Orientation model of team member behaviours

a tool for managing HR



The “Orientation Model of Team Member Behaviours” is a graphical tool, which helps team leaders, particularly project managers, to drive and develop each team member to the most productive behaviour for the project needs. The Orientation Model of Team Member Behaviours and its use is illustrated by proposing real cases in the working life of planning, acquiring, developing and managing human resources in project teams at matrix organized companies (PMI, 2004, pp. 30-31).

The paper reviews the following items:

  1. Managing persons’ behaviours rather than persons.
  2. The Orientation Model of Team Member Behaviours: what it looks like.
  3. How to use the Orientation Model of Team Member Behaviours in selecting HR management methods.
  4. How to use the Orientation Model of Team Member Behaviours in reviewing and optimizing the HR managing methods.

Managing persons’ behaviours rather than persons

Project Managers are very aware that managing each team member in the appropriate way is a key factor for the successful execution of the project.

Changing a team member’s personality is impracticable, if not impossible. But, as described in Douglas McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y (Thommen, 1996, p 529), the team leader’s behaviour and management style or methods may indeed change the behaviour of the team members. Hence, team leaders are to focus on managing the person’s behaviour rather than the person.

A professional team leader role, particularly a project manager, is to finalize his management of human resources to the company and/or project objectives and he has to bear in mind that the team member behaviours are not a priori good or bad, but compatible or incompatible with the project needs (ISVOR – FIAT SpA, 1987, pp. 77- 80).

Every day’s working experience shows that same behaviour of the team leader may produce different effects on different team members. Hence, team leaders need to be flexible and ready to adapt their management methods on a case-by-case basis.

Among the most used human resources management methods and reference will be made here - are the following: management by objectives (MbO), management by delegation (MbD) and management by exception (MbE) (Thommen, 1996, pp. 659- 650).

The Orientation Model of Team Member Behaviours: What it Looks Like

The Orientation Model of Team Member Behaviours is a product of this Author’s working experience. It resembles a compass card, where the most significant behaviours (constructive, cooperative, polemic, destructive) of a team member are shown at the major cardinal points. (Exhibit 1).

Orientation Model of Team Member Behaviours

Exhibit 1: Orientation Model of Team Member Behaviours

All project managers would like to deal with team members, whose behaviours are located in the “constructive-to-co-operative “sectors. All team leaders/project managers should try to lead i.e. to orientate their co-operators attitudes to the “constructive-to-cooperative “sectors and to manage to keep them in its range or, at least, as far as possible from the opposite sectors, the “destructive-to-polemic” ones.

Working experience shows that, if the behaviour of a team member changes, it usually changes by proceeding sector by sector as indicated in the orientation model.

For example, a team member, whose behaviour is co-operative, is usually also prudent. Actually it is his prudence, which often suggests him to be cooperative with his project manager. If the project manager uses the wrong management method with him, like assigning him an excessive amount of work under a tough time constraint, his attitude may change from co-operative-prudent to anxious. An anxious guy takes decisions only when he is 100% sure and, since an anxious guy is seldom sure, probably, he will never make decisions. As a consequence, work remains incomplete and does not go forward. If the worst happens, his project manager may accuse him of being the only one responsible for the delay and incompleteness of his scope of work. Under these circumstances, the team member will naturally try to protect himself and his behaviour easily degenerates to a polemic attitude. A polemic guy often states very negative criticism without starting or proposing any mitigating action; his speech may be something like: “Inputs from the project manager are missing or they are not clear or they are not confirmed yet or they may still be changed; hence, I cannot start working until inputs are 100% complete, clear, definitive, frozen, confirmed, confirmed in writing, etc.”

As an alternative example, let us consider the case of a team member, whose behaviour is constructive. Constructive guys are creative; the need, which motivates them, may be classified in the self-actualization and self-esteem needs of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (Kerzner, 2006, pp.195-196) and they are usually very self-confident guys. When the project manager, without implementing an adequate way of monitoring and control, delegates a constructive team member to act within a wide range of action, the behaviour of that team member may become tending to take risks and to act independently on the project actual needs. If the project manager continues to leave all the autonomy, which allows such a team member to feel it is possible to assume all control, the situation may become worse: the team member’s behaviour will be tending to take uncalculated risks and to act out of the project directives. Once a consistent deviation from the project plan occurs and is detected, the team member behaviour will probably degenerate into the attempt to escape from his responsibilities and/or propose impractical or unacceptable solutions: “The project manager should have informed me at the right time of such stupid contractual requirements; now it makes no sense to revise my accomplished and valid work to comply with the contract. It is up to the project manager to convince the customer to accept the work as it is”.

How to use the Orientation Model of Team Member Behaviours in selecting HR management methods

Let us take a practical example. In a matrix project organized company, a project manager needs two to three engineers for six months starting at the end of the next month. The head of the engineering department informs him that three engineers (Ray, Robert and Benny) are available starting the next week for at least seven months. The project manager separately invites each of the three engineers to have a coffee, an introductory talk and asks each of them a few of same questions like: “How long have you been working in this company? What was the most interesting working experience you had at this company ?” And so on.

Based on the received answers, the project manager has a preliminary opinion of the three engineer’s behaviours and he may locate them in the Orientation Model:

Ray images “anxious”
Benny images “tending to take risks and act independently”
Robert images “polemic”

Then, bearing in mind:

  • the target to orientate the behaviour of each team member as far as possible to the “constructive-to-cooperative “sectors
  • and the evolution mechanism, which inter-connects each step of the Orientation Model,

the project manager can select the management method which appears appropriate for each of the three members.

For example, the “prudent-to-anxious” behaviour of Ray would suggest choosing to approach him with a management by objectives. In fact, the exercise of setting the objectives of his scope of work through discussions and agreements with his project manager will be an opportunity for Ray to ask his project manager in an explicit or implicit way for advice before taking any significant steps. That will relieve him from decisions or responsibilities, which he may feel excessive, and his behaviour may evolve from “anxious” to “prudent” and, maybe later on, to “adaptable, flexible”. Such approach is time consuming for the project manager, particularly at the beginning of the working relationship. The project manager should reduce number/frequency of the objectives and meetings as Ray develops some self-confidence.

Benny’s behaviour, which is “tending to take risks and act independently”, suggests to adopt a management method, e.g. management by delegation, which gives Benny some degree of independence and the project manager the opportunity to supervise Benny’s job. This approach gives the possibilities to the project manager to detect deviations in time (e.g. before a wrong document is transmitted to the customer), is quite efficient in time and makes Benny’s working life quite happy.

Since experience reports that working with a polemic guy may be very stressing and detrimental for the whole team, the project manager has to carefully evaluate the possibility not to engage a guy like Robert into his project team. If Robert’s involvement into the project may not be avoided, a strategy to cope with his polemic behaviour could be:

  • give him limited involvement in the project team
  • tasks are to be well defined also in terms of inputs and outputs
  • adopt a management by exception model, which is probably the only management method he may tolerate
  • wait for completion of each task and examine the results before assigning him a new task.

How to use the Orientation Model of Team Member Behaviours in reviewing and optimizing the HR managing methods.

To use the Orientation Model of Team Member Behaviours to review and optimize Human Resource Management, the project manager has to actively listen to each team member during the daily work. Moreover, the project manager should be in a condition to capture “signals”, messages sent by the tone of the co-operator’s voice or body-language. Based on all that, the project manager can get a feeling whether his managing method is the right direction.

However, an efficient and reliable way to get a feedback is to ask explicitly and kindly for it by requesting each team member to fill-out an essential questionnaire. It consists of three questions on how the team member judges the project manager’s fair-play, team-work and leadership (insufficient, sufficient or good) plus any particular positive or negative aspects to report.

That is a ten minute job, which should never be requested during the working time. It is to be proposed in a way that the co-operator feels free to do it as he likes without any negative consequences in his working relationship with the project manager and the project manager must never require it.

We may note that in case a co-operator will not fill up such a questionnaire, then this fact may signal that the co-operator is not happy.

With a feedback and orientation model in his hand, the project manager can map the progress of his team management.

Let us refer to some real cases.

The case of Max: At the time of his entry into the project team, Max’s behaviour was located in the “prudent-to-hesitating” sectors of the orientation model. The project manager adopted an MbO method with him based, initially, on defined and frequent objectives; later on, based on few and essential tasks .

During approximately ten months of working on the team, Max’s behaviour improved to the “adaptable, flexible” sector and then to the “shows initiative, enterprising” sector. When he left the team, in his feedback to the project manager, he reported high rate in all parameters and commented about the project manager’s behavior: “good communication and feedback within project / comes to the desk to discuss issues directly / good support with respect to customer requests”.

The case of David: At the time of his entry into the project team, David’s behaviour was located in the “tends to take risks and to act independently on project actual needs” sector of the orientation model. As he used to do with all team members, the project manager adopted an MbO method based on well defined objectives. When three months later David finished his work and left the team, his behaviour tended to “tends to take uncalculated risks and to act out of directives” sector and, in his feedback to the project manager, he reported a lower value in leadership and the comment “tendency to lead engineer through every step rather than stand back, wait for result and then review”. David’s message could not be more explicit and fair: he would have been ready to accept to be reviewed at certain steps against the possibility to work with a consistent degree of freedom. He substantially requested a management by delegation.

In these two cases, it is also worth to note that the same management method adopted by the same project manager with two different team members gave two opposite results.


The Orientation Model of Team Member Behaviours is a simple and experience based tool, which facilitates systematic HR management. Its indications are approximate and its implementation in HR management is a “trial and error” proceeding; nevertheless, it tends to converge to the best possible solution, i.e. the most appropriate managing method, in most of the cases. However, and as usual, in project management, the key factor behind all of this is common sense.


ISVOR – FIAT. (1987) Programma Relazioni Interne. Canneto S/O. (MN): LITOGRAFIA CANNETESE snc

Kerzner, H. (2006) Project Management. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley &Sons, Inc.

Project Management Institute. (2004) A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK®) Third Edition. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

Thommen, H. (1996) Managementorientierte Betriebswirtschaftslehre. Zürich: Versus Verlag AG

© 2010, Giuseppe Lico
Originally published as a part of 2010 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Milan, Italy



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