By Adrian Johansen
Leading a project team is no easy task, especially during difficult slumps in productivity. Ironically, however, some of the most formidable challenges a project manager can face often arise in periods of success. When your team has found its rhythm and you’ve discovered the leadership tools and tactics that get results, it can be difficult to innovate.
That’s a problem because the business world is always changing, and the most effective teams are those that can change right along with it. However, when your employees have found a process that works for them, they may be resistant to change.
Nevertheless, the most successful project managers understand the critical importance of changing things up once in a while. They recognize that complacency, sooner or later, leads to stasis and that, ultimately, leads to failure.
The good news, though, is that it is possible to break your team out of its routine and pursue innovation without abandoning the tried and true methods that have contributed to your team’s success in the past. The key to this is to cultivate skill set diversity both in your own professional practice and in that of your team members.
Developing New Skill Sets
One of the best ways to spur innovation and agility in even the most successful teams is to diversify your own skill set. As a project manager, the odds are that you’ve spent much of your career exploring new ways to promote efficiency and productivity while building and learning cohesive teams.
But why not look beyond the arena of project management to discover what other fields might have to offer? The tech sector, for example, may not seem to have much in common with project management outside of the IT space.
The reality, though, is that skill sets are being developed in IT that can yield profound benefits for leaders in other domains. For instance, technologists are increasingly turning to user behavior analytics to facilitate tech innovations in response to evolving consumer needs and expectations.
Pursuing training in advanced data analytics could be an ideal way to increase your efficacy as a project manager. You will have the skills you need to identify, collect, and analyze datasets relevant to existing and proposed projects. This, in turn, enables you to respond more quickly and effectively to evolving customer needs and market conditions.
In other words, you’re no longer going to be leading your team in the pursuit of outdated performance metrics. You will ensure agility in your project teams by continuously defining, updating, and aligning your team with ever-evolving standards of excellence.
At the same time, you will be more prepared to recognize and respond to significant market changes that may pose a risk to project success if the team is unprepared. This might include, for instance, the ability to spot troubling trends in workflow patterns before they can cause substantial disruptions in productivity and performance.
Cultivating Skill Set Diversity in Your Team
As important as it is for project managers to possess a wide array of skill sets, it is equally important for teams to exhibit significant skill set diversity. Integrating personnel with a range of aptitudes, experience, training, and perspectives will prevent that killer of innovation: groupthink.
For instance, if you choose to outsource some project tasks, you’re going to reap rewards far beyond the tasks themselves. Outsourcing labor enables you to bring in new perspectives and faculties.
Not only will your team benefit from the expertise of the outsider, but, as a leader, you will have the opportunity to view the project, the team, the organization, and even your own leadership practices with a fresh set of eyes. External partners, for example, can often identify weaknesses and opportunities within the team that project managers and team members themselves have become blind to.
In addition to outsourcing labor, leaders can also diversify the team’s skill set by recruiting team members whom they may not have ordinarily considered viable candidates for the work.
Workers with disabilities, for instance, have long been marginalized in the workforce. Neurodivergent individuals, such as employees with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), may not be given opportunities to showcase or develop their professional talents due to the failure of leadership to understand and accommodate the employee’s neurological differences.
This doesn’t just harm the individual worker, though. It also deprives project teams of the chance to benefit from the unique talents of a grossly misunderstood and woefully underutilized labor force. Persons who are neurodivergent, for example, are often exceptionally bright, highly talented, and extraordinarily high-achieving under the right working conditions and with proper support.
Skill set diversity isn’t just an ideal. For even the most effective teams, expanding the range of skills, perspectives, and aptitudes its members possess is essential for innovation and agility. Skills diversification, however, should work from the top down, with project managers expanding their own repertoire of skills before they begin cultivating such diversity in the teams they lead.