As a seasoned Project Manager, experienced leader, and prior member of many different project teams and cross-functional teams over the years, I have found that many organizational leaders and organizations struggle with blind spots. The inability for Project Managers and leaders to see the blind spots in themselves, their teams, or their organization often leads to dysfunctional project execution, poor stakeholder engagement, and ineffective communication. This, coupled with the increasing demands of delivering projects on time, on budget, and within scope, create even more challenges for Project Managers to deal with.
According to the Project Management Institute’s 2020 Pulse of the Profession® study, published in February 2020, organizations are demanding that Project Managers prioritize development in four skill areas: technical project management, leadership, business, and digital. These skills are consistently required to meet the Project Economy, where organizations restructure to gain efficiencies in project delivery; implementing new project management methodologies such as Agile, Disciplined Agile®, and Scaled Agile® Framework; and seeking ways to deliver the highest value to their customers and stakeholders.
Part 1: Addressing Your Own Blind Spots
Project Managers and leaders must begin with self-reflection of their own technical skills and abilities, leadership, and personal strengths and weaknesses. Becoming self-aware helps develop an understanding of areas where that leader may need to find someone else with complementary skills through teaming or entering into a mentoring relationship. Developing this emotional intelligence also leads to identifying future professional and personal development opportunities. For example, a leader who realizes that they may have great organizational skills, but struggles to effectively communicate during project team meetings may decide to invest in developing his communication skills through joining a Toastmasters® group or obtaining a public speaking coach.
Unfortunately, many of us struggle with seeing ourselves, identifying areas that need development, and establishing a plan of action to address their deficiencies. Some of this is due to ongoing requirements to successfully deliver complex projects, lead challenging project teams, and effectively engage stakeholders and organizational leaders.
Aside from self-reflection, there are some other strategies that can help you identify your personal blind spots. Each of them is centered around feedback, which allows you to consider insight from other perspectives. An ideal option is to hire Centurion Project Management to provide executive coaching or other training to you. Another method is to conduct a 360-degree leadership assessment, where you ask selected peers (fellow project managers and functional managers), subordinates (project team members), and supervisors (directors or other project sponsors) for direct feedback about all aspects of your project leadership and performance. Another tool is to develop a short questionnaire that you ask some of your colleagues to periodically complete to provide you with insight into areas that you may not see. These questionnaires are easy to develop as a form or even a digital survey that participants can use to offer feedback either anonymously or with attribution. Regardless of the technique you use, finding your blind spots is only effective if you review the feedback you receive, acknowledge your shortcomings, and develop a plan of action to address your deficiencies.
Part 2: Eliminating the Blind Spots in Your Teams
Many Project Teams struggle to work together, gain consensus, and complete project tasks according to plan. It is already difficult to progress through Bruce Tuckman’s Stages of Team Formation and transition through forming, storming, norming, and performing stages, and we often forget about the final stages of adjourning and transforming. It is not surprising that these same teams often can not determine what they are missing because they are too task-oriented on completing project work, saving developmental needs and project team improvement ideas for project closeouts and collecting lessons learned. By the end of the project, the team is weary and beginning to focus on completing the final project report and mentally preparing for the requirements of the next project assignment.
There are many common challenges that teams and organizations face in identifying their blind spots. These challenges include a lack of commitment to the team objectives, suffering in silence, and avoiding conflict.
When team members lack commitment to the team objectives, they lose sight of the project’s value, impact on the organization, and strategic importance. When this happens, team members fail to effectively collaborate, fix problems as they arise, or strive for innovation. Project managers and leaders can address this issue by establishing team formation protocols that include a team charter, where the team describes and agrees upon how they will work together for the duration of the project. This team charter can describe contributions in meetings, quality of project work, and other problem areas that previous projects have identified.
The second issue many teams face is when team members suffer in silence when an issue arises that impacts a project’s objectives. The team member struggles to come up with a solution to the problem and wastes time, energy, and resources while the project stagnates and begins to create second and third-order ripple effects. In many instances, the Project Manager finds out about the issue far after the problem is identified, limiting her options in a successful resolution. Project leaders can combat this through communication and intentionally creating a culture where team members are rewarded for raising any issue that frustrates the team’s ability to meet a project objective. Project managers can consistently ask their team what obstacles they are facing in doing their project work, and deliberately work to remove the obstacles or escalate them to the appropriate decision level.
Lastly, some teams specialize in avoiding conflict, which inhibits their ability to discover how to work together, define roles and responsibilities, and reach higher levels of team performance. Team members mistakenly think that they are “keeping the peace” by not addressing conflicts over common issues like roles or competition over scarce resources, but conflict avoidance actually stunts the team’s growth and development. Project Managers can help their teams work through the avoidance blind spot by identifying conflict areas, addressing issues when they arise, and encouraging team members to do the same. This takes both practical applications through practice and sometimes even training.
Project Managers and leaders of all types commonly deal with their own blind spots as well as those found in their project teams and also at the organizational level. Centurion Project Management offers a full spectrum of consulting, training, and staffing services where we can alleviate the burden of addressing these issues. Once we identify blind spots, it is essential for individuals and organizations to employ strategies to address them so that they do not grow into larger, more complex problems that create additional impediments to productivity and effectiveness. While the initial process of changing can be difficult, the resulting positive effects bring long-term success to your team and the entire company.