The Eight Essential People Skills for Project Management: Solving the Most Common People Problems for Team Leaders

The Eight Essential People Skills for Project Management: Solving the Most Common People Problems for Team Leaders

by Zachary Wong


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Veteran project manager and University of California professor Zachary Wong identifies the eight most common people problems in managing projects and offers a flexible, customizable approach to solving them, based on a lifetime of research.

Zachary Wong offers practical strategies, skills, and tools to help project managers diagnose and solve their toughest people problems. Based on decades in the trenches, the book shows how to confront and correct bad behavior, increase team performance and inclusion, turn around difficult people and poor performers, get people to do what you want them to do, boost employee motivation and attitude, reduce change resistance and risk aversion, and manage difficult bosses.

Wong believes that the best team leaders are problem-solvers and facilitators, so this book provides problem-solving models and tools to diagnose people problems, and facilitative methods, processes, and techniques to correct them. It's an approach that can be personalized to fit any person or situation. Each skill is explained with a well-balanced mix of case stories, examples, strategies, processes, tools, and techniques along with illustrations, graphics, tables, and other visuals to clarify key concepts and their workplace application. To reinforce the most important learnings, Wong includes a "Memory Card" and "Skill Summary" at the end of each chapter.

Nothing is harder than leading people and managing project teams. Being successful takes a combination of knowing human psychology, organizational behaviors, and human factors; having supervisory, process, and communication skills; ensuring good teamwork, high integrity, and strong leadership; and having the ability to integrate and apply these skills to a diverse work team. The Eight Essential People Skills for Project Management is designed for individuals, team leaders, and managers who oversee and coordinate the daily performance of others and who are seeking solutions that they can apply immediately.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781523097937
Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers
Publication date: 12/11/2018
Pages: 216
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Zachary Wong is a Professor and "Honored Instructor" of human factors, leadership, teams, international marketing and business management at the U. C. Berkeley Extension and Adjunct Professor at U.C. at Davis. He has over thirty years of managerial experience at Chevron Corporation in Research and Technology, Strategic Planning, Business Analysis, Mergers & Acquisitions and Risk Assessment. He is an active consultant in organizational effectiveness, leadership training and team development. He is the author of Human Factors in Project Management and Personal Effectiveness in Project Management.

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How to Diagnose and Correct People Problems The Wedge

The New Organizational Wedge Model — No More Pyramids

Diagnosing and solving people problems begin by understanding the basic configuration of today's organizations. Historically, the classic model for organizational structures has been the pyramid, where a small number of executives resided at the pinnacle, senior managers sat just below that, a slew of middle managers populated the midsection, and the widest, biggest, and lowest tier represented the employee base (Figure 1.1, left-hand side). It was top-down management, and the hierarchy represented the relative distribution of authority, decision-making, knowledge, and pay. The higher you were, the more you had, and the people below served the people above. The bulk of the employees resided in the lower half of the pyramid and had limited power, control, and access to information. Also, moving up the hierarchy in terms of advancement and internal communications was a steep climb. However, over time the assumption that workers are laborers who require close supervision and a "command and control" structure has become more obsolete.

In more recent years, another conceptual model was proposed called the inverted pyramid, which reversed the traditional model and tried to show the change in management behavior and the empowerment of employees to make decisions and changes (Figure 1.1, right-hand side) (1). In this new model, the executives serve and support the bulk of the organization and are responsive to the employee base. In practice, it's unclear whether organizations have truly adopted this bottom-up, worker-based, reverse hierarchy philosophy. Management and executives of most organizations certainly support their employees and want them to excel in their jobs; but do executives and management really serve the employee base, as the inverted pyramid implies, or do they serve the owners of the enterprise, which are usually shareholders, investors, financial institutions, and other equity stakeholders? Governmental organizations are charged with serving the interests of the taxpayers and their constituents; for nonprofits, it's their sponsors and supporters. Does your organization operate as a hierarchy pyramid or an inverted pyramid?

The inverted model seems to imply that workers are highly empowered — that the will of the workers prevail — which is certainly not the case. Clearly, organizational policies, rules, and authority are defined by the owners and management of the enterprise. Although management styles have greatly changed over the years, and there's definitely more employee empowerment and less autocracy, one can argue that in today's organizations, the operating model is probably somewhere between a pyramid and an inverted pyramid — a horizontal pyramid (Figure 1.2).

Furthermore, due to the characteristics of the new generation of workers and advances in skills, technology, education, and communications, organizations are much flatter, leaner, smarter, and more efficient, and therefore the pyramid should be cut in half horizontally, resulting in a wedge structure (Figure 1.2, dashed line). The old pyramid structures are too big, slow, and bottom-heavy for today's workplace. The new model needs to be horizontal, streamlined, and efficient.

The model also needs to be further updated to reflect the fact that work teams now dominate the landscape. We have shifted away from executives, middle managers, senior managers, and workers to a more team-based platform of management, work teams, and individual contributors. Individual contributor is more apropos in today's workplace, where employees possess much greater responsibility, power, and value. The label "individual contributor" recognizes that each employee is unique and can have a significant impact on the success of the team and organization. They are not workers but rather unique and valued contributors (Figure 1.3).

In addition, the size of each section depicted in the wedge should correspond not to the number of people at each level but rather to the relative power, scope, authority, and resources bestowed at each level. So the wedge shows management at the top, commanding the greatest authority and influence in an organization, followed by work teams and individual contributors.

In today's organizations, the boundaries between levels are much less rigid in terms of teamwork, flexibility, and delegation of authority, which means we need to change the solid dividing lines in the pyramid to more seamless divisions in the wedge. More decisions are made in collaboration with teams of people, and the process is much more open and iterative than in the past. The project leader plays a critical role in facilitating, supervising, and leading teams, and they play a highly influential role in today's workplace. The "team leader" designation is missing from the wedge because team leaders today work fluidly between individual contributors and work teams and between work teams and management, so they operate across all three levels of an organization.

Finally, in these times of tighter budgets, cost reductions, outsourcing, faster cycle times, and less bureaucracy in organizations, the wedge also symbolizes the fact that organizations have established more leveraged resources and processes at all levels. For example, all services and functions that are considered a commodity or provide no competitive advantage (such as, customer service centers, maintenance, training, benefits, and accounting) are readily centralized, shared, or outsourced as a means of leveraging resources.

In short, due to changes in organizational management, personnel, technology, teamwork, communications, and leverage, I believe the wedge is a more accurate representation of how organizations are structured and operate today. Skill One will take a deeper look at the wedge model and how it can help you as a project team leader.

Roles and Responsibilities

Each level of the wedge plays a different role that carries a different level of power, scope, authority, leverage, and responsibility (Figure 1.4). I will discuss the significance of these attributes in more depth in Skill Two.

* Individual contributor: Skill and task oriented. Each employee brings unique talents, skills, experiences, and diversity to his or her work. Most employees have a relatively narrow scope, restricted authority, leverage, and limited power with responsibility for various work tasks, skills, and processes.

* Work team: Project and process oriented. This level typically has many different types of project and functional teams, which are led by team leaders, department managers, supervisors, superintendents, and coordinators. Compared to individual contributors, teams have more power, scope, leverage, and authority to make changes, decisions, and innovations.

* Management team: Policy and strategy oriented. The highest part of the wedge represents corporate departments and executives whose role is to lead and manage the organization. Management teams have the broadest scope, power, authority, leverage, and responsibilities for organization-wide planning, strategies, resource allocation, monitoring, control, and policies.

Leveraging the Power and Resources of Individuals, Teams, and Management

The wedge is a multifunctional model that serves as a leadership, performance, and diagnostic tool for solving people problems.

Use the Wedge to Better Understand Your Leadership Role

How does the wedge help you to understand your role as an organizational leader? From a leadership perspective, you have two key roles: creating organizational alignment and leveraging resources.

Organizational Alignment All team leaders are expected to lead, perform, and solve problems with excellence. You must be able to see the bigger picture and lead your team in working to meet organizational objectives and strategies. Linking organizational policies and strategies to team projects and processes, as well as individual skills and tasks, is a huge expectation for team leaders. As the wedge depicts, aligning your team's work upward to the management level and downward to individual contributors helps you to manage your resources effectively, achieve the right timing and priorities, apply the right strategies and focus for your team, and produce the most value for the organization. This is the essence of leading teams and projects. Organizational alignment is further discussed here and in Skill Two.

Leveraging Resources When it comes to leadership, leveraging and maximizing resources are critical to achieving organizational efficiency, profit- ability, growth, and sustainability. As a project leader, you are probably spread thin in terms of time, people, budget, and other resources. You have to strive continuously to do more with less but at the same time invest in long-term growth and development. The wedge symbolizes power and leverage, which increase as you go from individual to management level. Leverage means using a modest amount of time, effort, and resources to yield a much bigger and sustainable result — producing a multiplier effect, the biggest bang for your buck. In other words, you lead by leveraging individual and team resources to meet management-level expectations.

You are responsible for managing, aligning, and leveraging your team's resources. All your team's resources, including people's time, skills, knowledge, experience, ideas, and best practices, have limited value unless they are leveraged across the enterprise. The relative size of each level of the wedge reflects the proportional value of a single contributor (individual), many individuals working together on project and functional teams (work teams), and many teams working in alignment with the mission, strategies, policies, and goals of the organization (management).

What's the potential increase in productivity and efficiency of a team and organization over a group of individuals? One can surmise that sharing one person's skills, knowledge, and experiences with another person (such as in a mentor-mentee relationship or cross-training) could potentially double one's value by increasing the other party's knowledge and skills to the team and organization. But if we look at a team of people, where we can optimize and leverage the time, energy, ideas, skills, knowledge, and experiences across many people, the potential increase in productivity and efficiency would be even larger, say tenfold, than for a group of individuals working separately. This would come from not only cross-learning (such as mentoring, sharing information) but also team organization, processes, and coordination (such as communications, accountability, planning, scheduling); creativity (for example, team brainstorms, developing ideas together); decision-making and problem solving (such as more input and options); motivation (such as trust, camaraderie, team recognitions, peer pressure); and team values (consistent behaviors). No doubt a high-performing team has much more capability and value than a group of separate individuals.

Finally, leveraging the skills and experiences of many teams across an entire organization (such as matrix organizations, centers of excellence) can potentially result in a tremendous increase, perhaps a hundredfold or more, in efficiency and value compared to independent teams. This is often done with Management, Technology, Human Resources, Training and Development, Legal, Planning and Control, Procurement, Project Management, Recruitment, Employee Benefits, and many more. The hundredfold increase is also derived from leveraging financial resources, policies, strategies, goals, affiliations, and physical and intellectual assets.

You can save significant time, energy, and money by better utilizing your organization's centers of expertise, services, and information. Whether it's a policy question regarding employee time off or you're looking for best practices in project management, these functions and services exist in a highly leveraged structure to assist you as a team leader. More importantly, it has broad, long-term, organization-wide precedents in policy administration.

Using the Wedge to Manage Performance and People Problems

In addition to helping you understand your organizational leadership role, the wedge is a model for visualizing and managing team performance and people problems.

Project leaders are expected to work seamlessly across all three levels of the wedge. You supervise a team, you're working one on one with individual employees, and you represent the policies and procedures of management. These responsibilities are implemented via key processes that are distributed in the wedge (Figure 1.5). You aren't expected to solve everything yourself. In order to manage performance effectively and solve people problems, you need to be aware of and use the best processes found within each level of the wedge. As a project leader, you have the responsibility for knowing and using these processes to support individual and team performance.

The wedge contains all the key human factors that determine employee, team, and management performance. Human factors are the underlying motivators of behavior and performance. Although you could probably think of hundreds of factors that affect performance, there are only a small number of factors that matter the most. These critical determinants, which I call knobs, regulate people's performance and are revealed later in this section. You want to use these knobs to turn up and fine-tune performance.

Finally, the wedge is a useful and powerful diagnostic tool for identifying and taking action on individual, team, and management performance problems. To be an effective problem solver, you must be competent in identifying the specific root problem first; otherwise you'll be wasting your time and effort trying to cure the symptom instead of the disease. More importantly, when trying to correct people's performance problems, use the level that gives you the best resources, expertise, and processes to solve your problem. When seeking to solve people problems, always act from a position that gives you the greatest strength and leverage. But how do you do that? You use the best leveraging factor at each level of the wedge. I refer to these key leveraging factors as levers and they will be identified later in this chapter.

Diagnosing and Correcting People Problems

Using the wedge, the first step in diagnosing and correcting people problems is to determine whether the problem is an individual, team, or management issue. You take it to the right stakeholder and authority. For example, if the performance problem relates to compliance with laws, regulations, or company policies, such as employee discrimination, workplace hostility, employee harassment, fraud, or other such violations, take it promptly to the management level — Human Resources, Legal, Medical, Finance, Health, Environment and Safety, or others. As a policy, legal, or company-wide issue, your focus and action must be at the upper end of the wedge, where they have the subject-matter expertise, experience, precedence, authority, and responsibility to handle the issue effectively. It's not your responsibility to try to interpret, judge, correct, or resolve the issue, because it has larger ramifications and precedence in terms of legal, policy, public relations, and other management-level concerns. Of course, you will be involved in the process, but at this point it's not a supervisory-level issue. It's not a knock on your intelligence or ability; it's a matter that belongs to management. These types of issues require maximum leverage and attention — wedge it up.


Excerpted from "The Eight Essential People Skills for Project Management"
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Copyright © 2018 Zachary Wong.
Excerpted by permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc..
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Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Skill 1 How to Diagnose and Correct People Problems: The Wedge 9

The New Organizational Wedge Model-No More Pyramids 9

Leveraging the Power and Resources of Individuals, Teams, and Management 13

Using the Wedge to Manage Performance and People Problems 15

Skill One Summary 28

Skill 2 How to Be Tough on People Problems without Being Tough on People: The Three Hats 31

Case 2.1 Managing Tough Situations-Juggling Your Roles as a Team Leader 32

Case 2.2 It's Tough to Let Go-Delegating Responsibilities to Others 43

Case 2.3 Being a Tough Leader-Displaying Genuine Leadership 47

The Toughest Challenge for a Team Leader 54

Six Ways to Bring Out Your Best 55

Skill Two Summary 57

Skill 3 How to Build Highly Successful Teams: The Loop 60

Case 3.1 The Company Merger-Forming a New Team 60

What Motivates and Demotivates People to Stay Engaged 67

Keeping Your Team Together during Conflicts 69

Case 3.2 The Tuna Fish Sandwich-Preventing Conflicts 71

Choosing between "We" and "Me" 76

The Value of Good Teamwork 77

The Six Inclusive Behaviors of Highly Successful Teams 78

Skill Three Summary 88

Skill 4 How to Boost People's Attitudes, Happiness, and Performance: The Ice Cream Cone 90

Case 4.1 The Ice Cream Cone-The Importance of Keeping a Good Attitude 91

The Different Attitude Levels of People 98

What Drives Positive and Negative Attitudes 100

How to Improve the Attitude and Performance of Your Team 101

Case 4.2 The Finger Cut-Focus on the Behavior, Not the Outcome 102

Empowerment Raises People's Attitudes 105

How to Treat People the Right Way for Maximum Impact 106

Skill Four Summary 109

Skill 5 How to Turn Around Difficult People and Underperformers: Roll the Ball Forward 111

Case 5.1 Why We Don't Confront Poor Performers 112

The Ten Toughest People to Work With 113

Characteristics of Difficult People and Underperformers 114

How to Get Poor Performers Back on Track 115

What Holds Back Difficult People and Underperformers 120

Strategies for Correcting Difficult and Underperforming Behaviors 120

Process Model for Turning Around Difficult People, Underperformers, and Other Problem Employees 122

The Best Tips and Techniques for Difficult Conversations 135

Be Aware of Difficult Overachievers 138

Skill Five Summary 139

Skill 6 How to Motivate the Right Team Behaviors: The Abc Boxes 141

Case 6.1 The Ambitious Project Manager-Does the End Justify the Means? 141

The Best Model for Facilitating Team Behaviors 146

Triggering the Right Team Behaviors: Box A 147

Defining Your Team's Critical Success Behaviors: Box B 150

The Most Important Skill for Sustaining Desired Team Behaviors: Box C 153

Case 6.2 Sharing Best Practices-How to Shape a New Team Behavior 158

Skill Six Summary 166

Skill 7 How to Succeed When Faced with Change, Problems, and New Challenges: The Black Box Effect 169

Case 7.1 The Cross-Country Championship-The Risk Taker 170

How Uncertainty, Fear, and Risks Affect People: The Black Box Effect 174

The Secrets to Overcoming the Uncertainty of the Circumstance 176

The Secrets to Overcoming the Uncertainty of Your Ability to Perform 183

Case 7.2, Part 1 Overcoming the Risk and Fear of Giving a Presentation-The First Two Steps 186

The Secrets to Overcoming the Uncertainty of a Bad Outcome 190

Case 7.2, Part 2 Overcoming the Risk and Fear of Giving a Presentation-The Third Step 192

How Risk Taking Has Enabled Your Success 194

Skill Seven Summary 195

Skill 8 How to Gain Favor and Influence with Your Boss: Be More Visible 197

Working Well with Your Boss: Your Happiness Depends on It 197

Averting the One Thing That Everyone Fears from the Boss 201

The Key to Managing Up 202

Strategies for Gaining Favor and Influence with Your Boss 203

How to Get That Promotion You Want 208

Managing a Bad Boss 210

Case 8.1 Conflict with Your Boss-Doing the Right Thing 210

Working with a Difficult Boss 219

Skill Eight Summary 220

Epilogue 223

References 225

Acknowledgments 227

Index 229

About the Author 239

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