Using Social Media to Build a Tribal Team
By Steve Prentice
One of the common mistakes people make when getting into project management is that they focus too much on the project and not enough on the people who make the project happen. It’s a natural mistake; the job title says project management, after all, and the charter and plan all point to a “deliverable” that sits close to the end of a timeline. Even the tools we turn to, Gantt charts, for example, place their primary focus on the tasks involved and the time required to do them.
What is often overlooked is that for every step along the way, every minute of a project’s lifetime, people are involved. Even when machines are doing the work, there are people somewhere, needed to keep them running correctly. When you have people involved, you have feelings and instincts involved, which are attributes seldom thought of first by engineers and planners.
Human beings are tribal by nature. They need to feel part of a group. They need to feel that the project is working and that there is a leader in charge. Some people are natural communicators: they thrive on discussion and interaction, are happy to answer emails and texts and are first in line to sign up for team-building events. Other people are less socially-inclined: they prefer to work alone, they have trouble delegating and are very hard to manage. But even these less social types look towards a strong leader, even if a little grudgingly, for confidence that the work they are doing is well-planned and appreciated. These less-social types are also governed by emotion.
In my project management classes, I speak a great deal about planning. Who wouldn’t? Planning is the bedrock of a successful project. But much of the focus of the planning phase is placed, once again, on the tasks involved: durations, estimations and critical path calculations.
The planning phase is intended to write the life story of the project to come, factoring in challenges and opportunities, constraints and milestones, and it is at this point that I encourage my students to consider social media to identify the right people for the right tasks.
It is tough enough getting people to work together on a project, given that they have their own schedules and priorities to deal with; so choosing the right types of people for the tasks requires more than just a cursory glance at their résumés. A project manager needs to know more.
Traditional social media outlets such as FaceBook and LinkedIn offer great insight into people’s personalities. The information on these profiles is public (not confidential), and reveals a great deal more about a person that can be useful not only in getting the project done correctly but also ensuring that the individual team members are matched up as best as possible to their own internal motivations and passions. Here’s what I mean:
Suppose you discover, by looking through a team member’s FaceBook or LinkedIn profile that this individual has a passion for scuba diving, and in addition, s/he also is certified to teach others how to scuba dive. How relevant is that? It is unlikely to show up on a résumé, but this is a skill, born out of a passion, that reveals a capacity for taking on a risky situation correctly, and even being able to teach others in this activity – a natural leader, detail-oriented, and risk-aware. That sounds like some great attributes for a team leader.
Some people believe that reading through FaceBook or LinkedIn profiles is trolling or even stalking. But I would argue that aside from the fact that the information has been voluntarily made public – people update their profiles by choice – the research being done is to help match individuals to the types of tasks that best match their personalities and passions. For example, a person with a LinkedIn profile that boasts 500+ connections could represent someone who likes to be connected, and probably has a hard time saying no to connection requests. Such a personality might turn out to be a pleaser or a peacekeeper who avoids conflict and will do whatever is needed to maintain calm. Such a person would not be a great leader for s/he would be instinctively averse to making difficult decisions. However, this same person, with 500+ connections might be a real people person, a super connector who knows everyone and knows how to get things done. The number of contacts might not be enough to paint an accurate picture, however if this is combined with the fact that s/he regularly posts updates, and also comments positively on the updates of others, then a profile starts to emerge of a socially-aware individual who demonstrates through action a capacity to lead and manage.
A FaceBook profile or blog that reveals someone who does not interact a great deal, but who writes detailed comments with perfect grammar and a balanced, well-researched argument might paint a picture of a potential strategist, analyst or quality assurance specialist for your team: meticulous, precise and intelligent.
Social Media is often derided as an after-work hobby, and is banned in many organizations for just that reason. But for many of us faced with the daunting task of leading a group of disparate human individuals into the shared work of completing a project, the more I know about who I have in my corner, the better able I am to match these people up with the specific demands and tasks of the project, which leads to a healthier project and happier, more engaged team members.
Steve Prentice is an expert on productivity and technology in the workplace. He is a partner in The Bristall Group, where, in addition to being an actual project manager, he delivers keynotes and workshops to organizations across North America. He is a technology journalist and a frequent media guest, and he teaches management strategy and project management at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology.