I realized early in my career that a project management task is never just about the projects but rather it is about the people. My career is spent disproportionately working in highly bureaucratic environments where political agenda is never subtle. I learned that in most cross-cultural and cross-functional organizations that work relations need finessing and fine-tuning on a daily basis. It needs nurturing, navigating and most importantly a whole lot of negotiating.
I recently sat in a meeting to discuss a big event my team is spearheading. Our counterpart in this project is the design team. To give you some background, the design team has been through a rough period. Their boss was fired in the middle of what seemed like their team’s 9th restructuring within 3 years. Since there was a vacuum in leadership, there was no one making decisions and no advocating on their behalf. While my team is fantastic, I am the first to admit that we are not the easiest group of people to work with for any number of reasons. But my team does hold a certain kind of influence within the organization. Unfortunately, our counterparts, not so much. In a situation like this, when there is clearly no balance of power between parties, the dynamic can easily become awkward and the relationship becomes severely strained.
I’ve noticed in my interactions with my creative counterparts, for the most part, they are apathetic on projects. Apathy is never a good sign. And in other times, they are extremely defensive.
When power dynamics between parties is not equally distributed, it creates for contentious discussions. I often hear unprompted phrases like these from my design partners:
It is not our fault that:
- The design looks off because they sent us the wrong files
- There is delay in the project deliverables because we were provided different instructions
These statements exhibit frustration and disengagement.
Rebuilding trust – all day, every day.
In situations like these, one of the best things a relationship manager can do is to focus on the relationship and to rebuild trust. The design team may not trust my team but it’s my job to ensure they see me as their equal partners. How do I do that? Through empathy, transparency, and honesty. Every damn time.
Beneath their defensiveness are their core concerns. Empathy is key to any successful, healthy relationships. It is my job to understand their perspective and respond with clarity on our needs as well. And when there are project delays, I seek out their expert recommendations on how best to rectify an issue. I never forget to remind them that I trust their expertise and judgement. At the end of the day my team does not work in a silo. We function within a very complex environment and we need other teams’ cooperation to achieve our goals.