Project Management Institute

What Fuels Teamwork?

Collaboration Drives Projects Forward; Spark It from Day One

By Karen Smits

Collaboration is not just a buzzword. It lies at the very center of projects and, therefore, project management. When the project environment is focused on collaboration, team members feel they belong to something bigger than themselves and do their best work.

Top-flight project leaders create this environment as a matter of course—but it doesn't always come naturally. The good news is that collaborative leaders are made, not born. Follow these tips to hone your chops.

Be a Connector

In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell uses the term “connector” to describe individuals who have many ties with different social worlds. They connect you to people you would not otherwise know. Similarly, great project managers act as connectors, inspiring people to work together to achieve a common goal in spite of differences in work methods, beliefs and cultural values.

Too often, in the rush of starting a project, project managers just gather the team and tell everyone to get to work. But better results arise if you give team members time upfront to discover each other's strengths, build personal ties and develop a common understanding of the project. A collaborative leader builds a connected culture.

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Maintain the Right Mix

Collaborative leaders also know how to build teams and take advantage of everyone's abilities. Without the right mix of skills and work methods, there's no solid base upon which to collaborate. But that's not a static responsibility. Astute collaborative leaders evaluate that mix throughout the project. Savvy project managers aren't afraid to optimize the team by periodically adding new players—and then ensure they become part of the team.

Walk the Talk

Collaborative leaders lead by example. Translation: They are authentic, active listeners—eager to ask powerful questions and open to receive feedback. They recognize the power of diverse thinking, which in practice means inviting people they know oppose an idea or plan to weigh in. They encourage team members to develop relationships, and they step up to resolve conflicts before they fester. They build trust—one of the most difficult things to do when working under pressure.

One last thing: Don't confuse collaborative leadership with surrendering decision rights. When things get tough and final decisions need to be made, a collaborative leader should still step in with a strong hand to make the final call. Collaboration is not the same thing as consensus. PM

img Karen Smits, PhD, is an organizational anthropologist working at Practical Thinking Group in Sydney, Australia. She can be reached at karen.smits@practical-thinking.com.
This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

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