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Adaptive Leadership of Project Management

Project Management Team

A project management team would experience a process of continuous growth and improvement from its beginning to the end. According to the Tuckman ladder theory, this process of team development can be divided into five stages:
1. Forming stage,

2. Storming stage,

3. Norming stage,

4. Performing stage, and

5. Adjourning stage.

At each of these stages, the project manager should perform different leadership styles accordingly, which is called adaptive leadership.

1. Leadership style at forming stage

At the forming stage of Project Management, the project manager plays a very important role in the project team. In order to provide a clear direction for the project team members, the project manager must introduce the background and objective of the project to them and state each member’s duty and role clearly. At this stage, the main job of the project manager mainly contains two parts. The first part is to construct the internal framework of the team, which includes the team’s tasks, objectives, roles, scale, composition, regulations, and code of conduct, and so forth. The second part is to determine the team’s roles and scale based on the project’s tasks and objectives, and then pick the team members based on the team’s roles and scale.

Establishing the initial connection between the team and the external environment is another important job of the project manager. This mainly includes: establishing informational connection and correlation between the project team and various functional departments; determining the permission level of the team, such as permission for free disposal, items or matters which must be reported to the superior; gaining the technical support, expert guidance, financial support, material support and spiritual support for the team; establishing the connection and coordination relation between the team and external resources, such as establishing the connection between the team and project’s customer or the public, in order to achieve coordination with the social system and social culture.

At the forming stage, the main job of adaptive leadership is to set up and guide the team members’ duty, and the goal is to set up the responsibility of project tasks for each member. The way is to excite the team members’ sense of responsibility while explaining each member’s tasks.

Setting up the project team, the project manager’s role is “organizer”.

2. Leadership style at storming stage

At the storming stage, the project manager should establish credibility among the project team and try to resolve conflicts. According to the Tuckman ladder theory, the main feature of the storming stage is that the team members could express different opinions on project work and cause conflicts. In this scenario, the project leader and the team members should all actively facilitate the resolution of conflicts. On the other hand, both project managers and team members should also realize the fact that the process of reconciling the difference between different personal and stabilize the emotion would take a certain amount of time, which means forcing the team members to compress their emotion is infeasible. Instead, the project manager should progressively and actively facilitate the team to search for an ideal balance between conflict and cooperation.

At this stage, the leadership of the project manager should be supportive instead of directing. The main job of the project manager at this stage would be establishing a feasible and effective work agreement and guiding the team about how to reconcile conflicts; gaining feedback from the team members in order to motivate their behavioral motivation. Once the team is settling down, the project manager’s role would become an advisor and a conflict solver.

3. Leadership style at norming stage

At the norming stage, the project manager should encourage the team to establish a creative work mode, and try to diminish the work of directing. The way is to do more supportive work and accelerate the work progress and furthermore improve the work efficiency. And do not forget to recognize the progress of the project team publicly.

At this stage, the project team and the project are both functions normally and the leadership style of the project manager should be supportive and let the team members decide the way and method of doing the tasks, and make sure the team members are working collaboratively. The project team needs an inspiring team leader for keeping up the good momentum.

4. Leadership style at performing stage

At the performing stage, the project manager should allow all groups and individuals to carry out the project work using their own methods and styles. A project manager should be satisfied and at ease, since at this stage the project team has developed to be a mature team. All the project manager needs to do is empower the team members and encourage the team members to be creative, active, and constructive.

At this stage, the leadership style of the project manager should mainly be entrusting. Just allocate the work and corresponding permission to the team and let them finish the project tasks by themselves, and motivate the team members by effective monitoring and respect, and trust.

5. Leadership style at adjourning stage

At the adjourning stage of Project Management, the project is at the ending phase and the project team is about to be dismissed. At this stage, the project manager should adopt certain measurements to stabilize the emotions of all team members and continuously keep up the team cohesiveness and efficiency. The reason is that at the ending phase of achieving something people would easily release themselves and be lack of motivation of doing high efficient work. Therefore, in this scenario, the role of a project manager is to monitor the team members and motivate them to “stick to the very last”.

Of course, in the meantime, the project manager should also think of the follow-up working arrangement for the team members. Only when the team members feel secure about the future can they finish the current project well.


This paper introduces the theory of adaptive leadership of project management and discuss the five-stage of project team development based on Tuckman ladder theory, and present the corresponding roles and duty of project manager at different stages.

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