Why favouritism is bad for your project

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Problem: Favouritism within project teams creates a bad working environment

Some project managers have favourites among their project team. They treat those people with more respect, better or more interesting project roles or tasks, and are generally biased in favour of them.

This could be for reasons such as looks, personal connections (e.g. they are the nephew of the company owner) or other personal preferences. It could also even be due to age, gender, skin colour or other discriminatory reasons.

Favouritism amongst your team or of project members can create a bad working environment. This unfair treatment can create resentment towards that person and towards you. It will also often lead to worse project outcomes than if project roles are chosen on more measurable performance factors.

You may also find that the non favoured team members get discouraged and perform worse, which can lead to project cost, schedule and quality issues.

Favouritism is against the Project Management Institute Code of Ethics (section 4.3.3). In some cases (such as legally protected characteristics), it can also be illegal.

Examples of favouritism include:

  • Giving gifts, coffee or snacks to just one person, instead of the whole team
  • Congratulating only select people, even when others did just as well or better
  • Promoting less qualified or experienced or lower performing people instead of others

The results of favouritism can include:

  • Lower project efficiency
  • Higher costs
  • Reduced quality of work
  • Failed schedules
  • Reduced team unity
  • Decreased motivation
  • Higher team turnover
  • Reduced friendships among the team (often leading to higher turnover and less willingness to work hard for the project).
  • Legal issues
  • More stress for you as the project manager.

I have been fortunate to not have seen favouritism in the teams I have worked in under project managers. However I have seen it in other teams and other projects. At first it may seem like it doesn’t matter, but there is nearly always a negative effect on the rest of the team. The most obvious effect is usually that others in the team don’t like the subject of the favouritism.

Solution: Allocate roles, responsibilities and rewards based on ability, not personal preferences

Choose your project team members and allocate project roles and tasks based on measurable factors related to job performance. These factors should usually be experience, qualifications, known skills, demonstrated ability and job performance on similar projects and other similar factors.

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You should not give preferential treatment to anyone in the team except due to their ability to do their job.

If one person does better than the others (completes tasks faster or to a better quality than others), then giving them more responsibility, promotions, bonuses etc is quite reasonable. This should usually not cause resentment amongst a well functioning team. In fact, it is rewarding their good work, and should usually encourage the rest of the project team to perform better.

Favouritism is just one part of your project bias you need to be careful of.

I like to think of the issue as “what is best for the project”.

In nearly all cases, favouritism will lead to worse outcomes for the project. If you are the project manager, that means worse outcomes and worse reflection on you personally too.

Here is a good article on the effects of favouritism in the workplace generally.

Lesson: Don’t allow favouritism to guide project decisions

Don’t treat members of your project team with favouritism. Be fair and even with all your project team.

Use job performance related metrics rather than personal preferences when allocating roles, tasks and rewards.

Your decisions as a project manager will give better results if you don’t allow favouritism to control your judgment.

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