Relationship building

Behavioural Muscle Memory

I ran a masterclass last week for the RICS about strategic project management.

One of the key messages was making sure you spend as much effort on your social and behavioural skills as you do on your technical knowledge. The reason for this is that people deliver projects and you cannot simply have a schedule and plan and expect all parties to comply. The German military strategist Helmuth von Moltke is often cited for his observation that “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” Although I must confess to liking Mike Tyson’s “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth” a bit more. The point being that projects have a habit of not going to plan. You have to be able to respond well when that happens.

In my experience, the best teams cope well under pressure and their relationship is stronger as a result. They remain respectful and considerate. They do not retreat defensively to their corner of the ring (despite the metaphorical punch in the kisser). Instead, they remain calm and continue to treat colleagues and teammates with care and respect because they have learnt the benefits behavioural muscle memory. If you haven’t already read it, the Chimp Paradox shows us all what we can do to control ourselves better under these sort of stresses. This muscle memory is what sports people have to ensure they do the right thing even when they are tired, losing or things are not going to plan.

Most people have had some sort of behavioural profile done at some point in their career; but very often do little with them.

We use the Strength Deployment Inventory because it makes the vital link to understanding the motivation of others. Understanding what makes someone else get out of bed every morning to come to work is the root to forming strong and lasting relationships. SDI offer a great tip of ABC (assess the situation, borrow the right behaviour and then communicate in that behaviour). They get you to assess both your and your colleagues’ motivations in terms of people, process and performance. It encourages you to modify your behaviour and communication to work together more effectively.

I am no psychologist and there is much written about these sort of profiles. But I have never worked in organisations and on projects where intelligent use of these profiles hasn’t been of major benefit. You can use them at board level, project and team level and even for long term partnering or frameworks. Simply taking the time to understand each other, what makes us tick and how best to react when under pressure must be good for all of us.

This is what I call behavioural muscle memory.  

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