Why your project teams and stakeholders act they way they do: Jungian archetypes

Why your project teams and stakeholders act they way they do: Jungian archetypes


No doubt that the field of project management has done an excellent job of defining its processes, methods and tools for delivering projects.  It come from the perspective of a prescriptive framework that lays out the detailed steps required to complete a project from start to finish from the traditional models, or a descriptive one that tells you to get what can from your customer and start building something in small chunks till what they desire comes into being from the modern Agile models.  But the bottom line is that both are focused on the processes, methods and tools.

But what they both lack are descriptions of why your project teams and stakeholders act the way they do, and guidelines on how to best identify the behavior as well as steps you can take to adapt that behavior for the benefit of your project.  I know what you’re going to say, that there are tools and techniques outlined in the traditional project management literature that outline the  processes and methods you can implement to take corrective actions.  Agile advocates creating an environment that’s conducive to collaboration and promotes teams that feel empowered to self -organize and communicate transparently and freely.  That implies removing the barriers and impediments that prevent this environment and once you do, there will be no psychological conflicts.

Again, these are just a bunch of descriptions of the processes, methods and tools that does not provide us a way of identifying what those behaviors are and guidelines on the best approach to react and adapt to the situation at hand for the benefit of your project.  Furthermore, this reacting and adapting requires a project manager to have deep emotionally intelligent skills of empathy, self-awareness, and self-regulation.  But as we all know, people’s personalities and psychological dispositions are as varied as they are unpredictable.  But are they?



This is where  Jungian archetypes comes to the rescue.  This idea was conceived by one of the most influential psychologist of all time, namely Carl Gustav Jung.  Here’s a description from Wikipedia:

For Jung, “the archetype is the introspectively recognizable form of a priori psychic orderedness”.  These images must be thought of as lacking in solid content, hence as unconscious. They only acquire solidity, influence, and eventual consciousness in the encounter with empirical facts.”

The archetypes form a dynamic substratum common to all humanity, upon the foundation of which each individual builds his own experience of life, developing a unique array of psychological characteristics. Thus, while archetypes themselves may be conceived as a relative few innate nebulous forms, from these may arise innumerable images, symbols and patterns of behavior. While the emerging images and forms are apprehended consciously, the archetypes which inform them are elementary structures which are unconscious and impossible to apprehend. Being unconscious, the existence of archetypes can only be deduced indirectly by examining behavior, images, art, myths, religions, dreams, etc. They are inherited potentials which are actualized when they enter consciousness as images or manifest in behavior on interaction with the outside world.

What I think these archetypes provide is the most general way to outline patterns of behavior as well as personality types that can be illustrated in the form of characterizations and even stories that would resonate with the project managers along with their teams and stakeholders and creating an environment where empathy, self-awareness and self-regulation would prevail.  If this sounds hokey, consider that one of Jung’s most famous students and disciples was Joseph Campbell who wrote the very famous book “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” that influenced none other than George Lucas and James Cameron making them billionaires and entertaining billions around the world with their movies and stories conceived through Jungian archetypes.

In addition, I believe this archetypal framework can close the enormous gap that exists in all the project management frameworks out there, that do not fully express and articulate the most important aspect of why projects get complete, which is the human element.  This will also address my criticism of the obsession with linear solutions in the project management field.

With that I leave this interesting video from John Purkiss, and executive headhunter and branding guru who discusses how Jungian archetypes can be used to understand how celebrity branding resonates with people:



This video talks about some of the ways you can use Jungian archetypes to better understand why certain celebrity brands appeal to you at a deep, unconscious level, but more importantly, how you can use such psychological and personality motifs in a practical manner and apply it to your own self-branding strategy.  I’m hoping to do the same with how I and other project managers lead and manage teams, stakeholders and anyone involved with getting your project done to completion.

Look for more on this topic!

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