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Are You Really Developing Your Project Team?

We all know that developing the project team is a responsibility of the project manager. In broad strokes, we know that “developing the project team improves the people skills, technical competencies, and overall team environment and project performance”. (Project Management Book of Knowledge, 4th Ed., pg 230).

We know that it’s important to put some effort into the team dynamics. We plan team building activities, and can find a plethora of ideas on how to use team building events to improve communication, build trust and learn to solve problems and make decisions as a group. If you have ever been lucky enough to engage is some high quality team-building exercises, you know that they really can provide some value. And sometimes we hold team-building exercises as a way to reward the team for hard work and a job well done – just a chance to let people who have toiled together, through moments of panic and hours of boredom, kick back and have some fun.

But in the heat of the battle, it’s easy to forget that the project manager actually has a responsibility to develop the individual project team members. There’s not so much information available on this topic for the intrepid project manager. And if you are working in a matrixed organization, you may not have much support from your management for this, either. After all, these people don’t belong to you; you are just borrowing them temporarily.

But showing an interest in the skills of your team members and taking on the responsibility for helping them increase their capabilities is an important competency for a project manager. Having a reputation as someone who teaches people things they need to know, regardless of the reporting relationship, can raise your profile within your organization and make you the project manager that in-demand resources want to work with. We all remember the managers and mentors who have helped us in our own careers: the people who gently helped us see an area for improvement, or who showed us another way to look at an issue, or who really encouraged us to pursue an interest or talent we didn’t realized we had.

One way to help your individual team members grow is to look at the work you do as a project manager and think about what “cross-training” opportunities exist. Have a resource who is not comfortable speaking in public? Ask them to take the responsibility of giving a 5 minute update on the project in the next department meeting, instead of doing it yourself.

Have a team member that can’t see the big picture? Ask them to work on the project plan with you, and demonstrate all the work that goes into identifying and managing task dependencies, so they can begin to see how the project tasks are interrelated.

How about someone who needs to be more comfortable with conflict? Invite them to join you in a meeting where tough decisions will be made, show them how you prepare, and let them see how you handle yourself during the conversation. Debrief with them afterwards about what parts of your performance you were happy with and areas you need to work on. Ask for their feedback on your performance and discuss how they might have handled it differently.

In light of the absence of techniques and templates to help a project manager actually develop the members of their project team, I was delighted to find a brief article with some real hints for a project manager who wants to know what to do to develop their project team members. Thanks to D*** Grimes in the UK for writing this piece and posting it to ProjectSmart.UK.CO,

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