How to like people – A mental hack to progress in complex projects

“I like people in small bursts.” (George Carlin)

The above phrase stems from the famous American comedian George Carlin, who passed away in 2008. In his hilarious and often controversial comedy shows, George Carlin meditated on various aspects of life, including politics, language, psychology, and religion. He mastered pointing out human behavior’s unspeakable yet apparent elements. Among numerous social aspects, he was skeptical about whether interacting with a larger group of individuals was the best way. His skepticism towards groups and institutions resonated with his individuality and independent thinking preference.

In complex, challenging projects, skillful interaction with team members is paramount to effective project leadership. To obtain results, we often set up meetings. However, our bias towards holding larger meetings while hoping to achieve meaningful results is usually just wishful thinking. The social dynamics, especially in emotionally charged arguments in such meetings, result in the typical “groupthink”: the quiet but often more competent team members are steamrolled into silent submission. Suboptimal decisions are usually the result.

In a project-leading role, such as a Project Lead, heeding George Carlin’s sentiment towards small, brief interactions with each other does the trick to achieving sustainable project results. Instead of attempting to achieve an overall team consensus in a large status meeting or a “standup,” the Project Lead must be able to pick the opinion leader before such a meeting and assess if that person is aligned with the project goals.

Such one-on-ones often turn out to be much more pleasant and productive than having a large group discussion. It also has the side effect of actually getting to like each other.

Here is the rule: if you don’t like your essential team members, you will eventually face an uphill battle to achieve project objectives every time. It may result in a “not-my-job” attitude among the team members and a general loss of motivation and effectiveness. It is a critical risk factor in complex projects.

It is way more important to like your individual team members than to attempt to have a mythical “good team spirit.” Have small discussions with your critical experts and opinion leaders as often as possible, especially when aiming to achieve strategic project goals.

Learn to like your team experts. It prevents you from burning out in the process of project leadership.

Let’s start a conversation on LinkedIn or (formerly Twitter).

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I am a project manager (Project Manager Professional, PMP), a Project Coach, a management consultant, and a book author. I have worked in the software industry since 1992 and as a manager consultant since 1998. Please visit my United Mentors home page for more details. Contact me on LinkedIn for direct feedback on my articles.