Automobile Speech (‘Car Talk’ is already a thing, I guess)

Over the past few years, I have had the opportunity to work in a variety of roles within an architecture office. Recently, I have been leading the CA effort on one project, while leading the design of another. Working on these two wildly different projects has opened my eyes to an idea that is never taught in architecture school, never comes up on the ARE, and has no hours to be logged via AXP: how do you work with and manage a wide variety of people throughout a project?

A few months ago I had a much more experienced architect in my office lament to me about not being able to motivate some of the younger staff (of which I am one, but that fact seems to have gone unnoticed). This got me thinking about ways that humans are motivated, both in a professional and personal manner. I realized (unfortunately after the conversation took place) that everyone is motivated through different stimuli and that the best way to motivate and work with people is to observe what works for those people and adjust your own style to work with them instead of hoping that they eventually come around to your way of thinking and working .

As people who know me will attest, I am a big fan of using unlike stories to illustrate a point. That being said, here it goes: working with and managing people is like moving a car without a key. Sometimes the car is broken down and needs a good push so that it can fall into gear. Once it’s in gear, it will run just fine like nothing ever happened to it. On the other hand, sometimes the car is already rolling downhill and your job is to absorb its momentum and navigate it in the correct direction. If you try to force your will upon the car that moving car, it will run you over and then end up in a ditch.

That seemingly obscure analogy lends itself to each project in the following ways: on one project, it took some real effort to motivate many team members, both internally and externally, to care about the project. Once people became invested in the project and felt ownership over it, though, everyone gained momentum and they no longer required as much pushing in order to move the project forward. On the other hand, the polar opposite was experienced on a different project. I came into the process about halfway through schematic design and the team was already wholly invested in the design and nuances of the project. At first, I came in with the same mentality that I had had to “push people in the direction that I wished them to go”. However, when the team already had momentum, it became twice as difficult to move things to where I thought they should be. Instead, I took a step back and used the momentum that was already in place and gently shifted decisions and ideas one way or another. While neither method is perfect and both require effort, I am sure that I avoided many headaches by tailoring my approach for each project.

Ultimately, what I have learned is that the best way to motivate and lead a project team is to adapt my approach to each team and even each team member to what they require. There can’t be a “one size fits all” approach because people are about as varied a species as there is. We can shift and customize our approaches within a spectrum, but it is important to recognize that people and situations will always vary and we need to be flexible enough to adjust accordingly. It’s just too bad I couldn’t think of all this when the question was originally posed months ago.

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