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4 minutes reading time (744 words)

A Systems Approach: The Facilitator (11 out of 11)

"If we address needed behavior change within Project Management, team performance will improve, but that will increase the required skills of Integrated PMs."

Integrated PM Managers and project sponsors often tell me stories of how, despite their best efforts to help a project team in a difficult situation, the situation gets worse. Each time the facilitator does something to improve things; the situation either deteriorates immediately or temporarily improves before getting even worse.

One reason this occurs is that the facilitator is not thinking and acting systemically. In recent years, the field of systems thinking has been receiving the popular attention it deserves, in part through the work of Peter Senge (1990) and his colleagues. The Integrated PM uses a systems approach to facilitation. It recognizes that a· project team is a social system- a collection of parts interacting with each other to function as a whole- and that project teams generate their own system dynamics, such as deteriorating trust or continued dependence on the leader.

As a project manager, you enter into this system when you help a project team. The challenge is to enter the system- complete with its functional and dysfunctional dynamics- and help the project team become more effective without becoming influenced by the system to act ineffectively yourself. The Integrated PM approach recognizes that any action you take affects the team in multiple ways and has short-term and long-term consequences, some of which may not be obvious. The Integrated PM approach helps you understand how your behavior as facilitator interacts with the team's dynamics to increase or decrease the team's effectiveness.

For example, a project manager who privately pulls aside a team member who, she believes, is dominating the project team, may in the short run seem to improve the team's discussion. But this action may also have several unintended negative consequences. The pulled-aside member may feel that the facilitator is not representing the team's opinion and may see the facilitator as biased against him, thereby reducing her credibility with that member. Even if the facilitator is reflecting the other team members' opinions, the team may come increasingly to depend on her to deal with its issues, thereby reducing rather than increasing the team's ability to function.

Using a systems approach to facilitation has many implications, a number of which are central to understanding the Integrated PM approach. One key implication is treating the entire team as the client rather than only the formal team leader or the sponsor who contacted you. This increases the chance of having the trust and credibility of the entire project team, which is essential in serving as an effective Integrated PM facilitator.

A second implication is that effective facilitator behavior and effective project team member behavior are the same things. Taking into account that the Integrated PM facilitator is substantively neutral and not a group member, the Integrated PM approach does not have different sets of rules for the facilitator and team members. Just as you use the core values and ground rules to guide your own behavior, you use them to teach project team members how they can act effectively. Consequently, when you act consistently with the core values and ground rules, you serve as a model for the team. The more that team members learn about how you work, the better they understand how to create effective project team process. Ultimately, as team members model effective facilitator behavior, they become self-facilitating.

A third key implication is that to be effective, your system of facilitation needs to be internally consistent. This means that how you diagnose and intervene in a project team and how you develop an agreement with the team all need to be based on a congruent set of principles.

Many Integrated PM facilitators develop their approach by borrowing methods and techniques from a variety of other approaches. There is nothing inherently wrong with this; but if the methods and techniques are based on conflicting values or principles, they can undermine the facilitator's effectiveness as well as that of the project teams they work with. For example, an Integrated PM facilitator who states that her client is the entire project team and yet automatically agrees to individual requests by the team's leader may soon find herself in the middle of a conflict between the team and its leader, rather than helping to facilitate the entire group. By thinking and acting systemically, you increase your long-term ability to help project teams.

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