Teams are united by a common goal, whether you are tapping away on your laptop as part of a complex project or feeling the breeze on your face on a weekend motorcycle ride. Jami Villareal, Senior Project Controls Specialist at Management Solutions LLC, has ‘in the saddle’ experience in both the project management and motorcycling worlds, and offered some wisdom on teamwork lessons gleaned from motorcycling in a group. Villareal sees the benefits of these lessons in her professional life as a Project Controls Specialist: “My experience as a biker has helped me on the job, especially with teamwork, planning ahead and watching out for pitfalls,” she says.

  1. A good leader sees risks before anyone else and alerts the team. Being a team leader doesn’t necessarily mean you’re always ‘in charge.’ The leader “keeps us going in the direction we’re aiming for. They also watch for hazards along the way to alert the group behind them and make adjustments due to construction and traffic,” says Villareal. In both motorcycling and project management, the team leader is not only responsible for “driving the agenda”, but she’s on the frontlines of risk management. The leader is always looking ahead for both risks and opportunities, and her vision sets the direction for success as she mitigates the risks.
  2. Have a ‘Sweep’ to keep the team ‘safe.’ Villareal explains that “the Sweep keeps an eye on all the little ducklings to make sure riders who get lost, break down, or have to stop for some other reason, find their way back to the group.” In a project management team setting, the ‘Sweep’ could be tasked with maintaining progress and workflow, ensuring that no one is “getting lost in the weeds.” The ‘Sweep’ is also instrumental in building trust, which is crucial for a high-functioning team. Bikers trust that the ‘Sweep’ to ensure “every bike has a rider” – just as someone in a similar role in a project management team makes sure that everyone has what they need to achieve their objectives.
  3. A ‘Herder of Cats’ keeps everyone on track. An unsung hero in both motorcycling and project management teams is the ‘Cat Herder’.  “The ‘cat herder’ helps keep the group from deviating too far from the schedule. Gas stops and lunch can quickly turn into long events that may create problems later in the day, especially if the day’s ride is already a long one,” notes Villareal. While the Leader and Sweep may play out their roles where ‘the rubber meets the road’, the Cat-Herder makes sure the tires turn in a timely fashion. By keeping everyone on track and on schedule, the Cat-Herder prevents small stalls from turning into massive backups, so other team members can focus on their roles and goals. This is similar to the role the project controller plays in a complex project management team, creating and maintaining a project’s budget and schedule, analyzing progress reported against the work schedules, and recommending actions to improve progress.
  4. Diversity of skills makes for a smoother ride. One ride you might be the Leader, the next you might be the Sweep. Understanding the nature and responsibilities of different roles helps bikers and team members anticipate challenges that may arise. Skills diversification is important in both motorcycling groups and project management teams, so no role goes unfilled if someone is out of commission. Though Villareal is often in the role of Leader, she can “meet the team’s needs” in other roles if called upon – and her knowledge of the Leader’s duties helps make her a more effective supporting player. “Being a team member without a specific role is also relevant to motorcycling,” adds Villareal. While riding, I might just be one of the riders in the middle of the pack and it’s critical to work well with those around me. Pay attention to the riding style of the person in front and in back of me. Leave them room to adjust to road conditions and ride at speeds their comfortable. This kind of respect and unspoken communication is also relevant to working groups. It teaches us to pay attention to the focus and strengths of those we’re working with and strive to compliment the team’s dynamic to achieve goals rather than competing.”
  5. Enjoy the ride, but plan for bumps in the road. Villareal believes that motorcycling has broadened her perspective and improved her skills as a Project Controls Specialist, particularly in planning. In both motorcycling and project controls, “stuff happens whether you plan or not – but planning allows you adapt more quickly than if you hadn’t.”
  6. Get to know people. “We also focus on team building outside of riding which is definitely relevant to high functioning work teams as well,” adds Villareal. “We have “family” dinner together weekly and plan fun non-riding events like bowling, holiday parties, summer barbecues and scavenger hunts to build strong interpersonal relationships. These efforts have truly created a family and not just a riding club. It’s important not just to work with people but to know them.”

Both motorcycling and project management can be uncertain and fraught with risk but having a well-functioning team can help make for a smoother and more rewarding adventure.