also be unknown. So, one could always find many similarities between how to teach a new skill and how to approach a project task. It's vital for a Project Manager to know and understand how the learning processes work and the different working styles available in such conditions. The learning process and available working styles can provide hints and explanations for the project group's behavior. Because some people may approach new tasks by reflecting and observing, and some may prefer an active experimental approach.

Kolb's Learning Style

I have been reading a lot of artifacts, theories, and principles written by David Kolb. David Kolb published his learning styles in 1984, and many psychologists have used this to study their clients' behavioral and working patterns. To describe my learnings, I would follow a similar approach that Kolb follows. He uses two variables; the first one deals with the Process, like how we approach a new task. This task has two endpoints. The first one is "Active experimentation," and the second one is "Reflective observation." The second variable deals with what we think of a new task and how we feel we can carry it out. It also has two endpoints. The first one is "concrete experience," and the second one is "abstract concepts." According to David Kolb, the human mind can not simultaneously deal with the two opposing and contrasting terms. So, the reason we always decide on one endpoint for each of the variables. That is why he has come up with a matrix with four fields. Each of the boxes or areas represents a learning style created from the two of his variable.

Blending Kolb's Different Learning Style

The first learning style is called Discoverer and also be called Diverger. In this learning style, people can look at a particular task from different perspectives. Here the task bearer will prefer to watch rather than try something out in practice. The Second learning style is called Thinker and also known as Assimilator. In this learning style, people prefer to have a logical approach, as they prefer to learn with ideas and theoretical concepts and find it useful while interacting with people and teams. The third learning style is called the Decision Maker and also known as the Converger. In this learning style, people prefer to solve problems practically. They are more inclined towards the technical specifications and the functions that in people and teams. The fourth learning style is called the Doer and is also known as the Accommodator. In this learning style, people prefer to learn by putting their different approaches directly into practice and trying them out. These people don't want to waste their time thinking or brainstorming various ideas and solutions in-depth.

Advantage of knowing the Team Member's Learning Style

If a Project Manager knows their project team member's learning style, it always gives them the advantage to classify their behavior while dealing with new or previously unknown tasks. In addition to this, if a Project Manager knows a team member's learning style, it can help the Project Manager provide better support and guidance in person. It can help the Project Manager, as they can pass on the new information in a way that will best suit the learning style of the particular individual. Knowing the team member's learning style will always be advantageous because different learning styles work better in various phases of a Project. Like Imagination works wonders when working on the Project scope, reflection works brilliantly during the planning, and hands-on mentality works excellently during project execution. It always emphasizes helpful behavior when a Project Manager is aware of such varieties of learning styles.

The best model for Team Development

When a team is formed, or a Project team is formed, it is apparent that it will have multiple arrays of personalities. To form a Project team, one has to move through several phases that are characterized by different behaviors. One of the best-known model to develop a Project is Dr. Bruce Tuckman's model. This model has described four phases that every team should follow and go through before a high-performance team is formed. Human behavior always has a strong influence over anything, so team development can't follow through this more strictly. It is the main reason why a team jumps back and forth in the phases where they see the overlap and where some regression is expected. If a new team member is being added to the team or the team's changes happen, the team is always reset to the earlier phase.

Phases of building or forming a Team

In the above-mentioned sections, I have already discussed that every team must go through various phases when a team is newly formed. Now let's discuss those phases in detail, which a team should ideally go through before becoming a high-performance team.

  • Forming: When a team is formed, usually all members feel energetic and excited. Most of the members will be happy to have been selected within the team, and they hope to have a joyful and enjoyable team experience. It is one side of a coin; on the other side, they would be thinking about how they will be taken in the team? How will they be accepted within the team? And if their performance will able to help the team in meeting the requirement and standards. Usually, many questions are expected from the team member during this phase because they will be uncertain about their roles and responsibilities. At the early stage of the team forming, all these questions will be redirected to the Project Manager because, naturally, they are the first point of contact for the entire team during this phase.
  • Storming: During this phase, it's will be obvious that the initial uncertainty would have been shed. So, the team member's entire focus will shift from the actual activities and raise the question of belonging to the team members' behavior. In this phase, the other team member's expectations and performances will become the center of attention. Conflict is usual to happen during this phase as each team member begins to express their opinions freely and openly. So, the risk of having the clash of the expectation is expected, and conflicts will also be approached openly during this phase.
  • Norming: Once the team settled down with the conflicts, and a common understanding has been established, an atmosphere of satisfaction and belonging will form. In this phase, all the Project team members will be able to leave their conflicts behind, and they will be started focusing on the common goal. Having common goals in the entire team's mind, they will not be focusing on their individual goals anymore. Especially in this phase, the Project team members will accept the various weaknesses and strengths of their team members and have also developed an understanding of their roles and responsibilities.
  • Performing: There are many possibilities that all the teams will not be reaching the High-Performing phase. Because to reach this stage, they need to accept the group norms and also could be able to establish a balance distribution of roles. All the project team members must have accepted their co-worker's behavior and only focused on the common goal. Apart from all this, it is vital to have constructive feedback and a communication culture. If all these conditions are met, then Project team members can attain the fourth phase, i.e., performing, and in this phase, all of them will be highly motivated and can work independently towards the common goal.

Integrating Dr. Bruce Tuckman's Model with Project Management

The team development model by Dr. Bruce Tuckman can provide additional information to the Project Managers, especially on the co-worker, cooperation, and interaction within the team. This model will help the Project Managers and the leaders adopt the appropriate leadership behavior and demonstrate them according to different phases. I will explain how a Project Manager or a Leader can demonstrate their leadership behavior in accordance with various phases.

  • Forming: During this phase, Project Managers being the front Line leaders, can set up the team's direction. Activities and expectations of the results and standards should be communicated openly to everyone. In this phase, Project Managers are rarely shown open and direct resistance to the leadership style. Project Managers can be an acting chairperson during this phase and show their support towards the team accordingly. Being an acting chairperson, they can structure and organize the meetings.
  • Storming: The Storming phase can be strenuous for the Project Managers because it is the phase where they will have to justify their decisions, organizations, and their leadership style to the entire project team. They should be in full control of this chaotic phase, and at the same time, they should be open to listening to the Project team members to intervene in case of conflicts. It's practically impossible for the Project Managers to incorporate all the ideas, suggestions, and recommendations of their team member into the planning, but Project Managers can gain confidence by showing their interest in listening to their team members. It gives a feel to the entire project team that they are being heard. In this phase it is not essential to explain the precise goals and activities, but it is important to describe the way there.
  • Norming: Till this phase, the team would have gone through a transformation of two phases where they become part of the Process and structure, and the conflicts would have been resolved by now. In this phase, the team will agree to accept the common goals and try to work together to achieve them. During the phase, the Project Managers will start withdrawing themselves, and it's when they will be delegating certain responsibilities and activities to the Project team members. In this phase, the Project team members are no longer distracted by the conflicts and relationships, so they can able to focus more and start tackling more complex activities. During this phase, the Project Manager must begin working with the team to motivate them as a whole and as individuals. Project Managers can also continue to engage the project team members in the deep-dive analysis, decision-making, and long-term planning.
  • Performing: This phase team has become independent to work efficiently in every aspect towards the common goal. This is the phase where the Project Manager can stop focusing only on the team. During this phase, the Project Manager can ideally shift their focus to the outside world because Project Managers should set goals for the team and share their vision with the leaders for what can be achieved in the future. These visions not only the Project results but also includes the performance of the Project team. Project Managers also work as a pathfinder for the Project team by tackling external obstacles and clarifying its organizational difficulties. This will help the project team to attain their activities and common goals by staying focused.

Conclusion

Human behavior or psychology is present in the everyday life of a Project Manager. Unfortunately, this has not gained the attention that is required to have in Project Management education. David Kolb's learning style and DR. Bruce Tuckman's team development theory are the two best examples of a psychological model that can help the project manager understand their team, resolve conflicts, and have improved interactions with the project team. While writing this article and doing my research on human psychology, I have realized that people won't behave the way a psychologist has predicted, So I have presented this article based on the general ideas. It can also help the Project Managers and the aspiring Project Managers learn from these psychological models. As a Project Manager, I have adapted these models and ideas, and it lies with every other Project Manager as to how they adapt these models and ideas. To get the full and maximum results, one must adapt these ideas and models in every interaction and stage within the project team.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are my own. I have articulated this article based on my 15+ years of experience in Project Management. I have read a book by David A. Kolb on "Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning" and another book by Dr. Bruce Tuckman on "Forming Storming Norming Performing". While reading their books, I realized that these psychological models could help Project Management and Project Managers. You will also find they expressed that these models can be beneficial for any verticals in the mentioned books. This article is an expression of my viewpoints and perception through words. Still, at the same time, I am curious to hear from others, so anyone who wishes to criticize me, share their thoughts and opinion, they can do so by commenting on this article. I would like to see someone criticizing me rather than agreeing with me without understanding my point of view 😊