Project manager – project staff fit: Does it matter?
The ad-hoc nature of project organizations necessitates putting together new teams at the start of almost every project. This could be unsettling for people who are coming into the project to work with people that they may have never worked with before. People have to adjust, find common ground, and be ready for an environment they may not feel fully engaged with. So, the fit and alignment among various cadres of staff and the environment are critical to the smooth functioning of a project organization.
Not only is the fit in-between staff members important, but the fit between the project manager and the project staff is vital too. The non-existence of such a fit could even stall a project. Particularly, as projects are focused on delivery and faced with constraints of time and budget, it is not always easy to focus on spending time and money on activities (e.g., cohesion between manager and staff or relationships among staff) that are not considered or seen as contributing directly to the achievement of project deliverables.
There are studies that have looked at person-environment fit and the effects of leader-member exchange in a project organization context. But it seems more needs to be done to understand if it really matters to have a project manager-project staff fit and the challenges in developing such a fit.
With that in mind and to advance some thoughts on the subject, we have looked at some of the potential challenges in achieving project manager-project staff fit. Needless to say, the challenges discussed here are neither exhaustive nor conclusive, but the discussion is meant to initiate more thought around the topic.
Potential challenges to achieving the project manager-project staff fit
- Unplanned staffing
When staffing is done just to fill the gaps, it could lead to bringing in people that may find it challenging to develop synergies and work cohesively. In particular, in organizations that lack project management maturity (which, in hindsight, is often the case), people with little understanding of project management make staffing decisions for projects. That could lead to unplanned staffing and, consequently, a lack of fit.
In hindsight, more than 90% of organizations worldwide are small-to-medium enterprises. As such, it is expected that they will not have dedicated project management staff or resources to handle projects. Therefore, functional managers handle projects or serve as project managers. In such circumstances, it is unavoidable not to have gaps in the thinking and working of staff and the project manager as functional managers lack the project management expertise, resulting in a lack of project manager-project staff fit.
- Lack of training
The lack of training and having the right skills to lead is another challenge that project managers could face when leading projects. If the person leading and managing the projects has risen through the hierarchy just because of their longevity in working with an organization or multiple years of experience; it could be possible that the person may not possess the desired level of knowledge and skills to build synergistic teams.
A lack of training to lead and build teams is certainly an area that needs attention. When the project manager and project staff are not provided training related to communication, interpersonal relationship management, and building teams, they may find it challenging to integrate synchronously, leading to a lack of fit.
- Outside project influences
People from outside the project organization could also influence the working environment of the project, contributing to the development of problems between the project manager and the project staff. The outside influence could result in misunderstandings among the people working on the project by providing inaccurate information or misguiding people working within it. These influences could occur either due to some interest (positive or negative) in the project, due to organizational politics, or due to conflicts among the opposing groups/functions related to project work.
- Lack of synergies between manager and staff
Human behaviour is very dynamic, and there will always be situations where people are unable to engage and develop synergies. Lack of synergies could happen due to previous working relationships, experiences or differing interests. Therefore, some thought needs to be given to the past working relationships, the working styles of people, the capabilities and skills of the proposed project manager, and the criteria for people deployed to work on a project. Such an evaluation will help in putting in place some sense of in-built synergy within the team. Though, given the dynamics of human behaviour, one cannot discount the possibility of the development of a lack of synergies between a project manager and the project staff.
The personality gaps could also lead to a misfit. People have differing personalities. Some are dominating, overindulging, and assertive. Others could be passive, laid back, and show a consistent lack of interest in everything that happens around them. So, if there are personality gaps between the project manager and the project staff, it could lead to clashes and bickering within the team, leading to all sorts of work-related issues within the project.
It would be stating the obvious that people are the most critical element to delivering a project successfully. Therefore, cohesion among the people has to be there to perform work as per client requirements. In particular, a good working synergy between the project manager and the project staff is essential to keep things on track and allow the project manager to lead the team members to deliver the project output.
Despite its importance and some work on understanding the complexities involved in project manager-project staff relationships, a thorough understanding of how project manager–project staff fit can be achieved is warranted.
To advance further thought processes in this context, we have looked at some of the potential challenges to achieving such a fit. Of particular focus in this regard are the human behavioural aspects and the lack of project management expertise within organizations. Project management is often not the core activity in organizations. It necessitates functional managers and staff handling projects, which could lead to issues in how projects are staffed, and a potential lack of project manager-project staff fit.
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