Take a moment and picture a large city with a memorable skyline that you’ve either called home or visited on a regular basis. Think about the skyline from the outside looking in and consider which buildings you visualize to the right or left of center. Now ask yourself why you put them in their specific spots. Chances are you picture them from the direction you most commonly come from when entering the city. If this is difficult for you to envision, take Chicago as an example. If you’re from Indiana, you think of the skyline with Lake Michigan on the right. If you’re from Wisconsin, you probably picture the skyline with the lake on the left. You might be from somewhere else and see the lake behind the city. All descriptions are correct; Lake Michigan can be described as to the left, right, behind, or in front of Chicago. It all depends on your vantage point.
Let’s take this concept and apply it to business. The vast majority of workers operate in groups frequently tasked with completing projects. While many projects are routine in nature and/or require a stringent process to be followed to complete, many others are less regimented with solutions that are open to interpretation and personal judgment. In these cases, each member’s approach to the project will usually be unique. Now think of the project as a city. Your approach to the project is heavily dependent on your origin or reference point. Your colleagues’ approaches work in the same fashion. Similar to how people from Indiana think of Chicago differently than people from Wisconsin, so to group members will each think of the project in their own ways.
A great project leader understands the basic principle that our origins impacts how we collaborate on a project. More importantly, that leader knows how to go about understanding and leveraging each member’s point of reference to take the project to completion. Much like effective problem solving requires extensive study of the problem itself, collaboration requires extensive understanding of the people involved. What are their goals and motives? What experiences are they bringing to the table? What’s shaping their approach to the project? In order to be effective, project leaders need to be considering these questions. For your next project, spend some time contemplating how where you (and your teammates) are coming from and how that origin might influence the way you are approaching the project at hand. The results might be very interesting.