Facet 7. Group Orientation

The final Facet stands alone as a factor. In the first three we looked at “approach” facets, namely:

  • Pragmatism
  • Creativity
  • Positive intolerance

In the second batch we looked at “awareness” facets;

  • Stability
  • Motivation
  • Communication

This final facet stands alone, investigating degrees of preferred interaction. It is called “Group Orientation”. The Project Leaders definition reads, group orientation;

refers to the extent to which the individual enjoys and seeks working with others, involving team members in decisions and looking for others’ feedback

In relation to more established personality tests, for instance Myers-Briggs (MBTI) , the comparison would be with degrees of introversion and extraversion. A lot is said about these traits, or preferences, and there also appears at times to be a degree of confusion.

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For example many people find it most odd that I am, according to MBTI, quite categorically introverted. Particularly weird, they think, based on the fact I have been stood up in front of a large group performing for the day / 2-days / week, whatever. Surely I should be sat in a dark cave somewhere doing something nerdy? Well, truth is, that’s exactly what I do as soon as the course is over for the day. Or better still, go for a run where NO ONE can interrupt me for quite some period of time – perfect!

Introverts can get out there and mix it with other people, only afterwards we need to recharge, preferably alone or in the company of a very small group of trusted others. By the same token, I’m reliably informed that extroverts can sit quietly and contemplate stuff – although I’ve never seen it!

Wikipedia offers these definitions:

Extroversion

the act, state, or habit of being predominantly concerned with and obtaining gratification from what is outside the self – and so, crudely speaking, we would expect them to have higher levels of group orientation. They would be more energised by the presence of others and take pleasure in being a part of it all, often a notable part

Introversion

the state of or tendency toward being wholly or predominantly concerned with and interested in one's own mental life – as mentioned, we can do the group thing but it costs us in energy points!

Interestingly, the upsurge of virtual social networking sites and blogging has enabled introverts to finally, safely, “mix” without having to mix and express our feelings without looking anyone in the eye! Seriously, it is a point to reflect that if you are introverted, are you relying too much on “detached” communication to run your project? With increasingly global teams and long-lasting travel bans, you’d have every excuse. We al know, however, that on many levels, email particularly is a low quality communication medium and contributes little or nothing to group cohesion.

So, what does all this have to do with project leadership as apposed to management? Well, a lot. Dr. Chamorro-Premuzic’s extensive review on leadership that was the first part of developing our psychometric, led to the clear conclusion that a majority of “leaders” out there are or were extroverts. No doubt ably assisted in the just out of sight background by many less predominant managers.

I know from experience and reading that this is not always the case, the “Level 5 Leaders” in Jim Collins’ “Good to Great” for example, not typical leadership figures by any means. But, statistically this is the case, Theories abound as to why, are extroverts just more likely to push for position? Do we elect those we like instead of those who are best equipped for the job? etc

What are we observing in project land? As mentioned in earlier articles, many of us fell into project management because we were good at something else. In some cases VERY good at something else, or even “specialist”. It may not be a surprise then that many of these specialists, whether they be in Lepidoptera, logistics, linguists or landscaping are introverts. Before they were asked to manage related projects, their tendency for inward attention and quiet reflection helped them reach the outlier position they have ended up in.

There is no science to substantiate this, other than hundreds of project managers we have met and socially networked with over the years, but I reckon most PMs are introvert. I’m happy to find out I’m wrong and, of course, it’ll be the extroverts that tell me what they think about my theory!

Despite this, group orientation scores high in our testing so far. PMs would appear to like and value the benefit of working in teams, but not necessarily upsetting them if a hard decision needs making, positive intolerance being the lowest scoring gene in our pool.

At this point I think if the concept of “star” and “spaghetti” meetings as presented by Kevan Hall in his book “Speed Lead”. Star meetings being 1:1s with the leaders in the middle, having concise and specific meetings with one or very few people at a time to tackle a specific issue. Introverts can do these. Spaghetti meetings are those all-in affairs where lots of people attend, lots is said and complexity levels can appear high.

The following formula is useful here: n(n-1)/2 which refers to the total number of communication channels available related to number of people in the meeting. So, if there 5 in the meeting it works thus:

5x4/2 = 10

Or 6:

6x5/2 = 15

Or 7:

7x6/2 = 21

The mensa test fans will spot an increasing variance trend and predict the next number of channels to be 28. Fun as this puzzle may be, it illustrates the cumulative chaos of having more and more people in the mix if there is supposed to be any aspect of two-way or looped learning to the communication.

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Of course, projects have instances where all types of gathering are appropriate. Bad projects get this badly wrong. Too many people in the room when a decision’s needed, not enough when a complex problem needs multiple perspectives, too many when only one aspect of the project is being discussed, not enough when an important announcement is being delivered.

So, all is not lost if the project manager prefers small intimate gatherings. In most cases on a project these are what is needed to move specific elements of the the ecosystem along. It is relatively rare that a rousing speech is needed to a heaving mass of volatile stakeholders or a seething mass of disgruntled teamies.

Group orientation is clearly a useful facet in managing projects. Having an affinity for a group of people working effectively and with relative harmony must be a good intrinsic drive. This is the foundation for making sure that people are communicated with properly during the project and it should also be inspected in conjunction with one’s communication facet.

In many large projects however, we are also seeing the degree of dispersion to be a major challenge for a group oriented project manager. Oftentimes project managers are separated by function, organization and location from large parts of their project team. This is calling into play increasingly creative (check your creative facet!) use of technology through instant messaging to teleconferencing, in order to sustain some degree of group cohesion.

As stated, overall, group orientation is one of the highest scoring facets from the 800+ project managers who have so far completed the psychometric. According to the our company’s analogy of project leader as orchestra conductor, this is a good thing. One of the key attributes of a great project leader is the ability to delegate work to the right people and build the trust required to know that work will be done well.

On the flip side, as we come to the end of our 7-facet review, there are possible dangers with a highly group oriented bunch of project managers, and we see this in every industry, all sectors. Projects, sooner or later, require the project manager to make a tough call. Maybe this is a key differentiator between project manager and leader. It requires the project manager to score high on pragmatism, positive intolerance and stability. In some cases, high group orientation (which values the fun, safety, security and conformity of teams) runs at odds to this requirement.

In conclusion, this is typically our experience. Project Managers, especially in the UK, are just too nice and on the whole, a bit too introverted. Without creating a profession of David Brents we do have to deal with this.

Our work with the facets has enabled focus and specificity in dealing with the leadership deficit in project management. Our existing work is refining our tools and partnering with global and national firms to increase everyone’s understanding of how to deal with the project challenges that await.