Episode 108 –Building a Strengths-Based Project Team

Episode #108
Original Air Date: 07.06.2020

31 Minutes

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Our Guest This Episode: Connie Plowman

What is the project manager’s role in talent development? Instead of focusing on the negatives, shouldn’t we focus on what people do best? After all, projects are more successful when we play to the strengths of the team. Our guest, Connie Plowman, co-authored a book Developing Strengths-Based Project Teams with Martha Buelt. Connie defines the difference between a talent and a strength as she introduces the concept of a strengths-based project team. StrengthsFinder is an online assessment designed to identify an individual’s strengths. It was developed by Gallup Organization, which is now CliftonStrengths.

Connie explains that by using the StrengthsFinder assessment with the team early in a project, team members can see what people bring to the table, and how they add value to the project. The big takeaway: project managers can achieve higher team performance by creating an environment in which team members use their talents while doing what they naturally do best.

For 12 years, Connie Plowman worked in employee, customer and executive education for IBM. Connie enjoyed a long career at Cadence Management Corporation, and she retired as their Chief Operating Officer after 22 years. Connie was also the Interim Executive Director for the CLIMB Center for Advancement at Portland Community College, and she is an active member in PMI where she serves on the PMI Global Committee. In 2016, Connie was awarded the PMI Eric Jenett Project Management Award of Excellence. She has co-authored two books -- Developing Strengths-Based Project Teams and Project Communications: A Critical Factor for Project Success.

Favorite Quotes from Our Talk:

“...project teams, to be strength-based, intentionally apply and integrate their skills, experience, knowledge, their talents, their strengths, their project management tools and techniques, everything that you bring to the table you intentionally apply and integrate those for greater team success.”

- Connie Plowman

“You feel valued because you are using what you do best.”

- Connie Plowman

“But you do some things better than I do. I do some things better than you do. But together we can do great things, and so we make each other a complementary partner.”

- Connie Plowman

Share With Others

The podcast by project managers for project managers. Are you building a strengths-based proect team? Projects are more successful when we play to the strengths of the team. Connie Plowman, co-authored a book Developing Strengths-Based Project Teams with Martha Buelt. In this episode, Connie defines the difference between a talent and a strength as she introduces the concept of a strengths-based project team.

Table of Contents

00:35 … Meet Connie
02:15 … StrengthsFinder and Strengths-Based Project Teams
03:20 … Remote Coauthoring
04:15 … Difference between Talent and Strength
06:36 … A Strengths-Based Project Team
10:12 … Benefits to Becoming a Strengths-Based Project Team
11:48 … Being Aware of Weaknesses
13:25 … The Value of Strengths-Based Project Teams
16:45 … Talent Theme Mapping
20:01 … Responding to: “That’s Not My Strength”
22:48 … Getting Started as a Strengths-Based Project Team
24:42 … Maintaining the Strengths-Based Process in a Team
27:50 … Career Advice from Connie
29:32 … Thanks to Connie
30:45 … Closing

CONNIE PLOWMAN: …project teams, to be strength-based, intentionally apply and integrate their skills, experience, knowledge, their talents, their strengths, their project management tools and techniques, everything that you bring to the table you intentionally apply and integrate those for greater team success. 

WENDY GROUNDS:  Welcome to Manage This, the podcast by project managers for project managers.  I’m Wendy Grounds, and with me in the studio is Bill Yates.  This is our bimonthly meeting to talk about what matters to you as a professional project manager.  And we have a professional here today; don’t we, Bill.

Meet Connie

BILL YATES:  Yes, we do.  I’ve known Connie Plowman for quite a while now.  Connie and I got to know each other when I was serving on the REP Advisory Group at the global level, and she was in a global-level position with PMI.  And she is a delight.  So I’ve been looking forward to having a conversation with her on Manage This.  And then she goes and writes a great book.  So we’ll have fun talking through that book.  When I first met Connie, she was the chief operating officer for another consulting and project management training company.  And she just had a wealth of experience.  And I’m really looking forward to this conversation.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Yeah, I’ve been looking forward to meeting her.

BILL YATES:  She’s an award-winner as well, Wendy.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Yes, I hear so.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Talk about that.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  So in 2016 Connie was awarded the PMI Eric Jenett Project Management Award of Excellence.  It’s named after one of PMI’s founders, and it’s one of the highest awards you can win with PMI.  I was delighted for her when she received that.  She’s been very involved.  She tends to retire and then find something else that she has to go do.  And right now I know she’s being a guest speaker and instructor with a local university.  She’s out in Portland, Oregon.  She’s serving as executive director for the CLIMB Center for Advancement at Portland Community College.  She just can’t step away.

WENDY GROUNDS:  She’s having way too much fun to retire.  I like that.

BILL YATES:  Yup.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Connie, welcome to Manage This.  We’re so glad that you could join us today.

CONNIE PLOWMAN:  Thank you.  I’m thrilled to be in your virtual podcast studio.  It looks like my dining room.  Hey, wait a minute, it is my dining room.

WENDY GROUNDS:  We’re glad that we can see you virtually.

CONNIE PLOWMAN:  Thank you.  It’s a pleasure to be here.  I’ve been wanting to do this for some time.

StrengthsFinder and Strengths-Based Project Teams

WENDY GROUNDS:  Connie, I want to start off by just asking you about this topic.  We’re talking about strength-based project teams.  How did you get interested in this?

CONNIE PLOWMAN:  You know, that’s a really long question.  But I started to get into it when I became the chief operating officer for my company, and I acquired this team of direct reports.  And some I knew; some I didn’t know.  But most important, I knew that people do their best work when they love what they do.  So what does this new team love to do?  So I found StrengthsFinder, which is developed by Gallup Organization, also now called CliftonStrengths.  And it really focuses on what do people do best.  In other words, what are their strengths?

And so we took the assessment.  We started having strength-based conversations.  And the outcome, I became a better manager because I understood them better, and their strengths; but I think they also understood me as their direct report in terms of understanding my strengths.  And we figured out how to work as a strength-based team.  And so I thought, hey, if this works with direct report teams, what about other teams?  What about volunteer teams?  What about school teams? And what about project teams?  And that’s where the interest grew. 

Remote Coauthoring

BILL YATES:  You’ve done something rather unique.  You coauthored a book with someone that you had not met.  How did you pull this off?  How did you two coauthor a book like that?

CONNIE PLOWMAN:  So I had a terrific coauthor.  Her name is Martha Buelt.  And Martha and I got connected through a PMI mutual contact.  His name is Tim Kloppenborg, who is our editor.  And Martha knew Tim as being a certified Gallup coach.  I knew Tim as being a certified project manager and thought, hey, if we could put our expertise together, what about writing a book? And so we did.

 But it took us a while to get started because we needed the time to get to know each other and to get to know our talents and strengths.  And in essence we became a strength-based project team.  And so we wrote this book as a virtual project team, and we’ve never met.  By the way, if you ever decide to write a book, I would strongly encourage you to have a coauthor.  And if her name is Martha, that’s even better.

BILL YATES:  Good advice.

Difference between Talent and Strength

WENDY GROUNDS:  You’re saying the word “talent,” and you’re saying the word “strength.”  And what is the difference between a talent and a strength?

CONNIE PLOWMAN:  That’s a question I get asked a lot, and I struggled with it in the beginning because I was trying to figure out the differences.  But let’s give it a try.  So a talent is something that you’re born with.  It is who you are.  It’s part of your DNA.  It’s something you naturally do well.  Think back as a child.  For some of us that might be a short trip.  For Bill it might be longer.  What did you love to do when you were a kid?  And as a kid I loved doing jigsaw puzzles.  And maybe that’s why I ended up in project management.  That’s a talent that I have because it’s just part of me.

Now, a strength is when you take a talent, in my case it’s problem-solving, putting pieces together, and you invest the time and the energy and the resources to develop it over time into a strength where you consistently do something well.  So it’s through your skills.  It’s through your experience.  It’s through your knowledge.  It’s through practice where you take a talent and make it into a strength.  So Wendy, think about something you consistently do well over time.

WENDY GROUNDS:  I would say I’m very organized.  I consistently am pretty good at getting things done and organizing, you know, just things.

BILL YATES:  You got the three of us in the room and connected; so absolutely, yeah.  That plays out.  I agree with that.

CONNIE PLOWMAN:  I could totally see that in the messages you sent me for this podcast.  Highly organized, highly detailed, very clear instructions, set the right expectations.  And so I could see where you have invested time, energy, and resources to turning your talent into your strength.

Now, for me and problem solving – probably for Bill, too – our talent is really the interest in project management.  So we’ve studied project management, we’ve taken classes, we’ve watched videos, we’ve read books – hopefully my book. And we’ve listened to podcasts, including like this terrific series, to grow that talent into a strength through our knowledge, and then we’ve practiced project management and whatnot.  So we continue to do that investment over time, and that’s over a lifetime, not just now.  And as project managers, we’re continuous learners, so it’s natural for us to be working on our talents and strengths every day. 

A Strengths-Based Project Team

BILL YATES:  Connie, you and I go back pretty far.  I’ve known you for – I was thinking it may be close to two decades now.  We would run across each other at some of the global congresses, some of the other PMI events.  And I’ve always had a deep respect for you, and so I’ve been thinking, how can we have Connie on the podcast?

So then I look, and okay, so she’s authored a book.  Well, then when I started to look at the book I was really intrigued because it’s tying together two things that I just think are peanut butter and chocolate.  It’s the strengths, you know, how are we wired, what’s our talent, and then what becomes a strength; and then our ability to manage projects.  So how can I use my strengths most effectively in a project setting, with a project team, and then grow that so that my team members are responding the same way and have the same kind of goal that I do.  That’s fantastic.  This just lines up really well with something that I’m passionate about, which is this whole StrengthsFinder and the Clifton approach, the Buckingham book “Now, Discover Your Strengths.” That really had an impact on me early in my career.

And so I’d thought about, you know, at first I thought about it personally.  And then I thought, okay, you’re really going to have a healthier team if everybody’s aware of this and is on board with this idea of really playing to your strengths.  One of Buckingham’s quotes is “Making the most of your job the best of your job.”  So kind of applying your strength to your job as much as possible.

So when I started reading through your book, I got super excited.  This is like a self-reflection workbook exercise that you and your coauthor have put together.  So first of all, just tell us, what does a project team look like that is a strengths-based project team?

CONNIE PLOWMAN:  Yes, we go back a long ways, Bill, I knew you when you had brown hair.  So this book is something that you need to absorb over time.  It’s not one that you just sit down and read from front to back, and definitely is not a cliffhanger to be like, what’s going to happen next?  But you asked a great question about what does a project team, a strength-based project team, look like?  And to me, it’s about being intentional.

Now, what do I mean by that?  I mean that project teams, to be strength-based, intentionally apply and integrate their skills, experience, knowledge, their talents, their strengths, their project management tools and techniques, everything that you bring to the table you intentionally apply and integrate those for greater team success.  And so our talents and strengths are unique to us.  But when we come together as a team, that makes us really more powerful when we look at our collective talents and strengths.

And so some characteristics might be, and there’s a lot of them, but let’s think about a few. Each person on the team knows their individual talents and strengths.  They know them, they use them, they embrace them, so they’ve got them.  Then I know all of your talents and strengths.  So let’s say we’re a project team.  So not only do you know mine, I know yours.  And so we’ve got to keep that in mind, too.  But we need each other.  Another characteristic is that we need each other for getting the project done. So we have a clear understanding of our roles, expectations.  Wendy would be great on our team because she would keep us organized.

But we share this common purpose and understanding, not just doing the project, but doing it with this intention of knowing your talents and strengths.  And so we encourage everybody on the team to use their talents and strengths and have strength-based conversations.  So I think it’s, bottom line, it’s about this awareness and appreciation of each other’s talents and strengths.  Can we use them effectively?

Benefits to Becoming a Strengths-Based Project Team

WENDY GROUNDS:  I think you’ve kind of covered this a lot, but are there any other extra benefits you can see from a team becoming a strengths-based project team?

CONNIE PLOWMAN:  Yeah, besides completing the project on time.

BILL YATES:  There’s that.  That’s always good.

WENDY GROUNDS:  It’s a good thing.

CONNIE PLOWMAN:  There’s that, of course, but there’s greater productivity.  We do our best work, and so we bring our best to the team.  There’s greater trust because we can trust one another.  You feel valued because you are using what you do best. We work through challenges better.  There’s always conflict on a project team of some kind, and so one of my strengths is harmony.  So I’m not very good with conflict.  And so by working with a strengths-based project team, you know, we get through that faster and better.

There’s greater confidence.  I love a StrengthsFinder quote that goes, “How can you build self-confidence when you’re focused on weaknesses instead of your strengths?”  And so there’s this concept of self-confidence.  And then of course there’s an opportunity for talent development, to turn our talents into strengths.  So we think there’s a learning opportunity.  But there’s also the concept and benefit of a complementary partner.  Don’t know if you read that, Bill, in the book.  I’m not going to test you on the book.

BILL YATES:  Page 47.

CONNIE PLOWMAN:  But you do some things better than I do.  I do some things better than you do, but together we can do great things.  And so we make each other a complementary partner, and there’s where Martha and I came together as complementary partners.  And we’ve continued that partnership over time, and so we still are doing stuff with the book.  So there’s lots of different benefits to a strengths-based project team.  The challenge is keeping it going once the team disperses.

Being Aware of Weaknesses

BILL YATES:  Connie, you know something that I think is fundamental, that when I first got introduced to the whole concept of “Now, Discover Your Strengths” and StrengthsFinder and looking at the Top 5, you know, I remember there was – I think it was a video that I saw of Buckingham.  And it may even have been “Trombone Player Wanted.”  I can’t recall.  So it was something about a kid learning to play the trombone and finding out that was a passion and a strength.

But in that he cites this study, and there was some research they did of parents, and they said, okay, let’s ask parents if they receive a report card for their kid.  So Billy brings home a report card, he’s got three A’s, one C, and an F.  Which subject do you think the parents are most likely to dig into with that child, with Billy?  And so it’s the one that received the F.  It’s physics, you know, that Billy got an F in.  It’s a tendency that I think we have.

So there’s a part of this – you’ve talked about the word “intentional.”  This is intentional because it’s a bit counterintuitive to think, okay, yeah, we need to be aware of our weaknesses. So we need to spend some time shoring those up.  But where we really bring unique value to a project team are these strengths.  They’re the ways that we’re wired that makes us different than other people, and we need – that’s the most value that I can bring to my team.  Now, can I trust my team that I can not only talk about my strengths – because that’s great. I love it. 

I talk about those all day, but now I’ve got to tell my team also, here are my weaknesses.  So here’s what I’m likely to really mess up from the team standpoint. I need your support, so am I kind of getting at some of the value that you’ve seen in this approach with project teams?

The Value of Strengths-Based Project Teams

CONNIE PLOWMAN: I think what you can do with your teams is start talking about all of this and starting to work together as a combined team.  So you really need to step back and say, okay, what strengths do I bring to the table?  What do I bring to the team that I consistently do well, and how will it benefit the team?  And then you need to ask the team, what do I need to maximize those strengths?  For instance, one of my strengths is focus. What I need from the team is a set agenda, I need set goals, I need things that are not time-consuming because I want to stay on track. So this is what I need from the team.

And then the third area that you should be exploring is what do you need from the team?  And for instance, if you’re really good at numbers, and so you deep dive into numbers, you could lose opportunities to see new ideas, new approaches, new ways of doing things.  So what you need from the team is the opportunity to be more adaptive, less rigid.  So those three questions as you start you put together your combined list of what do you each bring to the table.  I would encourage you to go through an exercise of asking those three questions and then build some sort of visual board so you can all see what you bring to the team, what you need to maximize it, and then what do you need from the team.  Pretty cool.

BILL YATES:  That’s good.  Just the trust and transparency that would be associated with that, you know, so if we were to put, okay, there’s Danny’s strength, there’s Wendy’s strength, there’s Bill’s strength, Connie’s strength, on something that’s visible.  It’s not like a performance report that just stays in my inbox; right?  It’s our team strengths, and they’re visible.  Then it is, it’s a constant reminder.  So if I’m banging my head against some technical issue, and then I look up and go, oh, yeah, Danny has got that. That’s his strength.  I’m going to toss him a pitch right down the middle, and he’ll just crush it, so this is playing to his strengths.  So that trust and transparency is needed, but then you’ve got that constant communication with it, that I would think would benefit the team.

CONNIE PLOWMAN:  Not only for your project teams, but I’ve done it with student teams. So I teach project management part-time at our community college, and our college believes in using StrengthsFinder.  So they allow each student to get a code from Gallup Organization.  And then I have that as part of their student exercises because they’re working as a virtual team. It’s an online class, so by doing StrengthsFinder very early on, they saw the value of it, working together as a team, what they each bring to the table. So it’s pretty cool to not only put it into the workplace, but also in the learning environment.

BILL YATES:  That’s great.  I’ve seen some of the organizations where we have taught project management, the organizations have embraced StrengthsFinder, as well.  And Connie was so funny, I’ll never forget.  There was an organization, I was leading a session in their headquarters, and so all the team members that were there, they all knew their Top 5.  And to take it a step further, they knew their close teammates – they knew their top ones, as well.  So when a topic would come up, they would kind of defer jokingly to, well, let’s ask Wanda about that because we know her strength is “woo,” so she’s going to want to really network with people, you know, whatever it would be.

 There was a depth of knowledge, it’s like they knew each other at a deeper level than just about anyplace I’d been before. So I think StrengthsFinder had really helped them with that.

CONNIE PLOWMAN:  And that’s a sign of a strength-based project team.  That is very, very cool.

Talent Theme Mapping

BILL YATES:  I want to shift gears for a second, Connie, and ask you.  You mentioned Tim’s name before.  You, Martha, and Tim had worked together on the book.  Now, some of Tim’s input I think is key in Chapter 5 where he does that mapping.  Walk us through that mapping.  And so did that blow your mind, or what did you think when you first came across this?

CONNIE PLOWMAN: So I guess you could say it blew my mind, it was my aha moment.  So as I mentioned, I was teaching project management for a community college.  We needed a textbook.  I don’t think that they used one at that time.  Somehow I came across Tim’s textbook called “Contemporary Project Management.”  And I knew it was aligned with industry standards, which is very, very important when you teach project management.  And I knew it was current, so that’s a good thing, too.  But then I opened up Page 1, Chapter 1, and there was a contribution in his book from somebody I knew from PMI.  And I said, hey, how cool is that?  And so I said okay.

Well, then I’m looking through the book, and I get to Appendix E, where he has mapped the different talent themes, which is from Gallup, to project management.  And that made me totally jazzed.  So all 34 general categories of talent, which are called “themes,” and connected to project management.  For instance, achiever.  Both Bill and I probably have achiever in our Top 5.

BILL YATES:  Yes.

CONNIE PLOWMAN:  In Gallup it’s about getting stuff done, but for us in project management, it’s about getting stuff done by tasks and milestones and schedules and plans and status reports.  So this mapping really connected for me, you know, how does it relate to me and my world of project management?  And so I’ve been using this mapping now in classes and in other places, and we got permission from Tim’s publisher to include it in our book.  So I love it, it was an aha moment for me, and it still is.  I still reference it a lot.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  I totally dig it and agree.  And so there are, I don’t know, six or eight pages dedicated to that in the center of the book in Chapter 5 that I just thought, okay, I bet Connie was, like, doing somersaults when they started putting these things together.

CONNIE PLOWMAN:  Pretty much, yeah, you can say that.

BILL YATES:  But to your point, those 34 themes, I had seen those before, I think it was back maybe 2005, 2007 when I first got introduced and took the StrengthsFinder myself.  And so I remember I saw my Top 5, and I was reading and getting the context, why these five and not the other number of the 34.  So, you know, it’s interesting, whenever you’re reading about yourself it’s incredibly interesting stuff.

But then you make this parallel of project management to strengths, and you’re right.  Tim has written it out so that you can really – you can parlay the description of the theme to project management and the tasks and the responsibilities that we have. And so again, you know, what makes me excited?  What’s fulfilling to me on a project and what’s not?  You know, what am I good at?  What am I naturally wired towards, and what am I not?  And so that’s just great context and excellent, excellent info.

CONNIE PLOWMAN:  So I think we’re always looking at information to say, okay, how does that relate to me?  How can I apply this information?  And so that’s where this mapping has just really made sense to me, and I’m really thankful that Tim and Gallup took the time to develop that, and that we could incorporate it in the book.

Responding to: “That’s Not My Strength”

BILL YATES:  Connie, so I’ve got a practical question related to project teams.  When a team really embraces this, if someone says there’s some dirty work that needs to be done, we’ve all got to roll our sleeves up and get it done.  We have to do the data analysis because we think the customer gave us some bad data. Everybody on the team needs to roll up their sleeves and do it, but I’ve got this one guy, let’s say his name is Bill.  And Bill says, hey, that’s not my strength.  I’m not the analysis guy, so I’m going to let you guys go ahead and do it, but I’m going to sit back here.  I’m more of the big picture guy.

  Do you ever see team members kind of pushing back and then saying, well, because this particular attribute is so low on my  list, I’m not really responsible for that.  Somebody else has to do that. So how does a project manager respond to those kind of situations?

CONNIE PLOWMAN:  So, you know, you always want to leverage the work you do best.  If analysis is not your thing, you don’t really want to push back on it, but you really want to embrace somebody else’s strengths in terms of being able to be a key contributor to the project team.  But also, as a team member, you should be in a learning environment.  You should say, okay, I’m not good at this, but you are.  So how can I learn from you?  As project managers, that is our number one strength in terms of learning.  In fact, isn’t learning one of your Top 5, Bill?

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  You know, Wendy, so I slipped up and showed her my Top 5, and now it’s coming back to get me.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Yeah, she’s referencing it a lot.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, I agree.  And so I think, you know, I’m kind of taking the devil’s advocate approach here of somebody adopts this on their project team.  Would you run into team members who would then kind of push back and go, well, so I’m never going to do anything unless it’s one of my Top 5?  You know, I think a great example of that would be just the communication aspect.  Some may say, well, I’m not known as a great communicator, so I’m not wired that way.  Public speaking is something that I’m afraid of. 

So when we’re doing presentations to the customer, even though it’s an area that I know the best, I don’t think I should have to present on it because it’s not my strength. There are areas like that where I feel like you need to kind of raise a warning flag and go, okay, well, so hold on, now. This may be an area that could limit your potential in the company or in the organization to grow, so having to look at it that way.

CONNIE PLOWMAN:  Yeah, so these talent assessments and these talent themes are not labels.

BILL YATES:  Right, right.

CONNIE PLOWMAN:  No, you’re an achiever, so you’re always trying to get stuff done, that’s not the intent.  The intent is for talent development and to give you an opportunity to grow.  So they’re not intended to put you into a little box.  Well, you’ve got achiever, so I’m going to put you over here.  That’s not the intent. So the intent is to develop that from the talent into a strength.

Getting Started as a Strengths-Based Project Team

WENDY GROUNDS:  Now, Connie, I know we have some people out there who are thinking, so how does a project team get started in becoming a strengths-based project team?

CONNIE PLOWMAN:  So I guess it’s two parts, the first part is you.  To get started in this, you’ve got to do it yourself.  You’ve got to lead by example.  If you’re the project manager, and you want a strengths-based project team, it starts with you.  You need to know your own talents and strengths before you start working with the team talents and strengths because they’re going to question that.

So I would start, of course, by taking the CliftonStrengths assessment, and to know your Top 5 talent themes, what are core to you.  And then take the time, not just to know them, but to learn them, articulate them, intentionally apply them so people can see what you’re doing.  And when that happens, over time you’ll start getting results, and then people will remember them.

Okay.  So Bill, what are your Top 5?  I know we’ve talked a little bit about them.

BILL YATES:  So my Top 5:  Achiever is number one, positivity, maximizer, focus, and learner.

CONNIE PLOWMAN:  Okay.  And these are unique to you, and so we all know that these are unique to you.  My Top 5 are achiever, maximizer, input, harmony, and focus.  So ironically, we have three in common.  But two of our themes are not in common, but our themes influence each other.  So let’s see, we’re both achiever.  By the way, achiever is the most frequent Top 5. 

But Bill’s way of achieving, because he uses positivity, could be different than my way of achieving because I use focus.  And so the way we get stuff done is different, and that’s called “theme dynamics.”  And so part two of this is, okay, now I know mine.  What does the team look like?  And then you can start embracing it with your team members, and so it’s two parts.  It starts with you, and then you roll it out to your team.

Maintaining the Strengths-Based Process in a Team

BILL YATES:  Yeah, so the theme dynamics, I imagine that there are books and books written about that, just how do we all get along and get the most from each other as to how we’re wired.  And then how do you foster conversations with team members about these strengths?  So many times I’ll see a team take an assessment or have some kind of team-building activity.  There’s a real great learning moment that they have, and then they kind of walk away from it and forget about it. So how do you get people to embrace this idea of these strengths and continue to show value and grow in them?

CONNIE PLOWMAN:  We wrote in our book about strength-based conversations.  So you want to start having these strength-based conversations with your project team and look for opportunities where you see strengths in action.  Because that’s when people are starting to apply their strengths, and what did you see yourself doing with this talent today, or pick a theme or whatnot.  I think it’s harder when you’re the only one doing it.  So this is a team activity, this is not just Bill doing it or Wendy doing it, if you want to make a difference in your organization and your projects, you all are doing it.

This is where executive support really matters in terms of having somebody on the executive team or your project sponsor, and so then as a project manager you’re leading by example.  So you put your Top 5 on your little table top card, or you put it on a coffee cup, you know, so people know.  And then it becomes a conversation starter to say, oh, tell me more about that theme because I don’t have that.

BILL YATES:  And I think the more billboards that we put out there in our project space about our strengths, and then the team strengths, then it does.  I think it’s naturally going to lead to those conversations and to those observations, so I think, of even, you know, daily standup meetings and other gatherings that teams have. So I think it’s going to work its way into conversation, I can see how it would naturally flow into just part of the company or the team culture.

CONNIE PLOWMAN:  Yeah, so let’s take the three of us.  Wendy is like our awesome operations person.  Bill is our executive support.  We’re not really too sure what Bill does, but that’s what he does, and me, I’m the project manager.  And so the three of us have worked together great on a project.  Okay, well, now the project’s done, and so what happens to our strength-based culture?  It just kind of disappeared.

Well, Wendy takes it back to operations, and so she starts using it with her functional team.  Bill takes it back to the executive team, and then you start using it with executive groups.  And I take it on to my next project, and so it’s like a ripple effect, where it’s just rippling out to make a difference and start building that culture.  But I think the biggest challenge is time and commitment.  But the key is to continue to have those strength-based conversations to create sustainability and talent development.

BILL YATES:  As I was reading through the book, there are so many practical examples and takeaways and grids, ideas for conversations and ways to continue to push the team forward with this.  So I really – I highly recommend the book, Connie, this is more like a workbook because there are so many practical things to do there to really drive your team to tackle these strengths in terms of self-awareness and then have a game plan for taking advantage of those strengths.

Career Advice from Connie

Now, I want to switch gears again. So Connie, I cannot have you on this podcast without asking you this question, if you could go back in time, what advice do you wish you had received earlier in your career?

CONNIE PLOWMAN:  Well, there’s lots of advice I should have paid attention to, but I think it kind of comes down to a couple of things.  One is project management. So I really wish that I had discovered project management earlier on in my career, I kind of stumbled into it when I joined a company that did project management.  Prior to that I was working for IBM and did training, and then I ended up working for a training company that did project management.  I said, hey, this is pretty cool.  And I look back on my school projects.  I might have gotten better grades if I actually knew project management then, I don’t know.  But that’s number one.

Number two is sales skills. So I have found over my career knowing sales is a tremendous benefit because you’re always selling. You’re always selling yourself for a project.  You’re always selling ideas. And you’re always selling for resources.  Now people go frown and say, oh, I’m not in sales, but guess what, you can influence, and you can persuade.  And so guess what, that’s called sales, and everybody sells.  So I would encourage our listeners to really look into getting sales skills in their career.

And so then the third area is this whole area of strengths.  If I had known back then what I know now, on this concept of StrengthsFinder, I could have been building my talents and strengths ages ago. So I wish I had understood that better early on in my career.  And when I was interviewed for a job, one of the questions asked of me is what do you bring to the team?  What do you bring to the table?  And so I could rattle off my Top 5 and then explain what they were.  So I think when people really understand those strengths, you can really use them to your advantage in your career.  So that’s why I’d narrow it down, project management, sales, and StrengthsFinder.

Thanks to Connie

 WENDY GROUNDS:  Connie, are you ever going to retire?  You’re just loving this so much, it’s going to keep going?

CONNIE PLOWMAN:  I retire, un-retire; retire, un-retire.  Probably my heart says no; my head says yes.  But, you know, as long as you love what you do, so why not continue doing what you do?  And besides, if anything else, I’m going to turn my talents into strengths so I can just pester Bill the rest of my life.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Connie, thank you so much, we really appreciate you joining us today.  It’s been an interesting conversation, and I’ve so loved getting to know you.

CONNIE PLOWMAN:  Well, thank you.  I really appreciate this opportunity.  You have some great episodes on Manage This, so I thank you both.

BILL YATES:  Well, thank you for this book.  It’s a great contribution, and so I think there’s something else that we wanted to share with you.  Wendy?

WENDY GROUNDS:  Connie, it’s a Manage This coffee mug, and we’re going to send it to you just to say thank you so much for being our guest.

CONNIE PLOWMAN:  Thank you.  I look like I could put wine in that, so that could…

BILL YATES:  Absolutely, yeah.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Oh, yeah. 

CONNIE PLOWMAN:  Thanks.

BILL YATES:  Thank you so much, Connie, we really appreciate your time and your contributions to the industry, helping project managers get better at what they do.  So thank you so much for sharing your time with us now.

CONNIE PLOWMAN:  It’s been a joy.  Thanks, guys.

Closing

WENDY GROUNDS:  And so to our listeners, the good news is that you just earned some Professional Development Units by listening to this podcast.  Go to Velociteach.com and choose Manage This Podcast from the top of the page.  Click the button that says Claim PDUs and then click through the steps.

That’s it for us here on Manage This.  We hope you’ll tune back in next time for our next podcast.  In the meantime, we’d love to have you visit us at Velociteach.com to subscribe to this podcast, to see a transcript of the show, or just to contact us.  If you have any questions about our podcasts or about project management certifications in general, we’re here for you.

So that’s all for this episode, thank you for joining us.  Until next time, keep calm and Manage This.

“PMI,” “PMP,” and “PMBOK” are registered marks of the Project Management Institute, Inc.  To learn more about PMI, visit their website at www.pmi.org

Gallup, CliftonStrengths® and the 34 theme names of CliftonStrengths® are trademarks of Gallup, Inc. All rights reserved. To discover your Top 5
ths, please visit www.gallup.com

The book “Developing Strengths-Based Project Teams” can be found on any online bookstore or through the publisher, Business Expert Press https://www.businessexpertpress.com/

6 responses to “Episode 108 –Building a Strengths-Based Project Team”

  1. Avatar Hilary Oborghayujie says:

    Thank you so much, what keypoints to take home. Informative and appealing content.

  2. Avatar Héctor Juárez says:

    Thank you

  3. Avatar Senthilkumar says:

    Thank You
    It provided good insight into the benefits of strength based project teams
    Great takeaways and practical tips

  4. Avatar Pam says:

    Great episode!

  5. Connie’s advice as an educator, a project manager and a leader are invaluable.

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