Editor’s note: This article is penned by longtime adjunct instructor at the River Birch Group—and soon to be Extension instructor!—Susan Schwartz, PMP. She facilitates project management and leadership courses as an adjunct professor and professional association seminar presenter. She recently released her first book, Creating a Greater Whole: A Project Manager‘s Guide to Becoming a Leader, which unlocks the not-so-secret secrets of what aspiring managers need to become strong leaders.
I recently saw The Lego Movie with three young children. I have always loved Lego™ and thought it would be a great deal of fun. I was not disappointed—it is a very clever movie.
The movie takes place in an urban environment ruled by a dictator-like ruler, Lord Business. The protagonist is Emmet, who is a run-of-the-mill construction worker. Before Lord Business began his evil reign, the resident wise man prophesied that “The Special” will rise up to save the world. Emmet is accidentally identified as the prophesized savior. There are several side stories, which include an independent female Master Builder who creates the most amazing vehicles out of Legos.
I was surprised to discover several “grown-up” lessons hidden among all of the kid fun:
- Just because “that is the way we’ve always done it” doesn’t mean that’s the only way.
- Creative individuals may be very smart; however, success often requires a variety of skill sets.
- A strong plan leveraging available resources and talent provides an essential foundation for a project.
- Success is attainable when you believe in your team and yourself.
I appreciate these four lessons because I teach project management classes to adults. Our curriculum focuses on standard procedures that organizations such as the Project Management Institute (PMI®) have developed to help people manage projects and work more efficiently. During class, we spend a great deal of time talking about managing teams and helping people with different work habits and skill sets in order to get along.
The four lessons above would make a great course to help grown-ups get along better at work. Let’s take a look at a brief example for each of them.
Just because “that is the way we’ve always done it” doesn’t mean that’s the only way.
When leaders and team members, such as Lord Business, insist that their way is the only way and refuse to acknowledge any other opinions, the situation often is referenced as Group Think. When groups of people get mired in a Group Think mode, they do not view a situation from any perspective except the one that they know.
The metaphor of covering the team with “Kragl” (aka Krazy Glue™) so they are locked into place is pretty accurate. When Group Think is present, there is no opportunity for growth or personal development. You and the rest of your team are stuck.
Creative individuals may be very smart; however, success often requires a variety of skill sets.
In another scene, the Master Builders (MB) all agree to work together to build a weapon that will stand up to Lord Business’ army. Each MB builds an element based on their expertise. The end product looks incredibly cool, and when it is time to put the machine into action there is no synergy to hold it together. The device breaks apart into individual pieces.
A strong plan leveraging available resources and talent provides an essential foundation for a project.
Then the movie’s hero, Emmet, jumps into action and develops a plan, which uses the same properties as the five core processes developed by PMI® to help project managers successfully complete their projects.
First, they determine what the plan should accomplish. They set the goal to overthrow Lord Business’ regime.
Second, they gather their resources and develop a plan based on schedule and budget.
Project Initiation and Planning
Project Schedule and Risk Management
Third, they execute the plan.
Fourth, and most importantly, they monitor and control actions that might be going off on a tangent. When a problem is identified, they go back to the plan and all agree on how to change the plan.
Project Scope and Quality Management
The final phase completes with the successful overthrow of the regime.
And in the end, Lord Business realizes there are other options than his previous single- minded strategy.
Success is attainable when you believe in your team and yourself.
The final lesson is one of the most important. When you believe in yourself and your team, anything is possible. Maintaining a flexible, can-do attitude helps you evaluate and adapt the original plan to changing situations and keeps your focus on the goal.
Sometimes you will be the voice of reason; other times, your colleagues will step forward to bring you back to reality.
I think what the movie reinforced for me was that when you work as a coordinated team to achieve what seems to be an out-of-reach goal, the joint journey makes the success even sweeter.
Project Leadership and Building High-Performing Teams
About Susan Schwartz
Throughout her career, Susan Schwartz successfully led a variety of government and corporate teams through technology deployments and organizational changes that resulted in improved core operating procedures. She credits the cross-functional, global team productivity successes to leveraging the team members’ strengths within a culture that encouraged innovation and personal growth.
Her constructive change tool box includes a variety of methods that combine process review, crucial conversations and knowledge-sharing strategies.
Susan is a certified coach and facilitator for the EQ-i 2.0 assessment tool. She uses the detailed feedback reports to help individuals recognize their strengths, define areas where they would like to develop their professional skill sets and identify areas where their colleagues can balance engagement capabilities to create a high-performing team.