IPMA International Project Management Association
24 June 2019 / 9:00

Self-organisation – a new paradigm for project-oriented work (2)

This is the second of a series of blogposts on self-organisation in the context of projects. The topic was discussed in depth last weekend in a think tank on “rethinking projects”, which will prepare the topic fundamentally and then discuss it in greater detail at the IPMA research conference in autumn 2020. This time I will focus on self-determination of people as a success-critical basis for self-organisation.

According to Self-determination theory (SDT) three distinct psychological needs motivate the self to initiate behaviour and specify nutriments that are essential for psychological health and well-being of individuals: competence, autonomy, and relatedness. These needs are seen as universal necessities, which are innate, not learned (instinctive), and seen in humanity across time, gender and culture. SDT stems from research on intrinsic and extrinsic drivers for behaviour of people. One of the key questions raised was the motivation behind choices people make without external influence and interference. Key focus of SDT is the degree to which an individual’s behaviour is self-motivated and self-determined. Edward L. Deci and Richard Ryan were the key proponents of the SDT, expanding on work that was done differentiating between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and proposing the above mentioned needs involved in self-determination.

What is meant by these three psychological needs? Competence is meant to be seeking to control the outcome of one´s activities and experiencing mastery. It is growing the own skills by performing tasks that are new, challenging but still in reach. If the challenges are too big, it could be rather demotivating (see the blogpost on Passion for Projects – The Beauty and the Beast) or discouraging. Recognition of achievements, a positive feedback or celebrating successes help to reinforce this psychological need. Autonomy refers to the desire of people to be responsible of their own life and act in harmony with their integrated selves. However, it is mentioned by Deci and other researchers that it does not mean people want to be independent of others. Here comes the third psychological need into play, the relatedness as the will of people to interact, be connected to, and experience caring for others…

Projects are an ideal ground for people experiencing the above mentioned psychological needs. Projects are unique tasks, challenging and opportunity for personal growth. People should be able to select projects that fits their growth path, which means the right challenge at the right time – not too big with the risk of failing and being discouraged, but also not too small and thus boring or making it too easy for somebody to perform. Depending on the initial set-up of the project, people can experience autonomy together with relatedness. It depends on the space to manoeuvre given to people in a project, choosing the right task(s) by themselves, organizing the work, its content and the relationship together with other people. They will feel discouraged if someone chooses the work (package) for them, delegates and micro-manages them in a rigid work environment, where formal regulations and mistrust hinder people to fulfil their psychological needs.

Therefore, organisations need to reconsider organisational structures, processes, culture and leadership behaviour in order to unleash the self-determination of people working in their context. Especially the millennials require organisations to change the organisation setting, otherwise the organisation will have difficulties to engage those people. So on the one hand side organisations need to give space to manoeuvre to people working in their context. On the other hand, organisation need to encourage their people, support them through coaching, mentoring or training-on-the-job. People may need to re-discover their psychological needs and how those can be satisfied in the context of project-related work.





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Reinhard Wagner

Author of this post

Reinhard Wagner has been active for more than 30 years in the field of project- related leadership, in such diverse sectors as Air Defense, Automotive Engineering, and Machinery, as well as various not-for-profit organizations. As a Certified Projects Director (IPMA Level A), he has proven experience in managing projects, programmes and project portfolios in complex and dynamic contexts. He is also an IPMA Certified Programme and Portfolio Management Consultant, and as such supports senior executives in developing and improving their organizational competence in managing projects. For more than 15 years, he has been actively involved in the development of project, programme and portfolio management standards, for example as Convenor of the ISO 21500 “Guidance on Project Management” and the ISO 21503 “Guidance on Programme Management”. Reinhard Wagner is Past President of IPMA and Chairman of the Council, Honorary Chairman of GPM (the German Project Management Association), as well as Managing Director of Tiba Managementberatung GmbH.