Creating a Culture of Belonging on Project Teams

Creating a Culture of Belonging on Project TeamsJust as politicians pay close attention and respond to the opinions of constituents, so must project managers when leading a project. For a project to be successfully delivered, it’s critical to get collective action from a group of people who may have very different interests. Easier said than done.

Because team member opinions vary regarding the technical approach, structure, content, and outcome of the project, project managers may spend much more time communicating with team members than doing any another type of work in the project. The key to achieving collective action and creating a sense of belonging among team members is to engage them in playing an active role throughout the project.

Team member opinions come with a host of beliefs, biases, attitudes, and positions. The first step in moving toward engaging team members is gaining insight into their Perception and Expectations. Spending time with team members, asking them questions, listening to their thoughts and experiences, and getting their perspective creates the opportunity to deepen their commitment and sense of belonging. It’s also important for project managers to understand that emotions and thoughts are close, interactive partners that need care and feeding throughout the project for team members to feel they are part of the process.

Creating a Culture of Belonging on Project Teams

Gaining understanding of their Perception and Expectations is a component of the second step which is The Exchange. Prior to The Exchange, project managers must carefully consider what needs to be accomplished to have time together considered well spent. Whether engaging team members to participate in solving a problem, giving advice, determining project direction, or brainstorming an approach, the following are simple steps to use during The Exchange that will give team members a deeper sense of belonging and being part of the project:

  • Listen and probe with objective, reflective, and interpretive questions; paraphrase.
  • Establish mutual agreement on the issue/opportunity.
  • Collaborate to identify a solution.
  • Determine the steps needed to implement the solution.

For the first two steps to be effective, team members and project managers must commit to the third step of the process: Follow-through. It requires that project managers and team members assume accountability, make adjustments throughout the project, and ask for help as needed. Its also important to remember holding someone else accountable requires being accountable, which means doing what you say you’re going to do.

Working to understand team member Perception and Expectations, using the steps of The Exchange, and practicing Follow-through create a sense of belonging, which supports the team acting in a collective manner.

Its been said that people own what they help to create, and that means actively engaging team members at regular intervals to provide input and perspective. Consensus wont always be achieved, but if these steps are observed, a project team culture of belonging will be experienced within the team.


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Written by Alison Sigmon

Alison Sigmon is a longtime PMP-certified project manager, clinical therapist and business executive. She has led projects for software and user experience design; digital content strategy; brand design and development; marketing, advertising and communications strategy; business development and fundraising; video design and production; and ecommerce. Alison’s efforts focus on the behavioral side of project management and relationships. Delivering Bad News in Good Ways is Alison’s first book, and the first in a series on the subject. An avid distance runner, writer, hiker and traveler, Alison is a Gulf War veteran. Articles, presentations and training materials can be found at her website.

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