GPM First
Chapter 9a of Advances in Project Management (978-1-4724-2912-4) by Darren Dalcher

Spirituality in Project Management Teams

Judi Neal and Alan Harpham

All human beings are spiritual beings so there is potential for collective spiritual energy whenever people come together. As Jesus said, ‘Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am’ (Matthew 18:20). Hindus gather together in Satsang, or spiritual community, as an important part of evolving in their consciousness. Native Americans gather in Wisdom Councils for spiritual guidance about major decisions that affect the tribe and future generations. All wisdom traditions have spiritual practices incorporating a group of people coming together for some higher purpose.

A spiritual approach to project management team development and leadership benefits individual team members in their own spiritual development. Project stakeholders also benefit, because team members are more committed, inspired and effective in implementing the processes needed for success.

There are five approaches that a project manager might consider when leading project teams in a spiritual way:

  1.  alignment

  2. spiritual leadership

  3. esprit de corps

  4. communication

  5. creativity


Each approach will be described briefly, with examples of activities and processes you might use in your project team.

Alignment: Aligning Vision, Meaning and Purpose at the Team Level

In order to align vision, meaning and purpose within your project management team, you, as project manager, must first be clear about your own vision for the project, and what its meaning and purpose is for you in your own life and work (Barrett 2006). It is essential to communicate your vision and to be willing to share on a personal level how this project provides meaning and purpose to you. You also need to communicate to your team what the meaning and purpose of the project is to the stakeholders.

The next step is to create alignment within the team and, in order to do this, you must be open to having your own vision, meaning and purpose enhanced by what others in the team have to say. One process for creating alignment is to bring people together for an Alignment Session and to ask them each to write a brief story about a past project that provided a strong sense of meaning and purpose. Stories are a time-honoured tradition for evoking spiritual wisdom. Next, put them in small groups of three to five people to share their stories, and ask them to listen for themes and similarities. Have people collect these themes on flip charts or through decision software. Once each group has completed their list of themes regarding meaning and purpose, ask for two or three volunteers to tell the entire group a little bit about their projects where they felt a strong sense of meaning and purpose. List all the themes on a white board or other data collection method that is visible to everyone. Finally, lead a discussion with full participation to discuss each person’s vision for the project and how this project can create a shared, collective meaning and purpose for the team as a whole.

Spiritual Leadership: Seeing Oneself as a Servant Leader to the Team and Being Committed to Helping Each Team Member be a Servant Leader to Others

One of the most popular of the many different models of spiritual leadership is Servant Leadership based on a framework developed by Robert Greenleaf, a retired executive from AT&T. He developed this model after reading

Hermann Hesse’s spiritual tale, The Journey to the East (Hesse 1932). Greenleaf (1977) offers this test of whether someone is a Servant Leader:

Do those served grow as persons; do they while being served become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?


Larry Spears, former Director of the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership, identified ten characteristics of a Servant Leader, several of which are quite spiritual in nature. For example, one characteristic is awareness, which is central to all major religious traditions (Spears 1998). Contemplative practices such as prayer, meditation and journaling are powerful tools for self-awareness. As a project manager, we recommend that you consider taking on or deepening some kind of contemplative practice.

Another characteristic of spiritual leaders is commitment to the growth of people, with a belief that people have an intrinsic value beyond their tangible contribution as workers. This is also one of key characteristics of an effective project manager. Leaders who exhibit this characteristic are high in spiritual intelligence. You might wish to consider taking the Spiritual Intelligence Survey as a way of learning about your spiritual strengths and areas of growth as a leader (Wigglesworth 2010).

Jody Fry (2003, 2005) has done extensive research on spiritual leadership and has developed a causal model demonstrating the relationship between (1) spiritual leadership values, attitudes and behaviours; (2) the needs of followers for spiritual survival; and (3) organisational outcomes. His research shows that vision, hope/faith, and altruistic love lead to organisational commitment, productivity, ethical and spiritual well-being, and corporate social responsibility. For team leaders who wonder if there is a business case for spiritual leadership, Fry’s work is well worth reading, and can inspire you to be the kind of spiritual leader your heart may be calling you to be.

Esprit de Corps: Understanding and Honouring the Collective Spirit of the Team

Each of us has at one time or another been on a project team where there was an incredible sense of esprit de corps. Esprit de corps is defined as ‘the common spirit existing in the members of a group and inspiring enthusiasm, devotion, and strong regard for the honour of the group’ (Merriam-Webster online retrieved 30 August 2010). Literally it means ‘spirit of the group’.

A team is a living system, and each living system has its own spirit. Just as we each have our own spirit and must consciously do things to nourish that spirit, a team must consciously do things to nourish the spirit of the team. Barry Heermann developed a programme called Team Spirit (1997) that incorporates organisational development practices, group dynamics processes and knowledge from the wisdom traditions of the world. Team Spirit has a six-phase Team Spirit Spiral with activities at every stage, all of which centre around service. Heermann and his colleagues have learned that teams with esprit de corps and high performance are distinguished by their focus on service to each other and to the customer or stakeholder. Therefore, to create more esprit de corps, we suggest that you have discussions with your project team about what service means to them and how they feel about the people who will be served by the project.

Communication: Including Non-traditional Communication Methods as Ways of Building Trust and Openness

All good project managers are very clear about traditional methods of communicating the goals of a project, the deliverables and the expectations about deadlines and costs. These are necessary, but not sufficient for leading project management teams from a more profound spiritual place. If you really want to tap into the spiritual energy and wisdom of a team, you will need to add some non-traditional communication methods to your skill set.

One of these communication methods you might want to experiment with is Bohmian Dialogue. This is a method of developing deeper self-awareness and team consciousness in a group of people, and does not have a specific agenda or task outcome. The purpose is to develop a deeper level of listening to the group’s collective wisdom.

There are four principles of Bohmian Dialogue:

  1. The group agrees that no group-level decisions will be made in the conversation.

  2. Each individual agrees to suspend judgement in the conversation.

  3. As these individuals ‘suspend judgement’ they also simultaneously are as honest and transparent as possible.

  4. Individuals in the conversation try to build on other individuals’ ideas in the conversation (Bohm et al. 2004).


Bohmian Dialogue is used when logic and analysis have run up against limitations and a project management team needs to create something it does not know how to do. This is a form of conversation that is meant to be generative rather than problem solving.

Creativity: Recognising that Inspiration Comes from Spirit, and Utilising Group Spiritual Practices from the Wisdom Traditions to Support Inspired Problem Solving

The word ‘inspiration’ comes from the Latin word ‘spirare’, which means spirit, and also means breath. While much of project management is based on linear processes and time lines, there are many opportunities for creativity, especially early in the project. But creativity is also necessary when risk and uncertainty create unexpected turns of events (Cleden 2009).

One example of a spiritual practice that supports creativity is a team experience of walking the labyrinth. The labyrinth is a meditative tool for stimulating creativity and problem solving, and is used in organisations for providing a non-threatening way to demonstrate the positive use of spiritual practices in the workplace. The labyrinth is an ancient spiritual ritual common to cultures as varied as the Native Americans, Norwegians and fourteenth-century Catholic monks. It is a form of walking meditation where one walks on a circular path marked on the floor or the ground, beginning on the outside and gradually moving to the centre. After some time for reflection in the centre, the walker returns the same way, in contemplation, towards the outside of the labyrinth and to the exit (Neal and Miguez 2000). This process has been used for helping teams envision the future, solve difficult challenges with a project and make creative breakthroughs in design and implementation.

Overall, a spiritual approach to managing project teams can benefit both the organisation and the team members. There is a long history of leaders taking spiritual approaches to projects, and in more recent times, project managers are more explicitly implementing spiritual values and practices. Five approaches were described in this chapter and are offered in much greater detail in our book, The Spirit of Project Management. These five approaches are (1) alignment, (2) spiritual leadership, (3) esprit de corps, (4) communication and (5) creativity.

Each of these spiritual approaches has been used in project management teams, from small businesses to large organisations such as Scott Bader, Microsoft UK, Pfizer and Xerox. It is our hope that you will feel inspired to adopt one or more of these approaches in your project management team. If you wish to find consultants who can help you adapt any of the processes to your project team, feel free to contact the authors for recommendations of qualified people in your geographic area or your industry.



Barrett, Richard (2006). Building a Values-driven Organization: A Whole System Approach to Cultural Transformation. Cambridge, MA: Butterworth Heinemann.


Bohm, David , Lee, Nichol and Senge, Peter (2004). On Dialogue. London: Routledge.


Cleden, David (2009). Managing Project Uncertainty. Farnham: Gower Publishing.


Fry, Louis W. (2003). ‘Toward a Theory of Spiritual Leadership.’ Leadership Quarterly 14:693”727.


Fry, Louis W. (2005). ‘Toward a theory of ethical and spiritual well-being and corporate social responsibility through spiritual leadership’. In: Robert A. Giacalone , Carol L. Jurkiewicz (eds), Postive Psychology in Business Ethics and Corporate Responsibility. Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.


Greenleaf, Robert K. (1977). Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.


Heermann, Barry (1997). Building Team Spirit: Activities for Inspiring and Energizing Teams. NY: McGraw-Hill.


Hesse, Herman (1932). Journey to the East. Germany: Samuel Fischer.


Matthew 18:20 (2009). New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.


Merriam-Webster online retrieved 30 August 2010 .


Neal, Judi and Harpham, Alan (2012). The Spirit of Project Management. Farnham: Gower Publishing.


Neal, Judi and Miguez, J. (1999). The Labyrinth: A Life-giving Tool for Organizations. Philadelphia, PA: Eastern Academy of Management.


Spears, Larry (ed.) (1998). The Power of Servant-Leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.


Wigglesworth, Cindy (2010). ‘Spiritual Intelligence: Why it Matters.’ Recovered from: (accessed 5 December 2013 ).

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