Home » Team Management » Do We As Managers Tell or Sell Our Directions?

Do We As Managers Tell or Sell Our DirectionsProject management tools for managing a project include the techniques needed to build a team.  While the team goes through some various predictable stages, we as project managers should often vary our approach based upon the current stage of the team.

Building teams can be reasonably described by Tuckman’s Stages Of Group Development forming, storming, norming, and performing model. This model, this project management tool, helps us to anticipate what our team will need and what we should do.  The model I’ve found useful for guiding my teams through these stages is describe by the Situational Leadership telling, selling, participating, and delegating model.

This model talks about how a manager brings a new group of people up to speed on a job and it also helps to suggest what to do at each stage of team building.


Telling: Everyone is new to the project. The project manager (PM) is generally telling people what we need to do now, when we need to do to get started. The PM is often in the “boss” position, where they are doing the talking and the team is listening and learning. Depending upon the experience of the team and how many have worked together before, this need to be in the telling mode might be short or it might take a long time.

Compare with Do You Spend More Time With Your Eagles or With Your Turkeys?


Selling: The team generally understands what needs to be done and are starting to work together better (coincides with the norming stage). The PM, having experience on how things work — but no longer the sole expert, will often “push” the team in a desired direction (or maybe just try to get them to work better together) by selling them on a idea, approach or method as opposed to telling them to do it a particular way. The PM may still have the authority to “tell them” but in fact we want to build a team so we influence it by selling our ideas to them — getting them to buy in and say “OK, that is a good idea, let’s do it that way.” This, in my experience, maximizes the abilities of all our people.


Participating: The team is now working together (norming, performing) and each individual takes the lead as appropriate to the situation. I was always the “software guy” so when something in a product or project went wrong with the software, it became incumbent upon me to take the lead to get things resolved. The PM will want to do similar, continue to influence the team but in many ways just become another member and contributes based upon their particular expertise and the insights needed at the current moment. The PM may still be doing heavily PM “stuff” that gives the team, customers, and sponsors what they need to do their jobs — but may not be always “leading” at every major event.

See also How To Manage People Who Are Smarter Than You


Delegating: This stage is not always appropriate for a project and a project manager. Here is where the team is working so well, the manager can disconnect from the team and let them pretty much run on their own (aligns well with the performing stage). For a project manager with multiple projects, this stage can be where we make a choice in how deep we need to be inserted into each of our projects. A project where things are going well, we can spend less time and just periodically check in. Many of us do this, make these choices — prioritize our time — but this model allows us to realize that this can be both appropriate and productive — when our team is at the appropriate place in their growth and maturity.

For more see Are Self-Managing Project Teams Possible?

As a team grows together, we as project managers will adjust how we work with our team. When they are new and forming, we will be necessarily more directive. As they learn to work together and have a shared purpose in the project, we move towards the position of being another contributing team member, rather than the “source of all wisdom and decisions” on the team. We need to never forget, nor let them forget, that we are ultimately the project manager, but our usage of that authority needs to be tempered and adjusted to allow the team to perform to their maximum ability.

Alternatively, see Don’t Project Manage, Provide A Service!

What approaches are you using to help your folks grow as a team?

Thank you for sharing!