Interpersonal and Team Skills in Project Management

12 Oct 2021
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interpersonal skills


Interpersonal and team skills in project management are crucial for project success.

Organizations that focus on implementing interpersonal team skills in project management report 71% meeting the original goal. On the other hand, only 52% of projects that didn’t place priority on team skills reached their goal.

These results show that half of the project management teams don’t understand the importance of soft skills. Further, they don’t work on creating a culture that improves better project management performance.

Top interpersonal and Team Skills in Project Management 

A successful project leader must have a variety of skills. First, what comes to mind probably are technical and analytical skills. Even though these ones are irreplaceable, they are not enough. To complete the project, a project manager will need to work with a lot of interpersonal and team skills. These essential interpersonal and team project management skills are the following:

– General leadership
– Team building
– Motivating and influencing
– Two-way communication
– Decision Making
– Political and Cultural Awareness
– Trust building
– Conflict management
– Negotiation

In the article below, we will discuss each of them as well as how to improve each of them. 

General leadership

According to Teach Target, leadership is the activity of influencing and guiding followers or other members of the organization. It includes making decisions, creating and articulating a vision, and providing followers to reach that vision.

There are many descriptions of leaders and many leadership styles. However, one of the things to point out is their ability to motivate others to move in the same direction. They are capable of making people excited and motivated towards a common goal. 

In reality, leadership is often misunderstood with authority. Authority vs leadership is a big topic and a challenge for many organizations. To make it simple, let’s say that authority is a legitimate power based on position. On the other side, leadership is informal power based on influence.

In other words, people follow authority because they have to, and leaders because they believe them. Further, people follow authority only in the space of their power for example, at work, while leaders have influence in other areas as well.

One of the characteristics of a successful leader is resilience. According to Harvard Business Review, women have shown more resilience (54.7%) than men (49.3%) Other characteristics of a good leader are problem-solving skills, reliability, and being motivated.

How to learn leadership skills? 

Some believe leadership cannot be learned, that it is something you are born with. Simon Sinek wouldn’t agree. There are some things you can do to start thinking like a leader. They include:

  1. Practice your discipline. To guide others, a good leader should be reliable. 
  2. Increase your responsibilities by taking more projects. 
  3. Learn how to follow instructions by others.
  4. Develop situational awareness. 
  5. Try to motivate and inspire others to do better.
  6. Don’t stop learning.
  7. Listen more and talk less to understand the motives of speakers. 
Interpersonal and Team Skills in Project Management of a leader

Team Building

Now, when you know how to develop leadership, you need to have a team to follow. Building a team is another crucial skill of interpersonal and team project management skills. Every project requires a lot of different expertise for its development. Often, different disciplines bring together different people.

Team members can be from other departments and not familiar with each other’s disciplines. As a result that, they tend not to understand each other’s responsibilities in the project. The role of a project manager is to turn these individuals into a team that understands common goals.

Even though some team members or sub-teams can complete their work independently, they should have connections with the team. The focus should be on the whole team and project, instead of their part of the project. Good team-building means that all team members feel like they belong to the team.

Further, belonging to the team makes them approach the problem as a team, not individually. The practice of solving problems as a team shows better final results and makes team members more comfortable. It also empowers systematic work that later prevents small details from turning into larger issues. 

team work

How to build a team?

There are few things that you can do to ensure team building will be successful. They are the following:

  1. Set the clear mission, vision, and goals of the project. Be clear about each role and responsibilities. 
  2. Respect your team members as individuals. Don’t mix their personal qualities with the input they give for the project. 
  3. Try to make connections within the team. Organize informal meetings and team buildings. 
  4. Practice your emotional intelligence and try to communicate it to team members. 
  5. Communicate as much as you can to clear everything. 
  6. Celebrate and reward your team’s progress. Empower attempts instead of punishing them if they were not successful. 
  7. Empower diversify across the team. 

Motivating and influencing

Every team member knows what his responsibilities are. At the same time, doing something and having an interest in that is not the same thing. Motivation and influencing are what come in between to connect them.

Again, both unmotivated and motivated employees work. The difference is that a motivated one wants to do their best and works towards a team goal. The role of the project manager is to motivate team members.

Good skills of motivation will create an environment where team members reach goals while being satisfied with what they do. With this in mind, the project manager should know how to motivate each individual member of the team. Some of them will get motivated if they are challenged, others need reasurement. Also, some of the people get motivated through public praise. 

motivation

While working with your team, try to understand what will motivate each of them. The way you can motivate them is similar to how to influence them. Influencing is using your skills to make people come to an agreement. 

Here, influencing is a way of motivating, and not a way of manipulating. 

How to motivate people? 

How to motivate people is a question that seems like everyone can answer. But, in everyday work, you might forget to communicate some things that seem obvious. Here is the checklist of things you can do to show that you are paying attention to your team. 

  1. Recognize the good work of your team members. More than 70% of employees stated that hearing thank you from their managers increases motivation. 
  2. Set achievable and measurable goals. Small goals and achieving them will make your team members see project progress. 
  3. Keep being positive about your team. Happiness in your team is one of the most important factors for an overall project. Research shows that a positive attitude increases sales by 37%. 
  4. Encourage regular breaks. Breaks and micro breaks should be regular. They could make a maximum of 12% of the workday. 

Two-way communication

Good communication is important both in professional and private life. It is also the root of all the other project management skills. Since project managers communicate 90% of the time, communication is almost like their main duty. 

Two-way communication is a kind of communication where two or more people exchange information in a reciprocal way. In other words, one person expresses the idea and the other gives feedback. Two-way communication gives space for both speakers to understand each other.

Two-way communication is a team skill in project management that you should implement while working with all people included. You will need to communicate all the details to developers, designers, stakeholders, and others who work on the project. To optimize sprint velocity, other people in the team should be able to both understand your communication and communicate clearly by themselves.

Good communication does not imply a spoken one only. It stands for both verbal and written communication. This is why you need to pay attention to your written project requirements as well.

Another crucial part of two-way communication skills is to provide only the information that is needed. Providing too much information or not enough to the other parties can extend the process. 

two-way communication

How to improve two way communication? 

Listening to itself should improve two-way communication. Further, there are some more examples of how to improve two-way communication.

  1. Understand your audience and what is important to them.
  2. Create space where team members can share their feedback and suggestions for better organization. Provide safe space to talk about conflicts and human relationships inside of the team. 
  3. Give a reaction feedback. After you collect feedback and suggestions, show that you are doing something with them. Show your employees how their ideas are implemented. 

Decision Making

The next skill worth developing as a project manager is decision-making.

However, not all people have some type of decision-making style. There are four decision-making styles. We differ them as a directive, analytical, conceptual, and behavioral.

The more you dive into decision-making, the more you will understand it is more science than behavioral characteristics. There are four decision-making strategies.

4 decision-making strategies

Not to get confused with all the styles, it is effective to pick one that works for you. Since many people are working on the project, they might not agree on a decision.  Setting the standard process of decision-making will eliminate space for disagreement. 

How to improve decision making?

  1. Set the due date. Just like every other work that has to be done, give yourself a deadline by when you should make a decision. 
  2. Make a plan about the decision process. Plan the research and criteria you will need to support your decision. 
  3. Ask for additional opinions. Someone from your team or other expert could show you the other side of the coin. Encourage discussion across the team and track the arguments.  
  4. Limit options to consider.  Set criteria and by it eliminate the ones that don’t fit in. 
  5. Ignore your perspective. Instead of trying to prove that your choice is right, try to prove why it wont work. 

Political and Cultural Awareness

For every job where you work with people, you need to have political and cultural awareness. With the impacts of globalization, this awareness is even more in focus. Cultural diversity is one more important point in project management. 

The absence of mutual recognition and respect can lead to costs. EEOC shows that in 2018 there were 76,418 workplace discrimination charges in the United States. That resulted in more than $50 million in damages for victims in federal court.

The responsibility of the project manager is to recognize these cultural diversities and factor them into the project plan. Overlooking cultural peculiarities and customs might lead to project delays. To clarify, planning work with religious holidays of your team members will decrease improvisation and conflict. 

Important to realize here that cultural blindness is not the solution. Moreover, denying differences is the very lowest stage of cultural awareness. Instead of trying to minimize cultural variety, focus on seeing it. The next stages of cultural awareness are sensitivity, competence, and proficiency.

stages of cultural awareness

Furthermore, some team members might be politically active. Plus side is that their political skills could be helpful for the project. The Minus side is that some politics can cause problems and roadblocks in the project. Make sure you are aware of them on time. 

How to increase cultural awareness? 

Most people believe they are tolerant and aware of sociality. However, they still don’t know a lot about their colleagues’ cultural backgrounds. To bridge the gap between cultural differences, there are some steps you can take to increase cultural awareness.

  1. Have a calendar with all holidays that your employees celebrate. Sometimes it is hard to remember holidays of more religions and public holidays. Not to forget about any of them, it is good to have them all noted at one place. 
  2. Encourage communication to reduce cultural gaps. Communication is always a good way to go through misunderstandings and conflicts. 
  3. Show interest in employees’ festivals and food. Small arrangements by your team about introducing different food could be a way to go. 
  4. Observe and learn from foreign customers.

Trust building

Some say that there is no team without trust. Without trust, a team is just a group of individuals working in the same place. We can divide the trust into 4 elements: consistency, compassion, communication, and competency.

Having an environment where people can feel safe to tell their mistakes is a trust-building goal. Trust in teams means giving responsibility to team members. It also means reciprocally they do their best to meet project objectives. 

In other words, when a team member says they can perform a task, you can rely on them to do it. Another point of trust is when a team member cannot perform the task, they are comfortable saying it. Further, team members feel comfortable telling when they need help, rather than cause bigger problems.

How to build trust in teams?

  1. Admit when you make a mistake. That will make space for other team members to also be honest about their work. 
  2. Avoid blaming others for mistakes. Instead, focus on developing transparency for all team members. 
  3. Offer help to your colleagues. Some people might struggle to say when they don’t know something. You can do the first step and show them that it is fine to get help. 
  4. Make opportunities to build relationships within the team. Since sometimes it takes time to build trust, provide  face to face meetings.

Conflict management

CPP Global stated that every employee in the United States spends approximately 2.8 hours each week involved in the conflict. That accumulates around $359 billion in hours paid that are filled with conflict instead of productivity.

Important to realize that it is impossible to complete a project without any conflict. Project team members and stakeholders have different opinions and visions of results. Adding different personalities, communication skills, and preferences, there is really a big probability of conflict. 

Surely, conflict in the team prevents the team from working efficiently. It distracts them from the focus and common goal. Therefore, conflict management is an important interpersonal project management skill. There are many ways to deal with conflict. You can be accommodating, assertive, you can compromise. 

Many times conflict shows things that are not working and helps improvement. Moreover, if team members have the skills to overcome the conflict, it can pass painlessly. In detail, of people who had conflict training, 95% claim that it helped them go through workplace conflict positively.

How effectively you deal with conflict depends on your communication skills and the people involved. You can use more approaches and try to view the problem from different perspectives. 

conflict

How to manage a conflict? 

  1. Don’t ignore the conflict. When conflict happens, it is not a good thing to keep going like nothing happened. That will increase possibilities for future conflicts. Accept the conflict as a call for change and opportunity to grow. Thus, it should be addressed to the appropriate team member.
  2. Don’t take it personally. Focus on the problem and specific behaviour that accrued as a consequence of the problem. Another key point is to separate your feelings about the problem and person involved.
  3. Use neutral language. Neutral language is the way of communicating that does not favor anyone. People who are in conflict often use profanity, name calling and exaggerations. You should make the communication more objective and less emotionally laden.

Negotiation

Negotiation is communication whose goal is to make a joint decision. It is a way of finding mutually acceptable agreements for a particular topic. Explicitly, the goal of negotiation is to achieve an ideal outcome.

The nature of project management jobs requires them to have good negotiation skills. Their job includes making deals with stakeholders and team members and transferring their preferences. That means working with different points of view that can cause scope creep. 

negotiation process

Negotiation skills as important interpersonal skills of project management help managers to reach compromise. Compromise or agreement prevents delays and enables the project to keep moving towards its goal. 

There are few styles of negotiation. We differentiate between hard and soft negotiation styles. Hardstyle or controlling view the opponent as the enemy and someone you should win. Soft style or giving in focus on the relationship with the opponent and mutual satisfaction.

How to improve negotiation skills? 

Before starting any negotiation, and any other part of the project – prepare yourself. Identify the problem and its motivating factors. Sometimes, when you name the motives you can realize there is no actual need for negotiation but clarification. 

In every other case, go further with preparation. There is a negotiation life cycle that you can follow for better negotiation. 

negotiation lifecycle

There is something you can do to become a better negotiator:

  1. Analyze opponents point of view. Try to structure their argument and thesis.
  2. Develop a good BATNA (Best Alternative to Negotiated Agreement). BATNA is the most advantageous alternative after the one that was your goal. Having it clear will give you more bargaining power. Also, calculate the lowest-valued option that you want to accept.
  3. Know opponents BATNA. Opponents BATNA is their alternative if negotiations are unsuccessful. Evaluate how much is their BATNA worth to you.
  4. Be an active listener.  During discussion you can learn more about the opponent’s motives and perspectives. Communicate clearly your points and make sure others understand you. Once again identify the differences between the wangs vs the needs of other parties. 
  5. Make a good agreement for both parties. If only one side benefits from negotiation, that is not negotiation but manipulation. Therefore, show your opponent what advantages they can take with your agreement. That will ensure they keep the deal 

What else to know about interpersonal skills in project management?

A cultural mindset that values the interpersonal skills of a project manager is vital to the business. Having technical and analytical skills is important, but only these ones won’t make the project meet the goal.

Before working on interpersonal and team skills in project management, establish company priorities. That will show you the styles of interpersonal skills you can implement. Further, communicate these priorities to the project team. With buy-in and support from the sponsor and stakeholders, it will be easier to develop any project management skills. 

It is easier to build trust and good teamwork if you plan it from the very beginning. Include interpersonal activities in the schedule at the beginning of the project. To keep that in mind throughout the project, be aware of the cost of the delay.

Eventually, improving some of the interpersonal skills will help not just your career, but also your private life. If you would like to comment on any of them, you can find us here.

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