Project Success: The Value of Backing Up Behaviours and How They Can Be Developed by Leaders in Project-Based Work

By Zvi Aronson, Ph.D., Teaching Associate Professor, Stevens Institute of Technology

Why Focus on backing up behaviours in project-based work?

Backing up behaviours, that is, the extent team members willingly help each other beyond the call of duty to perform their roles, are essential for boosting team outcomes. Moreover, these behaviours have a special value when applied within the sporadic conditions characteristic of project-based work, which do not permit to predict all desired project activities. In the variable and dynamic project environment, it is critical for team members to help one another beyond formal requirements in order to realize project success.

Scholars and organizational practitioners have acknowledged the value of teamwork for project success. However, certain precise critical features of teamwork, group helping or backing-up behaviours, have rarely received attention, particularly in temporary settings, such as project-based work, where such voluntary group helping behaviours are expected to boost project success.

What are Backing-Up Behaviours? Why are they Critical to Success in Project-Based work?

Backing-up behaviours are discretionary, not ordinarily reinforced, and such behaviours on the part of project members, detailed below, are expected to promote the effectiveness of the combined action and to relate to competitive advantage.

The project environment presents several conditions that make backing-up behaviours, elaborated next, within project teams essential. Projects are temporary endeavours undertaken to create a unique service or product under emerging client needs. They often require that teams respond to ever-changing objectives, priorities and plans, while managing sudden project problems.

Backing-up behaviours and project success. Backing-up behaviours could enhance project success by increasing cooperation between functional participants who are executing the project. Project members’ willingness to cooperate beyond the call of duty should generate an upbeat environment among project members, who originate in various functional departments, that can spread to project clients, raising customer satisfaction with the manner the project was undertaken.

Project members illustrating backing-up behaviours might notify one another about non-routine project requirements, enabling them to intervene and alleviate project challenges. Project members who willingly share their functional know-how with fellow project members over and above what is officially specified, further subject their colleagues to varied facts which should result in enhanced performance. The augmented knowledge sharing should further assist project members to identify problems down the road, such as manufacturing complications or marketing incongruities, prior to their occurrence, when the challenges are typically slighter and easier to remedy.

It is conceivable that project members who readily lend a hand to each other, over and above what is requisite, would not have to reach out to their managers for help, setting free the managers to execute more central responsibilities, such as safeguarding financial support and identifying necessary workers.  In the challenging project environment, where client demands are evolving and goals and resources are uncertain, project members who extend their assistance by sharing knowledge beyond what is formally required and providing peers with helpful ideas, should promote effectiveness, in that, it could guarantee that the project will achieve all technical specifications, and contribute to project know-how.

How can managers boost backing-up behaviours in project-based work?

Leaders ought to have an awareness of the value of backing up behaviours in teams. Yet, it is unclear what managers can employ to advance backing up behaviours. The performance management writings identify quite a few clear precursors that bring about such voluntary behaviour, yet these levers are not, by at large, accessible to project managers. Selecting staff with exceptional traits can beget backing-up behaviours, although, this choice is not always doable, principally for recruitment decisions in projects, where factors such as employee availability are foremost. Additionally, compensating for backing-up behaviours is often beyond the project managers’ control, especially when projects are organized in a matrix structure. Because of these confinements project managers usually face, what might be less obvious substitute levers available to project managers, for instance, project culture, that can sway the discretionary helpful undertakings associated with backing-up behaviours in technology-driven projects and in due course augment success.

Practical implications for managers in project-based work – taking action

Due to the confinements managers usually face in project-based work, our findings suggest that less formal methods, such as culture, can be utilized by the project manager as a lever to spur members’ backing-up behaviours. A constructive culture which raises members’ backing-up behaviours can be formed in several ways.

1. Modelling. Project managers who expect members to assist their co-workers have to make obvious they are prepared to do so themselves. Project managers can successfully prolong a constructive project culture by behaving in ways that are consistent with it. Project managers who expect members to help their co-workers have to make obvious they are prepared to do so themselves. Comparably, by modelling the expected behaviours, upper management overseeing the project can help bring about a constructive project culture, which we illustrate boosts members’ backing up behaviours, and eventually increases success in project work.

2. Socialization. Placing new recruits in groups with a high level of backing-up behaviours. Extending past work to projects, project culture represents the expectations that new recruits to the project would be encouraged to abide by their fellow core project members. Efforts to mould newcomers’ culture should be a fundamental part of project members’ socialization and should be employed early during the course of a project, to urge members’ backing up behaviours and augment success throughout project implementation. Upper management can help bring about the appropriate socialization of new recruits to the project setting by placing these individuals, whenever possible, into groups with a high level of member backing-up behaviours. In this fashion, new recruits discover the value of behavioural expectations related to the constructive culture in promoting members’ backing up behaviours, which should lead to upsurges in project success.

3. Training and coaching. Project managers can be coached to nurture a closer bond with their team members and to accentuate a collective sense of mission. Project members’ backing-up behaviours have a major role in project success, and managers in project settings can escalate such behaviour by advancing a culture that highlights constructive behavioural expectations, which emphasize collaboration and positive interpersonal interactions. This portrayal of a project manager’s activities is consistent with transformational project leadership behaviour. Selecting transformational project managers is an option that is not always practical in project environments, where other factors such as workforce availability are key. Yet, staff considered for managing projects can be coached to grow transformational leadership behaviours.  Project managers can be trained to use supportive communication to nurture a closer bond with their team members, and to accentuate a collective sense of mission. By boosting the acceptance of group objectives, project managers could expand the likelihood that self-goals will be willingly discarded for more collectivist efforts, which should effect members’ backing-up behaviours. These activities are pivotal to project members who regard worthy behaviours associated with a constructive project culture.

In conclusion, leader effects on culture and expected behaviours are documented. Fittingly, people designated as project leaders, who are thinking about creating a project culture that upholds members’ backing-up behaviours, can be educated to use several of these informal practices as a portion of their planning activities. Owing to these efforts, while projects are repeatedly changing, in that new members are being enlisted to perform specific project tasks at distinct project phases, the constructive project culture can be preserved throughout the execution of the project. In this manner, project managers in terms of members’ backing up behaviours and project culture can help uphold exceptional long-term project performance.