How to Get Great Behaviour on a Project Team

Earlier this week it was the APM’s North West Conference on Behavioural Competences in Project Management. It was held at AstraZeneca in Cheshire and attracted a range of different project practitioners and of course speakers from the region. Earlier this week I wrote about the session on conflict and negotiation from the conference.

In this post I wanted to share a session with you which was conducted by Eileen Roden. Eileen is an experienced PM consultant and trainer and her session was entitled “Please Behave!”

Before I get into Eileen’s session it’s worth taking a minute to define what we mean by behaviours because something caught me out when I thought about at the conference.

Which would you consider to be a behaviour out of these four?

  1. Collaboration
  2. Standing up
  3. Trust
  4. Waiting for someone to finish speaking before you speak

The answer is 2 and 4 are behaviours. I thought collaboration was, mainly because it’s an act of working with others and therefore it seemed like a behaviour. Collaboration in itself is not a behaviour because you can’t observe or hear a person doing collaboration, just like you can’t see a person ‘doing’ trust. Being ‘collaborative’ is of course a different story.

So that’s the first lesson for me, a behaviour is something that someone does or says. It’s observable.

So onto the session about behaviour in a project team.

Company Values and Behaviours

It appears that companies might be wasting their time when it comes to setting up company values and beliefs that they’d like all their employees to work to. Why? Because it seems like most of us can’t actually remember what they are, despite there being posters all over the organisation, blurb on the website and in one case in the room on Monday, written within the company notebook someone was using.

It seems that these lovely words don’t really mean a lot to people. I mean, the company wants you to be collaborative, but how does that really manifest itself in reality, day-to-day in your work and within the projects and project teams we work with? What does it really mean to be fair? What behaviours would we actually see that constitutes fairness when we’re working in projects? How about playfully professional?!

2015-10-12 13.40.10

The point was well made that companies would like to see certain behaviours from their employees but actually when it’s difficult to see what those behaviours actually are or some behaviours go against our personal values or belief systems, the company could be banging its head against a brick wall.

Adopting the Right Behaviours

The rest of the session was thinking specifically about the projects we manage and the people on those teams. The session aimed to explore the value of ‘good’ behaviour on the project and how that starts with the project sponsor and project manager, after all, you’re the boss and leading by example matters.

It was a chance for the group to think about what observable behaviours the project manager would like to see in the project and in the project team. For each behaviour, the group had to think about what the benefits were for improving a certain type of observable behaviour, how to embed it in the project and project team and what barriers or challenges you would be likely to come up against in making the changes:


2015-10-12 13.46.41

Observable Behaviour Choices

Our team picked ‘innovative’ but realised that actually it’s not a very observable behaviour so rephrased it to be “trying new things”.

We thought promoting this type of behaviour and thinking could really help when it comes to those times in the project when problems need solving or at the beginning of the project when requirements are being captured or in risk management sessions.

The idea was that we need the whole team to contribute to this and it’s in the project manager’s interest to get all the clever people they have working for them on the project being as clever and useful as possible.

Having “freedom within the framework” to explore new ideas, question and challenge other ways of thinking can only be a good thing when starting out on the project. With the expectation that everyone should be contributing with the aim of avoiding ‘groupthink’ or ‘lazythink’ sounds like the kind of project I’d like to work on.


2015-10-12 14.30.57

Embedding behavioural changes is of course a lot more difficult.

It raised the question that people actually might need help to work more creatively. Avoiding ‘groupthink’ doesn’t just happen because we say we want to avoid it, there has to be a deliberate effort or marked change in what we do when we are working in groups. We sometimes need help to improve the way we ask questions and what questions we ask; not everyone can challenge in a way that produces more options; we need help to work out which ideas are the ones that go forward and the others dropped. Perhaps a session with someone who does this kind of thing for a living might be an ideal first step?

We also thought about the two main factors that help behavioural change. The first being the “environment”. Often to make changes in behaviour to stick you have to change the environment in some way so old habits can die-hard whilst the new ones are adopted. I think that’s the principle behind these cool, innovation centres with their spacehoppers and whiteboards that aim to take people out of their normal work environment into something which is more conducive to creative thinking. Have you got a project space like this?

The other factor that helps behavioural change stick is consequences. Or the carrot and stick. What are the consequences here for not contributing to the project team trying out new things? Can there be rewards in some ways – some recognition? On the other side can we realistically bring wrath on someone for not being creative?

Let’s just say we only had ten minutes to figure some of this stuff out and I think we need a bit more time to come up with creative ways to embed this kind of behavioural change 🙂

Behaviour: Constructively Challenge

Another group went with speaking up and what I liked about this one in particular was the barrier or challenge to embedding this type of change in behaviour. Something that is seen as a “disruptive experience” could also be a CLM – “Career Limiting Move” so how can speaking up been seen as a good behaviour rather than something akin to ‘whistle blowing’ especially if it relates to something about the ethics of the project?


2015-10-12 14.30.50

Behaviour – Being On-Time

How many people are affecting by members of the project team (including the project manager) being late for meetings? I think it’s a fair few. This behaviour should feature prominently in projects, after all, isn’t that one of the critical success factors of the project, being on-time?

2015-10-12 14.30.42

Behaviour – Having Integrity

Do we see people having integrity? What does it really mean and look like? I think you start to see just how hard it is to think about the observable behaviours. In this instance it got down to “giving credit to people for their work” which is a little way from integrity.



2015-10-12 14.30.35

Behaviour – Always Keeping Promises

Another integrity one, better put I think and ‘keeping promises’ is one that goes a long way to connecting to those company values mentioned above like trust, respect, accountable and responsible.


2015-10-12 14.30.22

Why not try this exercise out for yourself. The hardest part was thinking about what observable behaviour to choose which would drive better behaviour in a project setting. One thing that was made clear was, if you just chose one behaviour and really worked on getting that embedded, just look at all the benefits your project would receive, and who wouldn’t want those benefits on their projects?




Share: Linkedin Logo Facebook Logo Twitter Logo

Leave your thoughts