Project work groups - their social engagement and collaboration

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Managing a project can feel like riding a roller-coaster as it responds to unpredictable circumstances and goals.

Relationships, budgets and the pathways to progress must be adapted; with work groups expending unplanned time and other resources to re-think and revise plans to address emergent issues. Any disorder that this brings will challenge a project’s progress. Leaders must continually and carefully reshape their organisation; relying on their understanding of human and organisational behaviour to then secure the most progressive and practical routes.

A project management organisation has to combine the contributions of its constituent working groups if they are to accomplish coherent execution. To deliver their contributions, the groups themselves have to continually manage what they do and how they do it; while also answering the needs for quality management and compliance to a schedule.  The players working in each and every group have to act collectively, relying on their engagement capability - a pre-condition for effective collaboration with other groups. Put another way, collaboration between groups, so vital to managing any project, depends on the quality of social engagement achieved by the players working together within groups - see later.

Working imaginatively and concertedly
Players need to be tolerant of ambiguity and uncertainty. While they may sometimes appear to be behaving irrationally, such behaviour can engender valuable planning and reveal solutions.  Project execution relies on the forbearance and endurance of the players and other stakeholders. It is sustained by their courage, imagination, resolve, dialogue, organisation and every player’s leadership.

A project organisation is a primary source of risk to a project.  It can steer a project towards triumph but also into catastrophe and everything in between. Groups of project players can be small or large, virtual or extant, peripatetic or permanent. They may be appointed as a task-force but can also arise spontaneously. The variety of purpose is infinite; from taking responsibility for managing a work-stream to assessing added value, resolving an issue or working to develop the competence and strength of players. When working in a group, the value of players relies in their capacity to draw upon all their knowledge, skills, political sensitivity and interests, to engage in dialogue and to realise project goals, concertedly.

Whereas the legacy components of managing: standard costs, procedure, hierarchy and benchmarks may have been sufficient for managing a project in the past, such prescriptions are likely to be insufficient to suit today’s businesses experiencing a high demand for adaptation, mid-course correction and the continual improvement to working practices. Active listening, shared understanding through dialogue, resolve, productive argument, crucial conversation, emotional intelligence and the avoidance of distraction have become the new feedstock. Venturesome groups should engage together; acting in concert to exploit their implicit diversity of perception, experience and dialogue.

The six ‘Engagement Goals’ shown below provide a means of testing a group’s capability as an organisation and for determining an agenda for its development. The procedure for assessing these performance features can be self-administered by any group (or team) when seeking to combine the efforts of them all to realise common purpose.

Engagement Goals

A working group can through its pursuit of Engagement Goals, enhance its performance capability. The group’s objectives are achieved through its own joint action and inter-group collaboration; addressing the context of a project’s endeavour and organisation (the engine that gets things done). The capacity of a group to achieve the Engagement Goals is known as its Engagement Capability. The figure shows the six goals that when met, will enable a group’s high performance when they have the desire and ambition to succeed.

Martin Price is the author of ‘The Single-Minded Project – ensuring the pace of progress’, published by Gower.

APM members can claim exclusive discounts on ‘The Single-Minded Project – ensuring the pace of progress’ and a range of Gower titles, click here for more details.


Posted by Martin Price on 21st Jan 2015

About the Author
Martin Price is widely known as a speaker and writer and for his fresh ideas on human and organisational behaviour so crucial to the success of project management. He was Director of Professional Development for PMI’s UK Chapter and for six years and hosted PMI’s monthly UK Chapter meetings in London. Martin worked as an electrical engineer before spending 15 years as a personnel manager and then change management consultant with PA Consulting Group. There he enabled and supported the transformation of large and small businesses in the private and public sectors. He is MD of EngagementWorks, a consultancy supporting organisations in their quest for developing high performing project organisations. You can go to his website at

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