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How do you go about accepting that happiness is not a constant state of a project team?

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Most of us aspire to be part of a high-performing team who collaborate and support one another to be effective and productive, and deliver outcomes that bring business benefits. Employee happiness is associated with business performance, and part of our role as leaders of people who ‘get things done’ is to build a team and pay heed to everyone’s well-being. We often check in on each other’s level of happiness.

Albert Schweitzer (1875–1965), humanitarian, philosopher, physician and Nobel Prize winner, is known for many inspirational quotes, including: “Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.”

All human beings seek happiness. Research has shown that people from every corner of the world rate happiness as being more important than any other desirable personal outcome including obtaining wealth or acquiring material goods. Obviously, we all have a basic need for shelter, food and safety, but once we have achieved that, happiness is pretty much top of the list.

So, is it a reasonable expectation that happiness could be a constant state in our teams?

I am sure I am not alone in saying that I absolutely love our profession, and love being a project manager. However, there are some aspects of the role, and stages of a project, that I like less than others.

We all have different skills and preferences. Some of us relish the analysis and detail, and others like big-picture thinking and the thrill of navigating our project through unknown territory. Some will love the intellectual and behavioural aspects of managing difficult stakeholders, and others would far prefer to leave this to someone else. Some love the project initiation stage more than the implementation phase, and vice versa. We are not all going to be happy all of the time.

Bruce Tuckman’s ‘Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing’ model explains the level of team discomfort and conflict occurring before relationships are established and disagreements are resolved positively. The uncertainty in the early stages of a project often exacerbates the ‘Forming’ and ‘Storming’ phases. Mobilising a project and rallying the team can initially enthuse, inspire and energise, and landing a project successfully can be a euphoric moment for all concerned. However, there is a long journey between the start and the finish of a project, often fraught with challenging moments, when the unexpected happens, risks materialise and plans go awry.

The reality of project work is that Tuckman’s model repeats as we move from one project phase to another and our team changes. We need to get comfortable knowing that there will be some uncomfortable times that we will work through for the sake of delivering our project successfully.

And even when we are in the ‘Performing’ stage, the reality is that our level of happiness comes from within ourselves, and we are all unique individuals. What happiness means to us today is not the same as it will mean to us in 10 years’ time and will relate to the life stage and circumstances we find ourselves in.

The lens through which we see the world

We also need to avoid making assumptions about the level of happiness of our colleagues. I used to arrive in the office to be greeted, or should I say acknowledged, by one of my team in an ‘Eeyore’ manner. What do I mean by that? Well, every morning, at length, he would proceed to describe every aspect of why his glass was half empty and rapidly draining away.

In time, I discovered he was actually perfectly happy; this was just how he was. I quickly learned to adjust my lens on the situation, to greet him very cheerily no matter what, and to stop worrying about him.

Our happiness is coloured by the lens we choose to hold when we look at the world and this shapes our reality. The fabulous news about this is that we can be intentional in the lens that we select. We can bring a ‘What could be possible?’ mindset into play. We can start asking ourselves: what is possible in this situation? What could be possible, in terms of creating happiness here in the workplace or at home? Asking these questions helps us start thinking from a more optimistic, positive and creative perspective.

And, as the Kübler-Ross Change Curve tells us, the sooner we can accept that happiness is not a constant state for our team, the sooner we can move on and lead our projects successfully.


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