George Lucas Educational Foundation
Project-Based Learning (PBL)

How to Manage the Angry Birds on Your Project

May 20, 2014 Updated May 14, 2014
Image credit: Thinkstock

Does your problem come in red, orange, black, or blue?

What I mean is that we all deal with the differing vagaries of what I call "Angry Bird" personality types.

When it comes to project-based learning, how you communicate with your myriad team members is just as important as the content you're communicating to them. You may have heard this statistic: 80 percent of a project manager's time is spent communicating. However, if you can do a bit of amateur psychoanalysis, you can use it as a tool to modulate your communications in a style and manner that your team members will respond to, while at the same time engendering them to elicit the response you need.

Sound difficult? Well then, let's simplify it by breaking it down Angry Bird style.

Prior to Launch

If you need to communicate with Red Birds:

  • Personality Type: Overprotective. Never trusts others to do their job. Uses their power to wield influence over others who have none.
  • How to Best Communicate With Them: Share details early and often. Enlist them in the decision-making process to assuage their feelings of mistrust. The key is to make them feel invested so they will feel less insecure.
  • Suggested Modes of Communication They Appreciate: Detailed documentation that enlists their input -- outlines, schedules, agendas, notes, and the like. Also, make sure to invite them to every meeting and copy them on all correspondence. The more info they have, the more empowered they will feel.

If you need to communicate with Orange Birds:

  • Personality Type: Cheerful yet oblivious. Difficult to get them to focus and respond, as they are tunnel-visioned on their own priorities.
  • How to Best Communicate With Them: Set up an expectation with them from the start that you will be following "escalated" levels of communication. Here's an example. Let them know that you will be asking for their response via email, and if you don't hear back from them in a timely manner, they should expect a phone call, followed by an in-person visit. Once they get used to this pattern, the response time should get (as in my own experience) miraculously minimized!
  • Suggested Modes of Communication They Appreciate: This type is likely never to read anything in great detail, but if they are key to your project, they will appreciate being cc'd on any and all correspondence, such as notes and status reports. However, if something warrants their sole attention, make sure to be descriptive in an email subject line. (For example, "Your approval of this email is required by noon today.")

If you need to communicate with Black (or Bomb) Birds:

  • Personality Type: Explosive and tempestuous. Does not want to be stressed with others' problems.
  • How to Best Communicate With Them: This type is already on overload, so sum it up quickly and then get out of their space. If you need to communicate with them daily, give them only the most important, high-priority items they need to know about, unless they ask for more. Do not bring problems to this type -- only solutions.
  • Suggested Modes of Communication They Appreciate: Status reports, emails, and interactions that are sparing as possible. Try not to send emails that are longer than 1-2 sentences. Be respectful of their mind space and time. Be brief in all documents, emails, etc. that you send.

If you need to communicate with Blue Birds:

  • Personality Type: Flaky, careless, loves to fool around and dodge work.
  • How to Best Communicate With Them: Getting their attention and onboarding them to do tasks will be your biggest challenge, so try to find out their distraction sweet spot and eliminate it. If your Blue Bird comes in the form of a group, break the members up. As for onboarding them for tasks, give them very clear deadlines ahead of time, as well as consequences for not following through.
  • Suggested Modes of Communication They Appreciate: Very clear and short emails, documents, notes, and verbal direction. Highlight their tasks in yellow and check in with them frequently for progress updates and reminders. This type requires pedantic instructions.

Flock Management

Another good strategy for project-based learning that you can employ is by drafting a full communications plan, which is a detailed document covering definitions, project team directory, roles, requirements, and approval process, to name a few.

Alternatively, even a simple communications matrix would suffice, which covers such attributes as:

  • Communication type
  • Objective of communication
  • Mode/medium/format of delivery
  • Frequency
  • Audience
  • Owner
  • Deliverable

Above all else when communicating with the angry flock, you can never steer wrong if you aim to keep the lines of communication always open and, of course, by treading feather-lightly.

We've touched on just a few communication styles. If there are other types of birds you'd like to discuss, please slingshot them into the comments section below.

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  • Project-Based Learning (PBL)
  • Classroom Management
  • Collaborative Learning
  • Teaching Strategies

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