Project management: Gender diversity for successful project teams

Is gender diversity critical to a successful project team?

Following the recent Women in Project Management event, we spoke to Maeve Flanagan, Senior Consultant – Capita Transformation,
to explore how gender affects the success of a project team.

QA | 9 November 2016

There is a lot of academic research that explores how gender affects team dynamics and effectiveness. However, it’s succinctly summed up by the Harvard Business Review as the ‘It’ factor.

Maeve Flanagen

Gender diversity does make a difference to team dynamics. McKinsey, for example, found that on average gender diverse companies outperform others by as much as 15%. But why?

One of the biggest reasons is that they are “better able to win top talent and improve their customer orientation, employee satisfaction, and decision making… [and this] leads to a virtuous cycle of increasing returns.”

The more diverse a company, the more likely it is to attract talent from a broader resource pool and increase its ability to attract and, subsequently, retain top talent. From a customer perspective, it also helps with the ‘relatability’ factor.

Real world experience

My experience backs up these findings too. Working in a project and programme scenario, I’ve found that the more diverse a team, the more collaborative the working environment.

Ultimately, with a broader range of people and personalities a team communicates better and that leads to better outcomes. As many of us know, good communication and team collaboration can be the difference between a solid recovery plan to turn things around and the final nail in the coffin for the project.

By bringing together people of different life experiences, you also get a more dynamic spectrum of opinion and thought processes. And when this happens in a collaborative environment you create a team that’s prepared to challenge the status quo and drive real improvements. The more robust challenge process also allows a team to elevate the quality of its deliverables.

Beyond gender

But gender is one of many contributory factors that impact on the success of a team. The way in which team members interact and engage with one another is also key.

How a team interacts is directly linked to how the team is constructed. And while gender will be a factor, you can say more broadly that it’s about the behaviour people adopt in a professional environment. It’s about how they engage with people, what they are comfortable with and the different communication styles they use.

Achieving the right mix

To achieve a good balance within a team, there are some small changes that are proven to make a remarkable difference, plus key principles of best practice approaches such as PRINCE2 that also contribute to successful delivery.

In Harvard Business Review’s research it was found that, in a contact centre scenario, social interactions improve communication and that has a measureable impact on the team’s performance metrics. In the research, having a single coffee break for all team members increased social engagement. Over time, this in turn affected the gold standard measure for contact centres, average handling time (AHT), with it falling by 20%. Employee satisfaction also increased by 10%.

Through PRINCE2, you’ll also find a framework to support the successful delivery of projects. In the initiation and mobilisation phase of a project, many factors support the creation of diverse teams.

A project manager, for instance, can use knowledge of team working to choose the right methodology for the environment. During the ‘Roles and Responsibilities’ stage, as each element is defined, project managers should think about the diversity of the team and how a blended mix of people can help improve communication. Selecting the appropriate people and allocating them the right role for their competency and operating mode is crucial to delivery. It also allows for greater autonomy, supports a ‘manage by exception’ approach and ensures the delivery of products and quality in line with PRINCE2’s ‘Focus on Products’ principle.

In my experience, and as the academic research shows, there’s a solid financial business case for greater diversity in the workplace. Companies simply cannot afford to ignore the benefits of increasing gender diversity or they will rapidly lose their competitive edge.

Related blogs

Getting the results you want from organisational change with PRINCE2 >

Benefits of earning a Project Management certification >

12 steps to ensure a successful project >

How to get into Project Management >

What makes a complete project professional >

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