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There's no 'I' in TEAM. Lessons to be learnt from successful project management
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On 20 July 1969, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong were the first two people to land on the moon. The success of the Apollo II mission was 'one giant leap' for the teamwork behind the project. George Mueller played an instrumental role in leading the mission, along with a team of cross-functional talents. It's one of the ultimate examples of seamless collaboration at work.

Collaboration and contextual problem solving are lauded as two of 2019's most significant skills. This applies to all professions, including project management.


It's practically impossible to speak of agile project management without referring to teamwork. For a project to be successful, it's imperative that project managers move from 'I' to 'we', drawing on their emotional intelligence to inspire others.

Here, USB-ED's own Professor Basil C Leonard, Emeritus Associate Professor and Consultant for Leadership, EQ and Personal Effectiveness, answers our questions on how to take the 'I' out of a project management team:

1. What soft skills should project managers develop to move from 'I' to 'we'?

The major competencies contributing to moving a project manager from 'I to we' would be developing their leadership and social-emotional skills. 

For effective leadership, project managers (PMs) must learn to positively influence.  People do not want to managed, but should be positively led. EQ should focus on the development of self-perception and interpersonal skills.  The two most important self-perception competencies should be that of self-regard and self-awareness. 

On the interpersonal side, it would be empathy and leaders' interpersonal relations with people.  From a clear understanding of self-awareness on the personal level, the PM will develop a healthy understanding of social awareness on the interpersonal side.

3 top tips for developing self-awareness as a leader: MIT Sloan Management Review 'How to Become a Better Leader' found self-awareness to be key for successful leaders. Another study found self-awareness correlates with higher business profits. According to Forbes, to be more self-aware as a leader, you need to:

    • Know yourself. Recognise your emotions, drives and ambitions. Understand how your values and priorities influence your behaviour. Try journaling to record your daily emotions and what triggers these.
    • Understand how external factors influence your moods. Plus, recognise how your behaviour triggers others. Know how you react to specific circumstances.
    • Get continuous feedback from your team. Informal, upward feedback is critical for a leader to find the 'outlier' tendencies that may need to be adjusted.

2. What other skills/ learnings do project managers need?

A successful project manager must develop both quantitative and qualitative skills and competencies.  Most PMs focus on the quantitative aspects and generally do well at these.  Many of these quantitative skills can be learnt and developed on a personal level.  Also, many of the quantitative aspects can be done with the aid of computer programs. 

However, once we bring others into the discussion, e.​g the project management team, it is more about the qualitative skills and competencies of the leader and the members of the team.  Once others join the conversation, the leader must switch from competencies for self-development to competencies for team cohesion and team development.

    • As a leader it's imperative to communicate an overarching vision to your team, with achievable milestones everyone contributes and buys in to. How well can a PM set a vision and establish achievable goals with a team? 
    • How well do they relate to one another? 
    • Has the leader moved from being inward-focused to focused on others?  

"For effective leadership, project managers (PMs) must learn to positively influence. People do not want to managed, but should be positively led. EQ should focus on the development of self-perception and interpersonal skills. The two most important self-perception competencies should be that of self-regard and self-awareness.”

Professor Basil C Leonard, Emeritus Associate Professor

3. How do you build a cohesive team when working with a group of individuals on a project?

Highly effective communication skills are essential.  The greater part of the communication should focus on the ability to listen to others and create understanding regarding what is to be accomplished. 

Since all projects are limited by time, priority or time management skills would most certainly be an asset.  Recognise the differences in the team regarding time.  Some are morning people and others take a while to warm up to the day.

Fun fact: According to BBC, one in four of us is a 'morning person', one in four is a 'night owl'. About 50% of us fall in the middle. A lot of this has to do with our left-vs-right-brain division. There may be negative implications to pushing someone out of their natural preference.

4. Increasingly, project teams must work across disciplines, geographies and even across language barriers. What tools can be employed to promote co-operation and teamwork towards shared objectives and goals? 

The key is to ensure that the objectives and goals of the team are fully understood by all and that each member also understands clearly what is expected of them.  Something that can impact on this understanding is the matter of language.  It makes matters much easier if there is a common language understood equally well by all members of the team.  This will also ensure that some members of the team do not feel left out.  A multi-disciplinary team will be more effective as the contributions made are greater. 

Interesting fact: The Boston Consulting Group examined 1700 companies across eight countries and found diverse management teams have 19% higher revenue. Why? Because they're better at innovation.

5. With Artificial Intelligence (AI) rapidly taking over the project management space, will there be space for project managers and teamwork in the future?

I do not believe that we will ever get to a place where we can do without people.  PMs and teamwork, aided by AI, will always be needed.  Many of the quantitative aspects of projects will be assisted by or even taken over by AI.  However, the qualitative aspect needs people who have insight in the moment and can adjust and solve complex problems. Plus, relationships call for sensitivity and understanding – soft skills that AI can't convincingly emulate. 

Top tip: Ultimately, AI may become fully autonomous project managers, but that's a long way off. For now, project management teams need continuous learning opportunities in order to seamlessly collaborate with AI to optimise efficiencies and reduce the time humans have to spend on repetitive, time-consuming tasks.  ​






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