Looking at collaboration on projects

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So what do people actually do on projects, and in particular do they collaborate with each other? If they do collaborate how has this come about? And if collaboration is lacking, how then do we as project managers and leaders, encourage more collaboration?

What is collaboration?
Collaboration means different things to different people. It may mean working with external partners or agencies, or it may mean colluding with the enemy! What it should mean is a multi-functional team working on a project collaborating together and with the wider organisation in order to produce benefit to all involved.

Groups and teams for the manager and leader
The project manager has a difficult task – building a temporary team for the duration of the project from a disparate group of individuals with a mix of skills, ambitions, motivations, and team working abilities. So what do these people actually do? (This topic will be explored further at the NW APM branch conference on October 10th), and how should we change our management and leadership behaviours through the project life as the group hopefully develops into a fully collaborating team?

Collaborative planning with the project team
As a project manager I believe that we can encourage collaboration by planning with the team (not for the team) in terms of work assignments, estimates, and progress reports. A subtle change in our approach to these tasks can make the team feel more ‘included’ in the project planning process.

But all the team working in the universe will not resolve a “clash of opinions” or a “conflict of priorities” when dealing with team members. Learning how to assert our views with the project team members increases the chances of getting the desired outcome for the project, but assertiveness is a difficult skill, and done wrongly, can have disastrous effects on team morale.

When assertiveness techniques have failed, it may be necessary to negotiate with team members, and their direct managers in order to resolve potential conflict into a win-win situation. It is vital to negotiate with the person capable of making the decisions!

What do we do to people on projects?
The sum total of all of this ‘team building’, ‘leadership’, ‘assertiveness’ and ‘negotiation’ is to change the way the people on projects behave. Are the team members really free to “get on with their jobs” “without interruption or disturbance”, or are we actually affecting their behaviours and reducing their performance?

In summary: people deliver projects, and will deliver better projects, faster, if they are collaborating as a performing team. I believe that our behaviours as project managers has a profound effect on team morale, and consequent project success.

  • Changing leadership styles to suit the team development stage
  • The use of collaborative planning with the team to derive the project plans
  • Assertiveness correctly used so that team members are not even aware of it
  • Negotiation with those who can make decisions about priorities and actions.

However, we should be aware that people have their own motivations, and that these techniques could be viewed as manipulation!

This blog creates context for the APM NW branch conference 'Project manager to leader: Collaborating, influencing and conflict management', to be held on October 10th 2017 at Alderley Park conference centre, Alderley Edge, Macclesfield SK10 4TG.

Further information, including speaker details and the programme, can be found here.


Andrew Bell

Posted by Andrew Bell on 31st Aug 2017

About the Author

Andrew Bell BA(Open) MSc RPP FAPM SFHEA is currently the director at AbleSim, a Project Management Training & Consultancy business with a specialism in developing and delivering Project Management simulations both on-line, and paper based.

AbleSim provides online Project Management Simulations, Project Management Training and Consultancy, and remote MS Project Support.

Project Management is a complex and dynamic subject. It cannot be taught solely by classroom lectures, books, or case studies. Project Management Simulations are required for students to learn through experience.

Registered Project Professional

Registered Project Professional

Contact Me: Andrew Bell has more than 30 years of Project Management experience starting with 15 years in the Automotive industry (Automotive, Research, and IT projects), followed by 4 years experience as a Project Management Trainer (Electronics, FMCG, Telecommunications, Construction projects), and 13 years as a university academic teaching Project Management (Undergraduate, Postgraduate, Part-time, Full-time, and Mature students).

Andrew holds ‘Fellow’ Member and ‘Registered Project Professional’ (RPP) status in the Association for Project Management (APM) and is active on both Midlands Branch and National APM committees.

Andrew is also a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Authority demonstrating a deep understanding of Teaching and Learning at University level. Recognition reference PR089531.

Andrew has first class skills in MS Project 2013, and has recently attained the Microsoft Certification “Managing Projects with Microsoft Project 2013” (74-343). Certification number: F394-6424.

His recent PhD thesis award concerns “The Development of a Conceptual Framework for Simulations in Project Management Education”.

Project Management is an “Experiential Subject” – you cannot just teach it in a classroom – students have to experience the ‘thrills and spills’ of running their own projects to understand and appreciate how to plan properly.

Andrew has volunteered for the APM for over 15 years, and has held committee positions on the Coventry Chapter, Midlands Branch, and National Branch Steering group prior to his current position on the People SIG committee. Andrew is currently a Fellow of the APM and holds RPP status and works with the APM setting examination questions and reviewing membership applications.

Contact Me: Andrew Bell

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