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The Good, the Bad and the Beastly: Who's Really on Your Project Team?

written by: Donna Cosmato • edited by: Wendy Finn • updated: 10/27/2011

At times, you may be tempted to treat team members like animals because they are acting like one. Before you do something you might regret, take a look at this entertaining slideshow to make sure you know how to identify those project beasts.

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    King of the PM Beasts

    King of the PM Beasts 

    When most individuals think of lions, they think of adjectives or titles such as “King of the beasts,” “royal,” “commanding,” or “regal.” If you are a project manager with a lion on your team, you may think you have a real treasure on your hands because of the lion’s reputation for intelligence, leadership and strength.

    However, consider this. How do most male lions spend their days? That’s right, they laze around in the sun waiting for the lioness to hunt and kill their dinners. If you don’t want your team members hanging around the water cooler waiting for someone else to get the project done, you better keep those lions working and productive.

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    An Elephant Never Forgets

    An Elephant Never Forgets 

    Forgotten deadlines and unfinished details become a problem of the past when you have elephants on your team. Elephants are easy to train, loyal and dependable. Once you start them on a project’s path, they will plod steadily toward completion, and they are completely unstoppable. (Think circus elephants trotting in a circle.)

    Another benefit for project managers of finding and employing elephants is the fact that they are one of the lowest maintenance employees. Their personal problems will stay at home, and they won’t flit from office to office exchanging the last gossip. Just harness their initiative and get out-of-the-way.

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    Clever & Crafty

    Clever & Crafty 

    There’s no doubt about it: foxes are smart. If you are familiar with any of Aesop’s Fables, you know they also have a reputation for being sneaky and conniving .

    Foxes are high maintenance team members because they may think they are smarter than you are and have better solutions for taking a project to completion. While they may have some excellent ideas and valuable insights, the danger lies in their presentation and timing. To protect yourself, you'll need to invest time (which you can't afford) in keeping an eye on them.

    Foxes have no problem biding their time and waiting to cut you off at the knees right in front of stakeholders and superiors. If you are not prepared with your facts—they will be prepared—you can be blindsided by their attack.

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    Watch Out for Sneaky Snakes

    Watch Out for Sneaky Snakes 

    Okay, foxes are crafty but they are usually transparent in their actions. You know you have to keep on your toes around them. On the other hand, snakes are sneaky and subtle as they slither and glide around the outside of the team and the project. They may seem aloof with other team members or resist efforts to draw them into discussions, but they will flatter and seek to gain approval from you because of your leadership status.

    Remember that this is all part of their camouflage. Just like the foxes, they are waiting for the little slips and mistakes on your part, and they are cataloguing them in the file boxes of their minds. When you least expect it, they’ll strike.

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    Let's Chew the Fat

    Let's Chew the Fat 

    Goats have reputations for being willing (and able!) to eat just about anything and they spend most of their lives chewing and eating. While dialogue and interaction are important and build relationships within a team, a team member who does not know when it is time to stop talking and start working can be expensive and disastrous.

    They may try to avoid their own work by chatting up other team members, which keeps the others from working as well. Now you have lost the goat’s productivity as well as that of the others who are drawn into the conversation. Goats are high maintenance and need a firm leader to keep them task oriented.

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    Got Sand?

    Got Sand? 

    If you have an ostrich on your team, you have your hands full. There is no telling what will startle them off on a tangent or immobilize them with fear. These types are definitely not risk takers and may stall or delay a project with their inability to take action or make a decision.

    Do you need help identifying this project beast? An ostrich with his or her head in sand may be the team member who avoids conflict at all cost and tries to pretend everything is just fine when it is clearly not. You will need to literally take them by the hand and lead them through each step of the project, which makes them one of the highest maintenance employees you’ll ever deal with.

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    You've Gotta Fly Like an Eagle

    You've Gotta Fly Like an Eagle 

    You can always spot the eagles on your team by the way they soar above the conflicts and strife looking for their next prey. While they are fiercely independent hunters who work well solo, with the right handler, they can become valuable additions to any team.

    These loyal, productive workers will arrive early and stay late. Whether they say much or not, they are always observing (hence, the term “eagle eye”) and could be your best bet for identifying risks or scope creep before it gets out of hand. When you find an eagle, it is worth the effort to tame him or her and woo them to your team.

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    Stubborn as a Mule?

    Stubborn as a Mule? 

    Do you have a team member who is just immovable in his or her thought processes? Inflexible, stubborn and sometimes cantankerous employees who resemble mules can drive a project manager to distraction, which is a major trap.

    Arguing or debating with mules will get you nowhere and simply wastes your time. In addition, other team members may be sucked into the debate or take sides for or against you. Your best managerial technique is to agree to disagree and move ahead with the project. After all, completing the project successfully is really more important than who is right or wrong, isn’t it?

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    Dolphins: More Than Meets the Eye

    Dolphins: More Than Meets the Eye 

    Dolphins are reputed to be one of the smartest mammals with an intelligence even higher than that of canines. They are fast learners that are able to complete complex tasks with ease.

    Dolphins are also social and extremely vocal. The upside of this sociability is they will probably interact well with other team members and stakeholders. They communicate well and because of their higher intellect, there will be fewer misunderstandings or conflicts.

    The downside of their garrulous nature is they may become so involved in social activities and talking that they ignore or neglect their work. Project managers who understand the nature of these project beasts can harness their ability and intelligence but should stay mindful of their temptation to chatter incessantly.

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    I'm Nimble and Smart

    I'm Nimble and Smart 

    When you think of a monkey, do you visual an agile animal leaping from branch to branch? Monkeys are nimble, intelligent and quick; they get tasks done fast. They climb higher and go faster, expending tons of energy in the process.

    Now, picture this - a monkey extending a paw for that delicious peanut or treat. Monkeys are quite content to finish their tasks, fold their little paw over their tummies, and wait for the reward. You will not find them leaping around the office looking for extra work to do.

    Monkeys are highly accomplished imitators who learn quickly. They need strong leaders as their role models and clearly defined tasks with tangible rewards. However, they may or may not be willing to work for peanuts.

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    Slow but Steady

    Slow but Steady 

    There are three kinds of ants: Queens, males and workers. The males mate with the queens and die shortly thereafter. Queens spend their entire lives laying eggs to perpetuate the colonies. The heart of the ant colony is the worker ant, which performs all the daily tasks that keep the colony alive and productive.

    Ants are incredibly strong—able to lift 20 times their body weight—persistent, and dependable. Put an obstacle in their path and they will go around it, over it, or under it, but they are not stopped. Ants are task oriented and need little managerial intervention to get the job done. Just like the ant colony, the core of strong team is the worker ant.

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    Are You a Kennel, Hunting or Fire Dog?

    Are You a Kennel, Hunting or Fire Dog? 

    There are three kinds of dogs: kennel dogs, hunting dogs, and firehouse dogs. The kennel dog’s traits are obvious. All they want to do is lounge around the kennel and be fed; you’ll spend valuable time prodding them to action.

    Hunting dogs, on the other hand, are excitable and energetic and bring home quite a bit of prey. This high energy level can produce stellar results. The problem with hunting dogs—often the less experienced team members—is they have tendency to stick their noses in a beehive, stir up the nest, and cause problems. Hunters need lots of clear direction and reminders to stay on task.

    Firehouse dogs are seasoned and experienced. They have little interest in stirring things up like the hunting dogs, but they are not ready to be fed like the kennel dogs. However, when the firehouse bell rings, they are your first responders and produce your best results. A clearly defined assignment and a ring of the bell can make the firehouse dog one of your best assets.

References

  • Williams, Jacqueline M., "What Kind of Employee Are You? An Eagle or a Turkey?," Young Money, http://www.youngmoney.com/careers/career-advice/Eagle_turkey/

  • Pest World for Kids: Ants, http://www.pestworldforkids.org/ants.html

  • Thimmesch, Mike, "Your Trade Show Booth Staffers Are Animals," Skyline Trade Show Tips, http://www.skylinetradeshowtips.com/your-trade-show-booth-staffers-are-animals/