Project Practitioners > Project Team Adaptability

Project Team Adaptability

By Alfonso Bucero

Inflexibility is one of the worst project manager failings. You can learn to check impetuosity, overcome fear with confidence, and laziness with discipline. But for inflexibility of mind I did not find any antidote. It carries the seeds of its own destruction.

I found some project managers who want to impose their habitudes and schedule when they work for a customer project. In my opinion you must be flexible and adaptable to the customer schedule if you want to achieve the customer team integration. I always defend that wherever yo go you must live as they live, eat as they eat, drink as they drink, otherwise you will not be able to be considered as a whole integrated project team. Teamwork and personal rigidity just don't mix. If you want to work well with others and be a good team player, you have to be willing to adapt yourself to your team. I have observed that project team players who show adaptability have certain characteristics. Adaptable people are:

  1. Teachable: They are people who temporary pain or discomfort means nothing for them as long as they can see that the experience will take them to a new level. They are interested in the unknown, and the only path to the unknown is through breaking barriers. Adaptable people always place a high priority on breaking new ground. They are higly teachable
  2. Emotionally secure: Projects are uncertain, and you must believe in your project success, just to achieve it. People who are not emotionally secure see almost everything as a challenge or a threat. They meet with rigidity or suspicion the addition of another talented person to the team, a new activity, or a change in the way things are done. But secure people aren't made nervous by change itself. They evaluate a new situation or a change in their responsibilities based on its merit.
  3. Creative: It is another quality you find in adaptable people. When difficult times come, they find a way. The one's who don't react with fear are the really creative people. There are people able to invent new things to move forward and achieve results.
  4. Service minded: People who are focused on themselves are less likely to make changes for the team than people focused on serving others. I believe that doing nothing for others is the undoing of one's self. If your goal is to serve the team, adapting to accomplish that goal is not difficult.

How are you when it comes to adaptability? If improving the the team performance requires you, as a project manager, to change the way you do things, how do you react? Are you supportive, or would you rather do things the way they have always been done before? The first key to being a team player is being willing to adapt yourself to the team, not to expect that the team will adapt to you.

I learned from experience some ideas to become more adaptable:

  1. Get into the habit of learning. For many years I carried a card in my pocket. Every day when I learned something new, I'd write it down on the card. By the end of the day, I'd try to share the idea with a friend or colleague and then file the idea for future use. It got me in the habit of looking for things to learn. Try it for a week and see what happens.
  2. Reevaluate your role. Spend some time looking at your current role on your team. Then try to discover whether there is another role you could fulfill as well or better than you do your current one. That process may prompt you to make a transition, but even if it doesn't, the mental exercise will increase your flexibility.
  3. Think outside the lines. Let's face it: many people are not adaptable because they get into negative ruts. If you tend to be prone to ruts, then write down this phrase and keep it where you can see it every day: "Not why it can't be done but how it can be done". Look for unconventional solutions every time you meet a challenge. You will be surprised by how creative you can become if you continually strive to do so.

Projects have frequent changes during the project life cycle, and you need to adapt for the sake of your team. That way you will always have a chance to be successful. I strongly believe adaptability is a critical skill for the great project managers. Spend some time training your team to be more and more adaptable, you will become a better and better project manager.

Related Links
Project leaders fill different roles depending on the project phase; this table outlines those roles and provides some good opportunities to learn leadership flexibility. Carl Pritchard once supplied 10 ideas for stimulating creativity when you'd rather say "can't."

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