The Optimistic Team for Project Management Success

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Categories: Human Aspects of PM, Teams

"A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty." -- Winston Churchill

About 100 years ago, Ernest Shackleton was looking for a crew for a challenging project: to produce a map of the South Pole. It is said that he published an ad in the local newspaper looking for team members with creativity, a good sense of humor and technical skills.

Fast forward to the present day. Dr. Martin Seligman, director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania in the United States, is the founder of positive psychology, which focuses on the study of such things as positive emotions, strengths-based character and healthy institutions.

Dr. Seligman theorizes that in order to choose people for success in a challenging job, you need to search for aptitude, motivation and optimism.

This "explanatory style" theory, which indicates how people explain to themselves why they experience a particular event, can be applied to teams, too, according to Dr. Seligman. He based his hypothesis in three basic predictions:

If everything else remains unchanged, the individual with a more optimistic explanatory style will succeed. This happens because he or she will try harder, particularly under bad circumstances.

The same thing should hold true for teams. If a team can be classified by its level of optimism, the more optimistic team should achieve its goals, and this will be more evident under pressure.

If you can change the style of the team members from pessimistic to optimistic, they will achieve more, particularly under pressure.

The next time you need to pick a project team member, consider their optimism in addition to his or her technical competencies.

How do you choose your team members? What characteristics do you take into account when integrating members to your team?

Read more from Jorge.
Read more about teams.
Posted by Jorge Vald├ęs Garciatorres on: March 12, 2012 11:34 AM | Permalink

Comments (3)

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PM Hut
Ironically, "optimism" is never a good word in project management. In some of our estimates, we use the word "pessimistic" when we present them to our stakeholders. We never, ever, use the word optimistic.

Maybe we, project managers, are just a pessimistic bunch - or maybe we got burned so many times by optimism that we have learned our lesson so well.

Adam Searcy
How does "optimism" or "motivation" correlates with "determination"? Is determination a true synonym or is that a separate character trait not necessarily as indicative of success? How about optimism + motivation = determination?

Balaji Ganesan
The statements made in the post does not consider the impact of politics over business/project.

All the time being optimistic is not going to help as any change/delay has an impact on cost and schedule.

Having a positive attitude even under difficult circumstances will definitely help but not while the system (where you are operating) is flawed and there is somebody or some entity is undermining the efforts

Do not forget with different nationalities involved, it is not easy to gain the trust or to be believed with one's capability, as project teams are more comfortable with their team members and there is lot of resistance to let in a new member for different reasons other than project success also.

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