Zones of assimilation



Some time ago, I worked with a team based across three continents. Given our varied, multiple responsibilities we operated across different time zones. We had one individual who could talk for hours, monotone and very informative, another who was silent and reflective but who would occasionally make an incisive remark, a third who used offensive language but had excellent analytical skills and grasped content quickly, and an occasional member who was highly technically competent.

In relationship development and people management, recognizing uniqueness and facilitating communication are critical skills.

Initially, teleconferencing was a nightmare of silences, profanity and long discourse. We needed to maximize the ability of the group and utilize our skills effectively. Through assessing our diversity and evaluating what each individual contributed, we restructured our communication to allow for our first person to annotate an agenda for circulation prior to meetings, our technical wizard to work with our analytical person to collaborate on communicating to non-technicians, and our silent person to make opening remarks or critique at the start of each agenda item. By changing the approach to teleconferencing and applying very specific roles and responsibilities, we alleviated frustration and focused the positive attributes of our diverse group.

This is an example of “assimilation,” which I think of as the natural ability to absorb and fully understand information or ideas of an individual, society or culture. As project managers, we have the ability to influence the ecology of the project environment and create a culture of assimilation, where diversity is sought out and managed as effectively as risk.

As a profession, project management integrates lessons learned to help people increase quality, performance and satisfaction. Projects develop through progressive elaboration, and the project manager works to assimilate the uniqueness that each individual stakeholder brings.

In relationship development and people management, recognizing uniqueness and facilitating communication are critical skills. Project management stars recognize and appreciate differences, developing their own understanding through progressive assimilation.

Each member of my team had a competence to determine what is risk, both positive and negative. Looking at a team's diversity, we can take a risk management approach to assimilation:

  1. Create a diversity management, development and response plan. Decide which “qualities of difference” to employ or elaborate upon and which need to be actively restricted or excluded.
  2. Identify differences and assess opportunities to gain and/or lose, the potential for occurrence, projected outcomes and priority.
  3. Communicate to the organization, providing advice on areas to exclude and how to enhance procedures, practices and behaviors.
  4. Capture positive enhancements and ways to replicate behaviors, environments and outcomes.

While respecting diversity in its many visible and tangible forms, we have the capability to do more with the less-visible aspects of our project groups.

Imagine every project becoming an assimilation zone: Every individual benefits from the potential of a group-learning environment. Each member's positive skills are cultivated as integral to the group, while skills that may be obstacles to efficiency are discussed and minimized. The lessons learned at all levels become invaluable global relationship stabilizers for every organization. PM

Sheilina Somani, PMP, is owner of Positively Project Management and vice president, education, for the PMI Diversity Specific Interest Group.

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