Personal Sway

Analyzing Team Connections Can Strengthen Project Bonds


By Karen Smits


For me, the best part of December is watching families interact while they shop or prepare for seasonal gatherings. When I observe how things get done among families and friends, it only takes a few minutes to determine who the leader of the group is, who follows orders, who has tight relationships and who feels a little detached from the group.

In the same way, identifying bonds and behaviors on your project team can reveal insights that help you better manage team members—and the initiative as a whole. You might already have a sense of which team members are popular and which ones sow seeds of division, but you need data to back this up.

Drawing a team sociogram will add certainty to your hunch.


It's pretty easy to create and manage a sociogram—it's just a chart illustrating the structure of interpersonal relationships. On a sheet of paper, draw a box for each team member and label it. Then analyze how the names on those boxes are connected: Who likes whom? Who is part of the inner circle? Who is supportive in moments of crisis? Use different colors or draw different arrows to express different types of relationships. The resulting web represents the underlying social dynamics of your team and allows you to look for the following patterns or traits:

Isolation. You're certain to identify people who have few to no links with other team members. When that happens, take meaningful steps to make those people feel connected and supported on the team.

Cliques. Team members who have formed a tight bond might be excluding others. How does that negatively affect the team and project? Does it lead to too much groupthink? Are some team members being overlooked or missing out on opportunities?

Facilitators. People who have many ties with other team members are true connectors and have the most potential to help build new connections across the team. Lean on their ideas and abilities to come up with new ways to bridge any team relationship gaps.


If drawing a sociogram of your team seems daunting, try it first with your family or friends. Which family members are always talking? Who gets together outside of family gatherings? Who is less connected to other family members? Such a nonbinding analysis might give you the confidence to try it with your project team.

In one project I worked on, the project manager used the results of the sociogram to learn who the team's influencers were. She used this information to actively seek and receive more feedback for project improvement. This led to plenty of informal meetings with those influencers to identify key issues within the team.

By diving deeper into the power dynamics and relationships among team members, you'll see how the natural pecking order defines the norms and values of the group and impacts project culture—for better and worse. Understanding the team's social dynamics can help shape a more positive work environment, a more cohesive team and the best possible project culture. PM

img Karen Smits, PhD, is an organizational anthropologist working at Practical Thinking Group in Sydney, Australia. She can be reached at [email protected].



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