Project Manager's Role in Team Development - Project Management

Project managers have a tough job. Since projects exist to create a unique product or service, every new project they undertake puts their reputation on the line. Even when the projects are similar in size and scope to projects they've worked on in the past, they're still a different animal with different risks, outcomes, and project teams. Every new project has the potential to succeed or fail, and every team has the potential to be an effective team functioning at the performing stage or to be a dysfunctional team.

One of your roles as project manager includes motivating your team members and encouraging the most effective performance from your team as possible. Everyone likes to be recognized for a job well done, and recognition is one of the motivators that drives people and teams to perform at their best. In the next section, we'll look at what motivates team members and how to appropriately reward the behaviors we'd like to see repeated.

Rewarding Experiences

Why do people do the things they do? How do we encourage positive behaviors,outstanding performance, and team collaboration from our team members? Get out your magic wand…what, you don't have one of those? Then the next best thing is to learn some of the basic theories of motivation, including how to reward and recognize team members to help drive your team to perfection. We'll start with a definition of motivation.


Motivation is the reason we do the things we do. Motivation is what encourages people to work more efficiently and to produce better results. Project teams that are highly motivated will quickly progress to the performing stage of team development. Team motivation is partly derived by giving the team members clear expectations, clear procedures, and appropriate rewards for their efforts. Teams that receive these things will outperform teams that don't every time.

Motivation is the result of some type of incentive that drives us to perform, and the incentive comes in two forms: intrinsic motivators and extrinsic motivators. Intrinsic motivators are personal things internal to the individual that drive them to perform. For example, some people are naturally driven to achieve. It's a personal matter for them to be the best they can be and perform at their best all the time. They receive personal satisfaction from doing the best job they can. There isn't anything external that drives them to perform like this; it comes from inside.

intrinsic motivators

Motivators that are specific to an individual or are derived from within the individual to spur them to perform.

Extrinsic motivators are typically external to the individual and are usually material in nature. Promises of bonuses, raises, stock options, vacations, and so on are examples of extrinsic motivators. The person performs the task for the benefit of receiving something they perceive has value.

extrinsic motivators

Incentives that are external to the individual such as money, gifts, and rewards that spur them to perform.

Rewards and recognition are types of extrinsic motivators. Let's look at some examples.

Rewards and Recognition

Rewards and recognition at both the individual level and the team level are important team motivators. They are a way for the project manager to encourage desirable behavior and performance from team members.

Rewards and recognition should be in proportion to the accomplishment or achievement. I used to have a boss who had this saying written across the top of his office white board: "Never confuse activity with accomplishment." I don't know the author of this saying, but the message is clear. Being busy isn't the same thing as being productive. You may have team members who put in long hours and seem to have a flurry of activity going on around them all the time. That doesn't mean they're productive. You should gauge the productivity of all team members according to their task assignments, the goals associated with those assignments, and their due dates and budget constraints if they apply. Other softer skills apply as well, such as innovative problem solving, good communication skills, team participation, and so on.

Linking Rewards to Performance

You always want to link rewards to the desired performance. Perhaps your project is time constrained. If so, you'll want to reward team members for meeting the key deliverable dates. If you reward employees for bad behavior (don't laugh, I've seen it happen), you'll get more of that bad behavior, and you'll soon find other team members repeating that bad behavior.

Let's say you've made it clear that the project is time constrained and that you intend to reward employees for meeting key dates. Kit is a team member who consistently meets her dates on time or earlier than scheduled. Linda consistently misses her dates by a day or two, sometimes longer, because of poor work habits. However, you're a really nice project manager so you let Linda's dates slide, granting her a grace period time and again. When the other team members catch on to what's happening, they don't take their due dates seriously.

They've learned that the rewards are not linked to the performance you've specified (meeting key dates) because due dates are extended when their work is late. Be certain the performance you're rewarding is the performance you want to see more of in the future, and make sure to reward consistently and without showing favoritism every team member who performs accordingly.

You'll also want to make certain that the reward is realistic. Let's say you promised your team members bonus checks of ten thousand dollars at the end of the project, provided it's delivered earlier than scheduled while still meeting all the project and quality requirements. If the team members know up front that there is no way the company could afford or ever would reward their employees with bonus checks like this, the promise of a bonus does nothing for them. In other words, the motivator is useless. It has no impact on their performance because they know they aren't going to receive it. However, let's say that your company is known for generously rewarding employees on past projects for a job well done. Then the reward is realistic and team members will work with the expectation that the reward will be granted if they meet the criteria.

Note:Recognize achievements, even small ones, with appropriate rewards. Recognizing employees with rewards that are linked to performance is a powerful motivator.

You'll have to use your own judgment when determining what rewards are appropriate. Base your judgment on the cultural atmosphere at your organization, past rewards, and the complexity of the accomplishment. For example, at one organization, meeting a milestone earlier than planned may have the project manager handing out gift certificates for a latte at the local coffee shop, while another organization may approve of your giving out gift certificates for a dinner at a nice restaurant.

The important thing here is that you don't give someone a reward that far surpasses the achievement or effort they expended. Ten thousand dollar bonus checks may be perfectly appropriate for a two-year project that's expected to bring in millions in revenue to the company and was completed four months ahead of schedule. Bonus checks of this size probably wouldn't be appropriate for delivering a small project with minimal benefits to the company.

Be aware that your company policies may limit the types and amounts of rewards you can give. If policy dictates that you can give no more than one hundred dollars per employee per project, you'll have to work within that limit. It doesn't mean that you should hold back rewards because you think they're too small or don't measure up to the level of effort the employees expended.

Recognition and reward are good motivators even if the reward is small. The fact that you took the time to thank the employees and recognize them means a lot.

If you work in an organization that prohibits monetary rewards, consider some of these ideas to use as rewards. These are good rewards to use for small achievements that you want to recognize as well:

  • Paid-time-off certificates
  • Leave-early or come-late-to-work passes
  • Hand-written thank-yous from the project manager
  • Printed and framed certificates of achievement (you can create these on your computer)
  • E-mail congratulations addressed to the recipient and copied to the other team members, the project sponsor, and management staff when appropriate
  • Catered lunch at a project team meeting
  • Decorating the employees cube with a "You're a Star Performer" theme

Warning:When publicly recognizing individuals, consider preferences and cultural differences. Some people do not like to be recognized in front of others and would prefer that the project manager approach them one-on-one. Others love to have the attention of the group lavished on them. Be aware that some cultures do not encourage individual recognition, so these folks may find it difficult to accept a personal reward.

Employee Recognition

Having employees recognize one another's accomplishments or acknowledge the help they've received from someone else is another good motivation technique. There are several ways you can set this up. Employees can nominate each other via a form or e-mail that explains what the recognition is for and how the team member helped them. The project manager can announce these once a month in team meetings and congratulate each person for their participation and help. Or you could use a designated object, like a trophy, a decorative shoe, a stuffed animal, etc., to represent a job well done. The idea here is that employees recognize outstanding performance by presenting one another with the trophy and a note that describes the accomplishment. The recipient of the award holds on to it for a set period of time, perhaps a month, and then they must pass it on to another team member in the fashion they received it.

Rewards and recognition can be used to help influence employee behavior and to encourage team members to perform at their best. If you're not particularly good at rewarding and recognizing team members yourself, consider appointing someone else with this duty so that it doesn't get swept under the carpet altogether. There are dozens of books available on motivation and employee behaviors if you're really interested in learning more about this topic. As the project manager, you have to win the respect and trust of every new team you lead, and that takes time. If you're a great project leader, your reputation will precede you, but it isn't a guarantee that folks on the new team will instantly respect and trust you. They need time to form their own opinions.

Leadership is granted to project managers by default—they've been appointed by an executive sponsor to lead the project. But it doesn't mean that they are a leader or that team members will respect their leadership. Project teams typically have informal leaders as well. You'll want to firmly establish yourself as the leader of the project or else the informal leaders will have all the control behind the scenes. We'll talk about how to do that in the next section. But before we get into some specific things you can do to win the respect and trust of your team members, let's look at the different forms of leadership power.

Leadership Power

Project managers, leaders, senior managers, team members, and others use power to influence others to do things or perform tasks in specific ways. Each of us uses different forms of power at different times depending on our personality, personal values, and the company culture. You don't have to be in a position of power to be a leader. Teams may have informal leaders who wield a lot of power. Conversely, a senior manager who waves a magic wand over some unsuspecting team member and says "Poof, you're a project manager!" does not make that person a leader.

There are several different types of leadership power. We'll explore each of them and their characteristics in more depth below.

Reward power: We talked about rewards and recognition in a previous section. Reward power is the ability to grant incentives or bonuses to team members who perform their job functions well. Team members respond to this type of power by performing the desired behaviors for the reward (provided the reward is realistic and is linked to the performance, as explained earlier).

Punishment power: Punishment power involves the use of penalties or consequences as a threat for not performing up to expectations. This is the kind of power we talked about way back in Chapter, "Building the Foundation," when the ruler of the kingdom picked a "volunteer" to act as the project manager. The volunteer accepted the role out of fear of some dreadful form of punishment that, fortunately, project managers don't have to face today. Sometimes good project managers will be required to use punishment power when team members are out of line or not performing the duties of their job. Work with your manager and human resources department to determine how to appropriately use this type of power in your organization.

Expert power: This type of power comes about as a result of a person's knowledge, or perceived knowledge, of a subject. The person being influenced believes the expert knows what they're talking about and will go along with the direction and decisions made by the expert because of their knowledge. Special skills and abilities are another way people receive expert power. Be careful with this one because some people come across as experts because of the confidence they show when they speak about the subject or what their body language conveys, but they aren't experts at all. They may have book knowledge but no hands-on knowledge. If you have doubts about what someone like this is telling you, especially if they're providing technical leadership or advice on your project, get a second opinion.

Referent power: Referent power is the power team members give one another because of the respect they have for the individual. One member of the team may be highly respected and trusted by the others and as a result is given referent power by their teammates—when this person voices an opinion, the others listen. Project managers who are held in high regard by the project team receive referent power from the team members. Project managers who have referent power are powerful indeed, because they have the most loyal of all project teams and the members will do most anything the project manager asks of them.

I've had the opportunity to operate under each of these types of power, and referent power is by far my favorite form of leadership power. Referent power isn't something you can manufacture. It happens as a result of the rapport you have with the team and their respect for you and your abilities.

Gaining Trust and Respect from Team Members

Have you ever worked in an organization where almost all the people working within one department seemed to be unhappy, disgruntled, and particularly critical of others? I've witnessed this phenomenon a couple of times in my career, and I've come to attribute this to two factors: the leader at the head of the department and lack of communication from and to the leader, which goes back to the leader at the top. The common denominator here is the leader. Team members emulate the behavior they see coming from you. So it's important for you to set the example you'd like your team members to follow. If you're typically critical of others, have a poor customer service attitude, and never listen to team member input or suggestions, you can expect your team members to act the same way. If you treat your team members with respect and value their input and participation on the project, they will likely treat you and others the same way.

Examine your own organization to see if this isn't true. Departments or teams with dynamic leaders who value their employees, communicate well, have strong customer service ethics, and are good decision makers are usually the ones with the teams that are the most productive and satisfied with their work. When new team members who have sour attitudes are introduced into teams like this, they don't usually last long and will leave on their own accord. It's no fun to have sour attitudes by themselves, so they move on.

There are several things you can do to gain the respect and trust of your team members. A nice benefit of gaining respect and trust of your team members is motivation. Teams that respect their project managers will usually be motivated to perform their best because of their respect for you. Let's look at some of the tactics you can put into practice today to help build trust and respect with your teams.

Do what you say you will do. You've probably heard this one a thousand times but it's worth repeating. Nothing builds trust and respect faster than doing what you said you would do. If you're the forgetful type, write the promise down. Make an appointment on your calendar to give yourself the time or to remind yourself to complete the promised action. This goes hand-in-hand with follow-through. When someone brings an issue to you and you agree to handle it, do just that and get back to the person with a response.

Lead by example. As stated earlier in this section, team members will mimic your behavior. Act the way you'd like to see your team members act.

Communicate and then communicate some more. Pay particular attention to the active listening skills. Don't do all the talking. Get input from your team members and consider their suggestions. If they aren't good suggestions, and some of them won't be, still thank them for their input and ask them to keep the ideas coming.

Maintain an open-door policy. This one goes with communication. If team members find you unapproachable or hard to talk to, they won't be eager to alert you of problems or issues on the project. Let folks know that you encourage them to talk with you, and then make yourself available. (Remember the "do what you say you'll do" action item!)

Be honest. Being honest builds credibility with your team members, and they'll quickly develop respect for you as a leader when they find out you are a truth teller. Sometimes being honest means that you have to deliver bad news. That's okay. Don't sugarcoat the bad news. Lay out the facts for the team, let them know the alternatives being considered, and ask them for their input if appropriate. And by all means, keep confidences. If your team members feel that everything they tell you is going to make the rounds at wildfire speed, you'll end up being the last to know of problems and issues on the team.

Be on time. When you set up meetings, start them on time. When you agree to attend meetings others have set up, show up on time. This shows a respect for others' time. Some managers think showing up late to meetings makes them look important because others have to wait on them. On the contrary, it makes others feel as though they aren't valued by the manager and causes frustration and resentment. If you consistently wait for all team members to show up at the meeting before starting, you're rewarding the wrong behavior. In other words, the folks who were there on time are punished for showing up on time by having to wait for the latecomers because you won't start the meeting until they get there. Reward the folks who showed up on time by starting on time. The latecomers will quickly learn to get to the meeting at the scheduled time or risk being embarrassed by coming in late.

Clearly define the goals of the project. Project team members who have a firm understanding of the goals of the project are more likely to be committed to the project, and team members who are committed to the project are more productive than those who are not.

Clearly define team member roles. This ties back to communication; make sure every team member knows and understands their role and responsibilities on the project. Let them know what measures you'll use to gauge their performance, and give them feedback often.

Hold team members accountable. This sometimes means that you'll have to play the heavy and discipline team members or dismiss them. This doesn't negate all the other tactics listed in this section. Be honest, communicate expectations with your team members, and when they don't measure up, hold them accountable. It's beyond the scope of this book to go into all the possibilities for disciplining and releasing employees. Before things ever get to this point, I strongly urge you to work with your manager and your human resource department to find out how you go about disciplining employees. You should always document unwanted employee behavior, but if you wait until the last minute when you're at the breaking point with the person, you won't recall the kind of details you're going to need to justify your action. Start documenting as soon as you start having problems, and contact human resources.

Most of these things are second nature to those folks who have natural project management and leadership abilities, but it never hurts to refresh your options for team building. Put these ideas into practice with your next project team

Professional Responsibility

Part of your responsibility as a project manager is to ensure the integrity of the project management process and your own personal integrity. To have personal integrity means that you abide by an ethical code. If you're thinking of becoming a certified project manager through PMI for example, you'll be required to adhere to their code of conduct. Most of the things you'll find in the code of conduct are intuitive, but again, it never hurts to refresh your memory.

Regardless of whether you are certified or ever intend to be, there are some personal integrity goals that you should always strive for, including keeping the organization's interests at the forefront as opposed to your own personal interests, eliminating all possibilities of conflict-of-interest situations, and acting professionally. Let's look at each of these areas in a little more depth.

Personal Gain

Your own personal gain should never be a factor in project decisions or when working with your customers or stakeholders on project issues. Truthfulness and integrity should be reflective not only of your own professional experiences but of the circumstances of the project as well.

You should never consider your own personal gain or bettering your own position by compromising project deliverables or milestones. For example, if you've been promised a bonus for finishing the project earlier than scheduled, it would be inappropriate to skip tasks or only partially complete the tasks in order to make it look as though the project was completed early. This would be putting your own personal gain over the best interest of the project. Not only does it show a lack of integrity on your part, but actions like this could also cost you your job.

Personal gain doesn't have to be monetary. For example, a stakeholder may promise you a promotion if you sway the selection committee or if you make sure that their interests in the project are dealt with in specific ways. Working toward your own promotion instead of keeping the integrity of the project process and the product of the project as your top priority would call your personal integrity into question.

Conflict of Interest

conflict of interest occurs when personal interests are put above the interests of the project or when you use your influence to cause others to make decisions in your favor regardless of the impact on the project. Conflict-of-interest situations can occur with friends, family members, vendors, stakeholders, or anyone else who has an interest in the project. Keep in mind that any circumstance where the possibility for abusing the situation exists can also be considered a conflict of interest. For example, suppose one of your family members works for a consulting company that will be bidding on the project you're managing.

This is a conflict of interest because you could potentially share information with that family member that other bidders don't have access to thereby using your relationship for personal gain. Even if you don't share the information, the situation is still considered a conflict of interest because the possibility for sharing information exists. The best thing to do in this case is to let your project sponsor know the situation, don't share information that isn't available to all the bidders, and decline to participate as a selection committee member.

conflict of interest

A potential for personal gain where personal interests are at odds with the best interests of the project outcomes.

Vendor gifts are another potential area for conflicts of interest. Check with your organizational policies before accepting any gifts from vendors. Most organizations have dollar limits on the gifts, meals, and other items vendors can give you. If you're starting or are in the midst of a bidding process and you're part of the selection committee or have influence over the selection committee, don't accept any gifts from any vendors, including lunches. This can be misconstrued as a conflict of interest by other vendors and call your integrity into question.

Tip:If you're in doubt regarding whether to accept a gift, you're better off to decline it than put the project at risk. Not only do you put your own reputation on the line in these situations, but you could put the entire project in jeopardy. Vendors who feel that other vendors were given unfair advantages or who can pin you with a conflict of interest can protest the winning bid and delay the start of the project for weeks or months.

Stakeholder influence can also be a cause of conflict of interest. For example, stakeholders may have an interest in one particular vendor and may try to convince you or bribe you with offers of favoritism or promotion if you'll choose the vendor they recommend. Always opt to make decisions with the objectives of the project in mind and not your own, or someone else's, personal interests.

Not only should you not accept gifts, favors, or promises of personal gain from others in exchange for favorable decisions, you should not offer gifts or promises to others to sway their decisions.

Act Professionally

Everyone in the business world is required to act in a professional manner. That involves all the things we've talked about so far and includes controlling yourself and your reactions to situations you'll encounter on a day-to-day basis. You've probably heard this before, but I'm going to remind you of it one more time—the only thing you truly have control over is your own reactions to situations. You cannot control what others will do or say, but you can control your own reactions to what they do and say. When that unruly customer or stakeholder decides to vent on you, take the upper road and remain calm. Practice active listening, ask some clarifying questions, and let them know that you'll research the issue and get back with them. If they're especially up in arms, ask if you can schedule a meeting with them at a later time to go over the issues, and drop the topic until everyone has had a chance to cool down.

Here are some of the things you should keep in mind when working on any project:

  • Respect confidential information and do not use it for your own gain.
  • Respect company data and any information developed by the organization that has a commercial value.
  • Coach your team members to conform to professional standards of conduct.
  • We all lead by example, so don't forget that your actions speak louder than words.
  • Stay abreast of new project management practices and techniques.
  • Stay abreast of the trends in your industry.
  • Don't mislead others regarding your work experience, certification, or educational status.
  • Be honest about what you do know and about what you don't know.
  • Report all project information truthfully.
  • Respect cultural differences.

Note:Team members represent you and the project. They should act professionally at all times, and it's your job to ensure that they do. If team members are acting out of turn, coach them regarding the standards of conduct you expect. Make sure you're leading by example so that they witness the standards of conduct you expect in action.

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