3 Human-centric Skills to Foster Teamwork in PMOs

Functionally, the term PMO represents three different levels of organization and can represent an entity that manages one project, several projects, or a whole portfolio. For our purposes here, I am talking about a PMO at its most basic level: in the PMBOK® Guide, a PMO is defined as: “a management structure that standardizes the project-related governance processes and facilitates the sharing of resources, methodologies, tools, and techniques.” The principles that guide teamwork on a basic level also apply to more complicated organizations of projects and people, but it’s easier to keep it simple. 

When we talk about someone being exceptional, we often describe them as being super-human, or performing beyond human capabilities. In reality, it is the humanness in us that makes us capable of so much. Machines can learn facts and numbers and patterns, but its the human skills that make us capable of super-human feats. And anyone who has tried to organize a group of people to achieve a common goal knows, bring your cape!  

It is incredible what humans can accomplish when we work together. Working as teams elevates us and magnifies our abilities into something greater than the sum of our parts. We can accomplish so much through strategic application of PMO’s, but effective teamwork is critical. Here are a few human-centric elements of teamwork that I believe are essential to effective teamwork in PMOs:


Empathy is important in receiving and relaying information. The human instinct to protect ourselves from criticism and failure leads us to want to minimize or hide mistakes. But to solve problems quickly, they need to be uncovered and assessed. An empathetic leader will give their team the confidence to report problems and mistakes quickly, leading to speedy resolution.

An empathetic approach to project management also means an improved outcome by keeping the end-user in mind. Having empathy for the end-user means taking the effort to understand who they are, their background, and their strengths and weaknesses compared to your own. What might look like a simple, easy solution to you does not always mean it is the best solution. The end-user might not have your same background and knowledge, so you have to “take a walk in their shoes!” By the way, you also need to apply this perspective to the project sponsor. If you are actively listening to understand their motivations for the project, you can frame communication with them in a way that they will be receptive to, and will be better for the project.  

Continuous Learning & Improvement

In a team environment, continuous learning and improvement necessitates collaboration. According to PMI, “Coaching, mentoring, [and] training” are an essential component of PMOs. To keep up with constantly changing technology and a changing workforce, PMOs must share knowledge freely—think generosity. Not only that, but leadership should be actively supporting and encouraging additional training and certification for team members. Make room in your budget to sponsor continuing education. This will create a more knowledgeable team and decrease turnover rates.

Leading with compassion also fosters this continuous learning and improvement environment, because it allows for experimentation and making mistakes. We’ve got to make lots of mistakes! No one likes to fail, but if we aren’t failing we aren’t learning. And if people are allowed to make mistakes in a safe environment, the mistakes are more likely to happen early on and not pop up towards the end of the process where they are harder to fix. 

Recognition & Appreciation

It is critical that we recognize each other’s successes and give props freely and often in a PMO. It isn’t enough to just not be critical; we should be actively encouraging. It starts with saying “thank you” frequently and pointing out when someone excels. That part isn’t difficult to understand. People like to feel appreciated and recognized, and they get bitter and resentful when they aren’t. 

However, we can take recognition and appreciation a step further. When interacting with colleagues and others in your organization, take a “Yes, and…” approach. You might recognize this from comedy improv; the idea that you take whatever idea someone has brought to the stage, and instead of shutting it down or completely changing it, you add to it. When my children were little and I would hear them playing with their friends, most arguments and hurt feelings happened when one child was dominating the narrative of playtime and not allowing the other child to use their ideas to help shape the game. My advice to my children was, when your friend has an idea, instead of saying “no, let’s do this…” say “yes! And let’s do this…” I solved many a dispute between small children by suggesting a creative blend between ideas. Realistically, I know not all ideas can be used all the time. But, if we practice receiving everyone’s ideas positively and trying to recognize the things about them that are valuable, we will foster an environment where everyone feels recognized and appreciated – and more likely to continue contributing to the conversation.  

By the way, you don’t have to be in an official leadership role to foster an environment of empathy, continuous learning, and recognition. Anyone can lead by practicing these principles. No one needs to give you permission to show appreciation to a colleague. If something about the project isn’t fitting with the goals of the project sponsor, speak up. Lead by example in continuous learning and actively sharing knowledge with your team.

So with that, I urge everyone to go forth, and be as human as possible – it is your superpower!