October 19, 2023

How to Make Friends When You are the Project Manager

The higher you get on the career ladder, the colder and lonelier it becomes.

You may be a talented leader. Nevertheless, you are in the role that prescribes management.

People don’t like to be managed.

Your job is to make people do what needs to be done.

And it is always at the top of their mind.

Now you add the reality of the workplace.

Companies compete with each other in the perfection of covering up Herzberg’s hygiene factors.

They think of efficient workspace, convenient office, and competitive compensation.

Still, they forget about motivation.


It is cheaper and easier to keep people distracted from the stress at work with cookies.

It is safer to keep employees separated so they don’t leave in packs. Or at least don’t have enough frank talk about how unfulfilling the job is.

As a Project Manager, can you build a culture of healthy and friendly relationships in the team?

Sure! It is simple.

In this article, I will give three approaches.

One is simple and efficient.

The second one is powerful but harder to implement.

1. Have meals together – don’t talk about the work.

Get some team members on lunch. Do it regularly. Make it a pleasant time.

There are many ways to get this going:

  • Just ask if you can join another group. They had already organized
  • Initiate a lunch and invite anyone who wants to join.
  • Invite to a dinner that you pay for.

In any case, it is just a starter. If you can make it a pleasant time, you can easily make it a habit.

There are two rules that I usually try to imply invisibly:

  1. No cell phones. Just say something like: “I don’t want anyone distract us, so I just turn it off.” And do it.
  2. One topic at the table. It is not a problem when there are about four people. However, if it is lunch for ten, they will break into the groups.

One crucial thing you need to be on the lookout:

It should not transform into a close-circle group. Keep the doors open for anyone to join. Put some effort to rotate and add new people from the team.

OK, what should you do on such lunches?

Encourage people to talk about themselves. The goal is to let people feel safe to open up.

You can take the lead and tell them something interesting or funny about yourself.

Just remember to keep out of the work-related topics. Also, make sure that you are telling things that they can relate to.

People tend to talk about things they like. Just encourage them to do that.

“Speech has allowed the communication of ideas, enabling human beings to work together to build the impossible. Mankind’s greatest achievements have come about by talking, and its greatest failures by not talking. It doesn’t have to be like this. Our greatest hopes could become a reality in the future. With the technology at our disposal, the possibilities are unbounded. All we need to do is make sure we keep talking.” – Stephen Hawking

The benefits are huge.

You get to know your team better. You find out their desires and goals. Sometimes, they will share fears and insecurities.

Sooner or later you will get permission to care for more private and intimate matters.

You can leverage all of that in different ways:

Develop better motivation strings. Show compassion and care during their difficult periods. Become a friend.

But it is not enough to build bridges between groups of people. Moreover, not all of them will be able to become friends and match each other.

So what can you do?

2. Lead by Example – Care About Your Team

I’m not talking in general.

I suggest you specifically set the tone and baselines for care within the team.

Show that people can interact and have fun. Show that it is OK to help and care for others. Let them see that you care for healthy relationships in the team. Experiment with venerability.

Here is the catch:

I read lots of articles on this topic.

Most of them suggest approaches applicable to some tragic events, difficult emotional periods, etc.

I say, start with communication on a basic level:

Talk to people to reduce stress and uncertainty, to encourage, to laugh, and build connections. Communicate to find similarities.

Show an example. People will follow.

There is more:

3. Creating Tribes Within Project Teams

Sooner or later, a person starts looking for love and belonging or self-esteem in the hierarchy of needs.

Here is the bad news:

There are no effective tools and techniques that work in large groups. Therefore, you have to work individually, and it is overwhelming.

Unless you create a tribe.

I discovered the idea of the tribes from Seth Godin’s TED speech. I found it very interesting and downgraded it to the level of project teams. The results were fascinating.

So, why do tribes work at all?

Avoid Tossing Valuable Staff

A project manager is responsible for keeping the project team motivated.

But what does it mean in essence?

You are pushing leadership and management ideas to people.

You try to find an approach that will make a person happy at work.

For example, you provide career development, exciting tasks, more responsibility, or your attention and care.

So, in essence, you are tossing valuable stuff at them. But it is not something that motivates people for good.


People Want to be Lead

On the other hand, people want to be a part of a community. They want to feel as important part of it.

Moreover, people want a sense of meaningful belonging.

Look around:

Football fans, Boy Scouts, pirates, swing dancers, police officers, PMI PMPs.

These are all tribes.

And tribes were a part of human nature for a very long time.

So, how can you create a tribe in a project environment?

Step 1: Desire to Lead

Any tribe needs a leader. People want to do great things. However, they hate to start something new.

They need a leader.

You must be a passionate one.

By this time, you need to prove your capability to reach goals.

Moreover, it should be an unintrusive leadership.

Again, the best way it to lead by example.

Step 2: Creating a Movement

You need to create a movement. It should be based on an idea appealing to a part of your team.

The effects would be twice as beneficial if the movement is related to your work.

In my case, it was a movement around sharing knowledge.

The idea was to learn and apply new technologies. After that – share acquired experience with the rest of the organization.

For this movement, you do not need the support of the whole team.

However, you do need several true believers. These should be people who share a passion for your idea.

Their love will be contagious, and others will join soon.

Also, an idea should be beyond normal for your environment. It should be against the norms of the organization. Something where the organization is passive.

Examples may vary:

It may be a specific voluntary or charity activity.

It may be a regular but very specific team-building activity.

You can organize lectures.

Or it may be as trivial as a sports team.

But be aware of your motives:

Do avoid creating a movement of working harder, longer, and cheaper.

Step 3: Tribal Culture

It did not happen overnight.

There were failures on the path. However, in the end, I got a highly motivated team.

My tribe.

So, what works here?

Differentiation from the rest.

Our tribe did something for the common good in contrast to the other teams.

It makes them special among equals.

Then came the tribe name.

It made it clear from one word whom we are talking about. Where you can find these people. What problems they can help you with.

All of these had a cumulative and long-lasting effect.

It’s Just a Framework

Can I teach you how to build tribes in project management?

No, I’m just learning.

I don’t have all the answers. I don’t have a clear action plan.

It’s just an idea for you to approach leadership from another angle.

You need to build YOUR tribe. Not mine.


How to make friends when you are the Project Manager?

It should be an integral part of your leadership approach.

Moreover, you need to take the lead here.

You need to encourage your people to talk and interact on a personal level.

With all the benefits of social media and the world outside the office, you need to work hard.

Moreover, you need to make a conscious decision to make the work a better place.