In my previous blogs, I describe the framework around how to manage a project, the process groups and we have discussed the knowledge areas from Scope to Quality.  The next on the list is Human Resources.

The Human Resource knowledge area deals with how the Project Manager manages the team.  I know very well that my success as a project manager is only down to the success of the team – they do all the hard work. I’m simply a facilitator.  I therefore consider this knowledge area one of the most important.

Let’s start with how teams form and work together.  All teams go through 5 stages of working together, known as a Tuckman Ladder.

  • Forming - the team forms.  They may have worked with each other in the past, they may not have.  But unless this is a follow-on project, it is unlikely that exactly the same people have worked together before.  People will be nervous about interactions, but this phase soon passes.
  • Storming -  the team begins to work with each other.  There are lots of conflicts and uncertainties as the team dynamic forms and it’s essential that you get your team out of this phase fast as it’s very unproductive.
  • Norming - the team is working effectively but they are still not at full efficiency.
  • Performing - the team is so used to working with each other that they can predict one other’s needs before they are requested.
  • Adjourning – the project is finished.  However, don’t forget the end of project celebration, or if it ended badly a ‘lessons learned’ discussion to provide closure and allow the team to move on.

Only once in my career have I had the pleasure to work with a team that I would class as ‘Performing’.  It is incredibly difficult to obtain, but when it does you don’t want to leave (I stayed with that series of projects for 5 years!).  For most of my time, I’ve worked with teams that can be classed as ‘Norming’ which is no bad place to be, but I was always aware that perfection had not been obtained.  My advice though is to get out of ‘Storming’ as quickly as possible, recognise when you are there and do everything to get the team working together.  Projects where the team stays in this stage don’t tend to end well…

So, we are stuck in the ‘Norming’ stage (or worse the ‘Storming’ stage). How can we move up?  One big help is motivation, so let’s discuss some theories around the subject. 

  • Motivational Hygiene
  • Expectancy Theory
  • Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

It may come as a surprise to some, but salary does not actually motivate people.  Motivation comes from challenging work, being given responsibility and being shown respect.  However, there are hygiene factors such as pay, job security and benefits.  If the hygiene is not right then even if the motivational factors are present, they won’t work.  As project manager you will have a large amount of control over the motivational factors but little control over the hygiene factors.  You should therefore ensure you do everything you can to motivate the team and work with the stakeholders to remove or mitigate the effects of the hygiene factors.

This says that people are usually only motivated when they expect a return.  Therefore, they will do good work for you only if they know they will get recognition for it.  This is why managers who take all the credit and pass on all the blame are rarely successful.  Instead, recognise the team’s achievements, shield them from the blame and when you promise something for them, you’d better make sure you do it.

Each of the team members will be motivated somewhere in this hierarchy and it’s the project manager’s responsibility to raise them up as far as possible.  Or at the very least not to let them fall.  The levels are: 

  • Physiological – The need to have the things to survive i.e. air, water and food.  This is usually taken for granted
  • Safety – The need for security.  In this context it could represent job security.
  • Love/Belonging – The need to feel part of a team
  • Esteem – The need to be respected in that team

And finally:

  • Self-actualisation – The need to be all that one can be i.e. to be able to set one’s own goals and to be supported in achieving them

The theory says that you can’t expect people to perform at a level of the pyramid if you haven’t provided for the needs in the levels below.  For example, if someone’s job is under threat you can’t expect them to be part of the team.  Or if they don’t feel they have respect from the project manager, you can’t expect them to be looking to learn new skills. 

  • Contingency Theory
  • Theory X / Theory Y
  • Theory of Needs

Basically, your managerial style needs to adapt to the situation.  In a high stress situation, you need to be a leader and drive the team through the project.  In a low stress situation, you need to be a friend to the team.  This is aptly represented when looking at military leadership.  When the bullets are flying, the soldiers look to the sergeant for direction.  When back on home base the sergeant will be looking after the squad’s morale.

Not so much a theory but a point of view.  I fear that there are two ways of looking at a team from a manager’s point of view.  Manager X thinks that team members can’t be trusted and must monitor and threaten to get them to perform.  Manager Y thinks that team members will take responsibility and are best left to perform on their own.  Becoming Manager X is to be avoided, the sticks can work but must be used sparingly.  Being too much of Manager Y will also leave you open to abuse but this is the style to aim for.  My advice, set clear expectations to the team of what you expect of them.  Be Manager Y but monitor what is being done.  If you feel you are being let down, then be Manager X for a bit but back off as things improve.

Each team member has 3 needs.  The need to achieve i.e. to be personally successful, the need to control i.e. to have power over the situation and the need to belong i.e. to be part of the team.  The proportions of each of these needs will vary and you need to know what they are if you want to keep the team member’s morale high.  Engineers tend to be more achieve / belong biased.  Whilst managers (or engineers who are looking to become managers) tend to be more control biased.

This is an insight into the knowledge area of Human Resources. We understand how teams form and work and we have discussed six motivational theories to help you get the best from the team.  In the next blog, I will continue our examination of the knowledge areas with the Communication knowledge area.


Andrew Miles PMP

Andrew Miles is a physical implementation engineer turned project manager.  He is PMP certified and has led many projects for a number of tier one companies.  He helps to run the Sondrel Project Management Office (PMO).  If you'd like to know how Sondrel's project managers can help your project then please contact