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Michelle LaBrosse

Quality Insider

Interpersonal Skills and You

11 tips of team building

Published: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - 17:49

Please hold for a scene from the movie Office Space:

Bob: “What would you say ya do here?”

Tom: “Well look, I already told you! I deal with the g!**@#n customers so the engineers don’t have to! I have people skills! I am good at dealing with people! Can’t you understand that? What the hell is wrong with you people?”

And we’re back. For those of you who have seen Office Space, you most likely know the following scene. For those who haven’t, watch the short clip “Office Space, People Skills” because it is imperative for the intellectual debate we are about to delve into.

Interpersonal skills often get a bad rap for being “common sense” or “fluffy” and as a consequence, people tend to give more of their time and attention to developing their technical skills. But the truth is, the more we lose focus on the importance of interpersonal skills, the more we can damage our relationships and careers. Interpersonal skills are becoming such a hot topic that it even has its own appendix in the PMBOK Guide Fifth Edition, which will be tested starting July 31, 2013.

Why are interpersonal skills so important to project managers? Let’s take a look at 11 aspects of interpersonal skills stressed in the PMBOK Guide to get a better understanding of how they shape your projects and your career.

1. Leadership. When you are able to lead from a place of trust and respect (rather than using punishments to illicit fear), your project team will be able to accomplish so much more. A good leader has the ability to motivate others to get things done, and use each person’s strength to the advantage of the entire team. To be a successful leader, you can’t just create a submissive team; you must create an inspired team that shares your vision and understands how their contributions are helping to achieve that vision.

2. Team building. You can’t put together a group of people that seems to make a good team “on paper” and expect reality to align with your expectations. Unless you are really lucky, a team will need to work on team building to be effective. The team can do this by openly and honestly talking about their expectations in their unique team roles, deciding how they will deal with conflict should it arise, and focusing on problems in terms of their possible solutions—not in terms of blaming people for the problems.

3. Motivation. How do you get a committed team that will work hard toward a project’s goal? First, you must find out how to motivate them. This task may be more difficult than you  think because not everyone is motivated in the same way. One person may be motivated by money, while another prefers professional achievement and growth. Get to know your team and what motivates them, and develop incentives that speak to those motivations.

4. Communication. Communication, or the lack thereof, can make or break a project team. Although a communication plan can help ensure effective communication, there are many other interpersonal dynamics that affect team communication, such as cultural and communication style differences.

5. Influencing. Knowing how to influence others is a powerful skill, and can be used either destructively or productively. As a project manager with good intentions, it’s in your best interest to improve your influencing skills until you can make significant changes and improvements in your project team and organization.

6. Decision making. How will you and your team make important project decisions? Will you as the project manager make decisions on your own, or will you involve your team for most decisions? It’s important to take some time to think about the decision-making process because it will affect many other areas, such as motivation and team building.

7. Political and cultural awareness. The days are gone where a project manager can function in an isolated bubble comprised of his particular circumstances and experiences, and expect to be able to relate to others. Today, successful project managers not only recognize and accommodate cultural diversity, they also capitalize on it.

8. Negotiation. Think about how many times you negotiate every day. Whether it pertains to what you watch on TV in the evening to what currency to use in your latest international deal, negotiations permeate every part of your life. The more you listen to the other party and understand her requirements as well as your own, the more likely you will find a mutually beneficial solution for both parties.

9. Trust building. Can you imagine working on a project team where each person has only his own interests in mind, and neither trusts nor likes anyone else on the team? Trust is the foundation of a good project team, so give the entire team the flexibility they need to accomplish tasks in the way they best know how.

10. Conflict management. When we hear the word “conflict,” we often think of fighting, relationship deterioration, and stress. But this negative connotation does not have to be your project team’s reality. Turning conflict into collaborate problem solving is one of the best experiences a team can have because it addresses the validity of dissenting opinions and aims to make the situation better than it was before.

11. Coaching. A project team reaches the ultimate level of productivity when each team member feels empowered to reach her full potential. When you invest in your team members in the form of training, they will in turn invest in the project and organization with their time, skill, and expertise.

So the next time someone asks you, “What would you say ya do here?” you can say with confidence that you are a project manager who uses your interpersonal skills (“people skills”) to create effective and successful project teams that can move mountains.


About The Author

Michelle LaBrosse’s picture

Michelle LaBrosse

Michelle LaBrosse is an entrepreneurial powerhouse with a penchant for making success easy, fun, and fast. She is the founder of Cheetah Learning and a prolific blogger whose mission is to bring project management to the masses. She is a graduate of the Harvard Business School’s Owner/President Management program and holds engineering degrees from Syracuse University and the University of Dayton. Cheetah Learning is a virtual company with 100 employees, contractors, and licensees worldwide. More than 50,000 people have used Cheetah Learning’s project management and accelerated learning techniques.