Chapter 4 – Project Team
Reliable promises, emotional intelligence (EI), and communication as realistic outlooks are all meaningless as trust-building tools if you don’t have the skills to communicate with your team members. In his book Mastering the Leadership Role in Project Management, Alexander Laufer (2012) explains the vital importance of team communication:
because a project functions as an ad hoc temporary and evolving organization, composed of people affiliated with different organizations, communication serves as the glue that binds together all parts of the organization. When the project suffers from high uncertainty, the role played by project communication is even more crucial (Laufer, 2012, p. 230).
Human Resources and Emotional Intelligence (EI)
Emotional Intelligence was discussed earlier. We now will discuss how Human Resources can use Emotional Intelligence to build teams. Emotional Intelligence has four domains: perceiving emotions, facilitating thought, understanding emotions and managing emotions.
Emotions refer to the feelings a person has in a relationship. For example if a person has a good relationship with someone else, that individual is happy; of the person is threatened, he or she is afraid. Intelligence, on the other had, refers to the ability to reason with or about something. For example, on reasons with language in the case of verbal intelligence, or reasons about how objects fit together in the case of spatial intelligence. In the case of emotional intelligence, one reasons with emotions, or emotions assist ones thinking. That is, emotional intelligence, as measured by the MSCEIT (trademark), refers to the capacity to reason with emotions and emotional signals, and to the capacity of emotion to enhance thought (Mayer, Salovey, & Caruso, 2001, p.2).
HR Specialists can deliver training in EI. They can complete the training themselves; and then train others in the inventories, or they may hire outside consultants trained in EI. The training needs to be reliable, valid and market accepted. Four such skill development approaches are:
- Bar-On’s EQi (registered) and EQ-360 (trademark)
- Goleman and Boyatzis’ ECI 360
- Mayer, Salovey, and Carusos’s MSCEIT (trademark)
- Orioli and Cooper’s EQ Map (registered)
Human Resources Specialists may first provide EI training to Project Managers, and then with the team. They may also provide the training to the group as a whole. It is important that Project Managers understand the talents, skills and potential they bring to the project; as well, as the team members. When Project Managers understand their own emotions and the emotions of others, they have the opportunity to have a high performing team and achieve project success. The results are a vision of the project, and agreed upon outcomes. All members act intentionally and intelligently, and are motivated and enthusiastic. They have the ability to network, and feel a sense of achievement. People will believe the work they are doing is important. The hearts of the team are invested as well as their minds.
HR can also help raise EI within projects by modelling, building new frameworks of the mind, helping them refocus on the vision, and listening. HR can use proven Project Management tools to: provide structure, set clear objectives, norms, boundaries, and roles. By supporting the team to use EI tools engages the members to be professionals.
Human Resources and Supporting Teams to Building Trust
All teams, including project teams, need a certain level of trust. People trust others based on their beliefs related to their own ability, integrity and disposition to be good. Is is also an emotional response. People tend to experience positivity when they trust another person. Project team members generally come together with a medium to high level of trust in their team mates. It is a knowledge-based trust that people are generally good. They also believe that Project Managers and HR Specialists have made good choices in bringing the team together that share common purpose, characteristics, skills and experiences.
Trust is quite fragile, especially in new relationships because people base it on assumptions. To ensure trust builds and does not decrease, HR Trainers could provide initial training to build trust with Trust Building Activities. Some examples are ice breakers, the trust fall, being led around blind folded, and creating pairs obstacle courses. During the project, trust may drop-off. HR Trainers can help re-build trust within the group by providing similar training that was offered at the beginning of the project. One of the easiest ways to build and maintain trust with project team members is to schedule team and trust building activities on a regular basis.
Trust within a team is important to the success of a project. There are many trust building exercises that Human Resources Specialists can use in workshops. However, as an HR Specialist who would go about building individual trust? How would you go about establishing trust for yourself within the team?
Human Resources Helping Teams to Develop Communication Skills
Unfortunately, many people think they are better communicators than they actually are. Sometimes a person will excel at one form of communication but fail at others. For instance, someone might be great at small talk before a meeting but continually confuse co-workers with poorly written emails. This is one area where getting feedback from your co-workers can be especially helpful. Another option is taking a class, or at the very least, consulting the numerous online guides to developing effective communication skills. Human Resources Specialists can provide training in various communication skill building. Some examples are included.
Making Small Talk—People often say they dislike small talk, but polite conversation on unimportant matters is the lubricant that keeps the social gears moving, minimizing friction, and making it possible for people to join forces on important matters. If you’re bad at small talk, then put some time into learning how to improve; you’ll get better with practice. There’s no better way to put people at ease.
Writing good Emails—An ideal email is clear, brief, calm, and professional. Avoid jokes, because you can never be certain how team members (especially team members in other countries) will interpret them. A good emailer also understands the social rules that apply to email exchanges.
Talking One-on-One—Nothing beats a face-to-face conversation for building trust and encouraging an efficient exchange of ideas, as long as both participants feel comfortable. In fact, Alexander Laufer suggests using face-to-face conversation as the primary communication mode for your team (2012, p. 230). As a team leader, it’s your job to be aware of the many ways conversations can go awry, particularly when subordinates fear speaking their mind.
Telling stories is an especially helpful way to share experiences with your team. Indeed, stories are “a form of communication that has been used to entertain, persuade, inspire, impart wisdom, and teach for thousands of years. This wide range of uses is due to a story’s remarkable effect on human emotion, experience, and cognition” (Kerby, DeKorver, and Cantor, 2018).
You’ve probably experienced the way people lower their defenses when they realize they are hearing a tale about specific characters, with an uncertain outcome, rather than a simple recitation of events, or worse, a lecture. Master storytellers seem to do it effortlessly, but in fact they usually shape their stories around the same basic template. Holly Walter Kerby, executive director of Fusion Science Theater, and a long-time science educator, describes the essential story elements as follows:
A Main Character your Audience can Identify with—Include enough details to allow your audience to feel a connection with the main character, and don’t be afraid to make yourself the protagonist of your own stories.
A Specific Challenge—Set up the ending of the story by describing a problem encountered by the main character. This will raise a question in the minds of the audience members and make them want to listen to the rest of the story to find out what happens.
- Can Sam and Danielle recover from a supplier’s bankruptcy and figure out how to get three hundred light fixtures delivered to a new office building in time for the grand opening?
- Can Hala, a mere intern, prevent seasoned contractors from using an inferior grade of concrete?
Three to Five Events Related by Cause and Effect—The events should build on each other, and show the characters learning something along the way. Describe the events in a way that helps build a sense of tension.
One or two physical details—People tend to remember specific physical details. Including one or two is a surprisingly effective way to make an entire story more memorable.
- The first new vendor Sam and Danielle contacted agreed to sell them all the light fixtures they needed, but ended up sending only one fixture in a beaten-up box with the corners bashed in.
- Hala, a small person, had to wear an oversized helmet and vest on the job site, which emphasized that she was younger and less experienced than the contractors.
An Outcome that Answers the Question—The outcome should be simple and easy to understand. Most importantly, it should answer the question posed at the beginning of the story.
- Yes—by collaborating with a new supplier, Sam and Danielle were able to acquire the light fixtures in time for the grand opening.
- No—Hala could not stop the contractors from using inferior concrete, but she did report the problem to her boss, who immediately halted construction until the concrete could be tested, and, in the end, replaced.
Satisfying Ending—Explain how the events in the story led to some kind of change in the characters’ world.
- Sam and Danielle learned to focus on building relationships with reliable, financially stable vendors.
- Hala learned that even an intern can safeguard a project by speaking up when she sees something wrong.
Keep in mind that in some high-stakes situations, the last thing you want is more tension. In that case, you want the opposite of a story—a straightforward recitation of the facts. For example, when confronting a team member about poor work habits, or negotiating with an unhappy client, it’s best to keep everything simple. Draining the drama from a situation helps everyone stay focused on the facts, keeping resentment and other negative emotions to a minimum (Manning, 2018, p. 64). For more on good techniques for difficult conversations, see Trevor Manning’s book Help! I need to Master Critical Conversations.
 Thanks to Hala Nassereddine for sharing her story of her experience as an intern on a construction site in Beirut, Lebanon.
Human Resources plays a role in the human experience, first through the strategic plan, and then through communication to all employees. The critical point with projects is to support the project manager and the team with developing formal and informal communication techniques. HR has a unique role to play in uncovering what works with different projects. Teaching two-way communication tools to project teams helps increase positive communication.
Formal Communication can include questionnaires/survey, mentoring, suggestion box, bulletin boards, memos, electronic mail, project handbook, meetings
Informal Communication: informal chat, the grapevine (ie. being involved in information sharing between team and other departments, chat in the lunch room, small talk at the beginning of meetings, unofficial discussions, advice and suggestion offered or given).
Whether formal or informal communication, HR is in a good position to create opportunities to share and gather important information with project teams and build trust between the members and the HR department.
As Laufer, Little, Russell and Maas point out in their book Becoming a Project Leader,
In contrast to interactions through other media that are largely sequential, face-to-face interaction makes it possible for two people to send and receive messages almost simultaneously. Furthermore, the structure of face-to-face interaction offers a valuable opportunity for interruption, repair, feedback, and learning that is virtually instantaneous. By seeing how others are responding to a verbal message even before it is complete, the speaker can alter it midstream in order to clarify it. The immediate feedback in face-to-face communication allows understanding to be checked, and interpretation to be corrected. Additionally, face-to-face communication captures the full spectrum of human interaction, allowing multiple cues to be observed simultaneously. It covers all the senses—sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch—that provide the channels through which individuals receive information (2018).
Certainly, in today’s world of project management, in which distributed digital teams are becoming common practice, it may be impossible to sit down in the same room with all team members. But as much as possible, project managers should push for using technology that allows a fuller communication environment—one in which interactions are not just isolated to text.
Technology advancements have improved communication in organizations. People are geographically dispersed and interact sending messages without meeting physically. Project teams meet through voice calls, video calls, video conferencing and social media. More organizations are depending on technology to communicate.
Virtual project teams have the advantage of saving time driving or flying to meetings. Travel and accommodation costs are reduced. Teams can interact conveniently and it takes no time to logon. It is fast. Everyone is just one “click” away. It enables team members to be flexible with their schedules and submit project information on time. Team members can easily contact each other which saves times. It reduces the need for physical space and paying for office space. When all of these are in place, team members become more effective and efficient at their work.
Human Resources Contribution to Face-to-Face and Virtual Communication
Whether face-to-face or virtual communication, HR plays a role with the project team in establishing good communication. They can help set up meeting spaces, guide formal and informal communication, and facilitate meetings. Also, they can provide social media tools, share posts, and provide content that that team members want to share. Overall, HR can spark conversations, educate employees and boost morale for the team.
As a student and future HR Specialist, do you prefer face-to-face communication? Virtual communication? Why?