I am often met with behavioral obstacles as a project manager. Many times these obstacles surface during the planning stage of the project when the team first comes together and can be both easy and difficult to define. Sometimes these behavioral obstacles do not reveal themselves until later in the project. Either way, when they are identified and deemed a hindrance to sound project work, they must be managed. One reason a behavioral obstacle may surface is in the general nature of project work as a “temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result” (PMI, 2013, p 553). Depending on the structure of the organization, the project team could be made up of people who have never worked together or who are not completely dedicated to the project work. As Beshears & Gino write, this poses a challenge because, as a manager, you need to determine if “human behavior is at the core of the problem” when it arises (Beshears & Gino, 2015, p 54). So, what are some of the more common behaviors that often reveal themselves during project work?
Overconfidence is an easy behavioral complication to identify on a project and is quite common. Team members want to impress and show their education and knowledge when they come together with other individuals. During the storming stage of the team formation overconfidence is the greatest. This is seen a lot in matrix organizations where project work is not the primary focus of the team member. Lack of adequate time and aggressive schedules forces individuals to rely on what they know. Often people feel empowered simply by being chosen to work on the project as if their knowledge and intellect is superior to others. This can lead to rushed work, incomplete work, or work that has poor quality. Conversely, Bazerman & Moore explain, humility allows us to double-check our work and correct flaws with greater ease (Bazerman & Moore, 2012). The key is to catch this early in the project and try to harness this into usable work.
People are territorial by nature. They like to live in the established boundaries they’ve created and don’t like to wander too far outside of those boundaries. However, this can be a very difficult behavior to manage while the busyness of project work is being performed. Being territorial can prevent the flow of data and ideas within a project. It is well proven that sharing information across disciplines can help foster new ideas and produce quality project work.
Probably the most common behavior that shows up on a project is the overuse of authority. No matter the organization, there will always be a hierarchy that dictates an authoritative structure. Unfortunately, a strong authoritative figure on a project can stifle communication and cause serious issues. This can be seen in the way several industries used to historically operate – for example, the pilot on a plane or the surgeon in an operating room. The over-the-top authoritative nature would have other team members paralyzed from speaking up even when serious threats were identified. In recent years there has been a shift, and everyone has a voice and it has produced positive results. This is the same and true with project work.
If one or all these behaviors show up on a project you are managing, it shouldn’t be a roadblock. Many times, working through these behavioral issues can produce even better project work and team growth. After all, we are all humans, and all possess a level of empathy that allows us to work through a situation. Occasionally we identify these qualities in ourselves. We are not exempted. How we react to these in ourselves or other team members can determine the outcome of the project.
Bazerman, M. H., & Moore, D. A. (2012). Judgment in Managerial Decision Making, 8th Edition. John Wiley & Sons.
Beshears, J., & Gino, F. (2015). Leaders as Decision Architects. (cover story). Harvard Business Review, 93(5), 51-62.
Project Management Institute (2013) A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge. (5th edition).
Edward Witchey, PMP, MSPM, ITIL has over 15 years of experience in large scale enterprise software implementation project management for municipal governments and the healthcare industry. In his current role, Edward directs the Project Management Office for a large non-profit in the human services health care industry. His portfolio contains various types of large-scale IT projects, including software development, system implementations, and infrastructure. Edward writes about project planning and business requirements.