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Tag: Leadership

Managing the Present Moment Even If You Don’t Like It

A project manager asked what she could do about not liking the present moment.  She was learning to do mindfulness meditation and was finding that when she was being mindful of the present moment, she found it stressful.

She was bombarded by problem after problem experiencing anxiety centered on the fear that her project was going to fail and that she would be fired.

The stress was getting to her. She was experiencing stomach pains and a torrent of thoughts about the impossibility of meeting her schedule commitments and what would happen if she failed. She ruminated about what she could have or should have done differently.

 

Being Present – Here Now

“I find it much more helpful to drop all our ideas, concepts, and beliefs and return again and again to the openness of not knowing and the immediacy and simplicity of this moment, this living presence Here-Now.”[1] Joan Tollifson

From Here-Now you can do whatever needs to be done, say whatever needs saying. The process is simple – note, accept, analyze, act, repeat.

 

Mindfully Present

I practice, write about[2], and teach techniques for being present, to live attuned to the experience of the present moment – mindfully self-aware. That is the objective of mindfulness meditation, breathing techniques, mindful movement, grounding, awareness of physical sensations, and all the other mental and emotional wellness techniques.

Being mindful is being present – fully engaged and aware of your body’s sensations, emotions, thoughts, the environment, and the others you share it with.

Being present fuels healthy relationships and helps to manage stress and anxiety. It is a foundation for emotional intelligence and is linked to the ability to be focused and able to choose the most effective course of action.

Being present is the opposite of being spaced out, distracted, reactive, and in denial. Focus and objective choice enhance productivity and creativity.

 

Accept and Let Go

So, what can you do when the experience of the present moment is unpleasant?

The answer is simple, though not easy – accept and let go into Flow.

To accept is to take note of the unpleasantness and your feelings about it, acknowledging the present moment for what it is. To let go into Flow means to see if you can do something to manage a change skillfully.

 

Common Sense Wisdom

If you know you don’t like the present moment and can ask what you can do about it, you are being mindful of your experience and conscious of the possibility of taking action.

Common sense wisdom lets you know that you cannot change the past or the present moment and that you can influence (but not control) the future. You can accept the feelings and the situation that has triggered them.

Alternatives to that are denial and suppression.

Denial is making yourself believe that the present feelings aren’t happening. It is sticking your head in the ground like the myth of an ostrich hiding from a predator.

Suppression is medicating or meditating yourself to relieve stress symptoms. This is a better tactic than denial. Relieving the symptoms can be healthy if it is a conscious choice used to be more effective at managing your emotions and making change.

 

Manage Your Emotions

Denying your feelings and the situation is the least skillful approach. It offers no way out of the situation. Your project is still going to be late and at some point, you will be confronted with reality.

Suppression is a way to moderate the effects of your stress. Medicating or meditating away the symptoms can be helpful if you do it as a conscious choice to put yourself in a better position to address the situation and avoid the damaging effects of stress, depression, and anger. Suppressing your feelings as a knee-jerk reaction is a form of denial that leads to habitual or addictive behavior.

Acceptance gives you a choice. You can choose to suppress the stress responses, or not. But most importantly you can choose practical options for handling the situation.

With mindful self-awareness, you can manage your emotions. That means you can fully experience your emotions without reacting or being driven by them.

 

Analyze

Then, analyze to see what about the present moment you dislike, why you dislike it, and what you can do about it.

Without analysis, you are reacting. With it, you are responding.

Analysis is using your intellect to break the issue down and objectively consider alternatives. It includes the assessment of your gut feeling, criteria, priorities, and facts.

 

Act – Do Something, Or Not

If it is feasible, do something to make a change. Remember that doing nothing is a choice, though it is usually not the best in the context of projects.

In any case, accept that you can influence the future, but you cannot control it. The outcome is uncertain, and you may not like it.

 

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Application – Manage the Project

Applying this process of noting, accepting, analyzing, and acting in the real world of projects is what skillful project managers do when faced with unpleasant situations. They apply the technical skills of planning and controlling.

For Julie, our project manager, schedule overrun began as small incremental slips on critical tasks. Then, about halfway into the project, a key team member left for a better opportunity. Replacing him took two weeks followed by a learning curve and the work of integrating a new team member.

After an initial bout of panic, Julie took a few breaths and observed her feelings. Stepping back, she took an objective stance and considered her options – let stakeholders know what was going on, work faster, rescope, accept that the project would be late, and take action to minimize the damage.

She realized that hiding from the reality of the situation is a no-win approach. She also assessed her fear of being fired and realized that if she was fired because of events beyond her control, it would be an indication that her superiors were not particularly skillful.

 

Bottomline

The message is that if you don’t like the present moment, accept what you can’t change, analyze the situation and your options, and take action to influence the future. And while you are doing that become comfortable with adversity and uncertainty.

 

[1] Tollifson, Joan, “Death, The End of Self-Improvement”
[2] Check out “The Peaceful Warrior’s Path: Optimal Wellness through Self-Aware Livinghttps://a.co/d/97LpYib . It addresses the mindset and techniques to cultivate sustained wellness by accepting and letting go into Flow.

 

Focus – A Critical Success Factor

The ability to focus is a critical success factor for project managers, business analysts, and anyone else who is in a task-oriented position.

On the project level, it is costly when resources divide their attention between multiple projects. Stop, start, and stop again performance has an overhead. The same is true for individuals. Without focus as a power of mind, you are like a straw in the wind, randomly blown here and there.

The more you can focus without being distracted, the more likely you are to succeed at whatever you intend to do – whether it is to pass a test, get a job, complete a project task, write a proposal, get the most out of a meeting, or paint a picture.

 

Distractions

To be focused means that you can stay with or come back to the “object” you have chosen to focus upon in the face of distractions. Life is full of enticing distractions. They may be thoughts, feelings, sounds, images, or other people’s behavior.

Pleasant or unpleasant distractions grab your attention. When you are taken away by a distraction you go on a trip, a mental journey. If your ability to focus is strong, you can skillfully choose to go on that trip or stay focused on what you are doing. Alternatively, you may be unable to choose.

 

Train of Thought

Imagine being on a train heading home. The train pulls into a station and there is another comfortable-looking train across the platform. You get off your train and jump onto the new one, and off you go. Then you realize that this train isn’t as comfortable as it looked. You get off at the next stop just in time to get on another enticing train. Off you go. Until you become attracted to another even cooler train and off you go again.

You may never get home. But, maybe, you don’t care because you like riding trains or are having fun and seeing new sites. Or you get on a train that takes you on an unhappy trip into a dark and dreary place and you can’t get off until it reaches its last stop.

That is how the mind works. A thought comes up, you keep it going by thinking about it, adding details, and thinking about what should have or could have happened. You make up stories about the future or dwell on the past.

 

What Happens at Work

Take a more project management-specific example. You are assigned to write an explanation for why your project is late. You start writing and your phone pings notifying you of a text message.

It’s from a friend and you read it. Then you respond and are off into a conversation. You realize ten minutes later that you have not been writing your explanation. You go back to it but must remind yourself of where you were when you popped out and then get back into a “groove”.

Any interruption during the performance of a task is costly. There is the effort of winding down and ramping up. The less winding down the higher the cost of ramping up. That is why multitasking is frowned upon.

 

Sustain Focus

If the ability to decide what you want to think about and do is important to you and you are willing to do what it takes to give yourself a choice, then you need a method.

You can reduce distractions by finding a quiet space free from interruptions. Shut the door if you have one. Ask others not to disturb you. Turn off the phone, or if you can’t because you are on call, do what you can to filter calls and alerts.

But, even in an ideal workplace, your body and mind are still there to disturb you with thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations. Even the work you are doing can face you with opportunities to go down a rabbit hole. For example, you might dive into levels of detail when writing a summary or think about an interesting, but irrelevant concept suggested by some aspect of your task.

 

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Concentration and Effort

That is why cultivating concentration is so important. Concentration is the mental capacity to focus, to choose and stay with an object, overcoming the urge to follow distractions.

Concentrating to sustain focus requires resolve and effort. You must intend to maintain your attention on an object and make the effort to do it. Don’t expect it to be easy. You may be addicted to being distracted. It may be a deeply ingrained habit.

I am told that staying focused is even more difficult for those born into the age of the internet and social media than those who grew up without them. People have become addicted to short “hits” of attention-grabbing content and the immediate gratification of texts. Engineers and marketers have worked together to sustain this addiction to distractions and profit from it. They want you to get “hooked” on distractions.

Even though I was born way before the Internet Age, I can attest to how easy it is to get lost down a rabbit hole on Instagram, LinkedIn, or YouTube. One thing catches the eye and mind, and, after a few minutes, one thing leads to another and another. Before you know it, an hour has passed before something pulls you out of the rabbit hole.

It is hard to get unhooked – breaking habits is not easy.

 

How to Strengthen the Mind

To break the habits that keep you from focusing the way you want to focus, apply intention, effort, patience, mindfulness, and concentration.

Make the intention to apply the effort and patience required to cultivate the mindfulness that lets you know that you have been distracted and the concentration power to bring your attention to the chosen object.

Taking on meditation practice is a prescription for cultivating focus and choice. Go to https://self-awareliving.com/videos for videos on how to meditate. However, meditation is not a cure-all. People become discouraged when they start to meditate and are confronted with a “monkey mind”, the mind jumping from thought to thought. The meditation practice makes that quality more apparent. That is where persistent patience comes in. Keep observing the mind and coming back to a point of concentration and the monkey will be tamed.

Check out my book “The Peaceful Warrior’s Path: Optimal Wellness through Self-Aware Livinghttps://a.co/d/97LpYib for mindset and techniques to cultivate sustained focus and optimal performance.

 

Mastering Time Zones: Strategies for Leading Global Teams to Success

In today’s interconnected world, project managers often find themselves leading project teams spread across different time zones. While this presents unique challenges, it also offers exciting opportunities for collaboration and diversity.

In this article, we will explore strategies to effectively manage global teams, foster communication, and promote team bonding to optimize performance, which will in turn ensure project success.

 

Time Zones. Help!

Ok. Here it is. You are managing a project team (or new team members), and with the new ways of working (remote, hybrid, or in-office), these team members all just happen to live in different time zones. Some are located across the country; some can even be across the ocean. YIKES!!! Your challenge is to keep the team connected and working towards the same project goals and outcomes. How do you do this?

Let’s start by saying that modern technology is pretty fantastic at keeping us connected no matter the distance; however, working on a project with members in multiple time zones can be challenging. Here is where great online tools such as world clocks or online converters can help you plan meetings and visualize overlapping work hours.

*Hot tip: Be mindful when booking meeting times and recognize that what’s morning for you might be late evening for someone else.

 

Communication Is Key – It is all about the channels.

Email vs. Instant Communications

While email is still essential, consider other platforms, as different team members may prefer varied communication tools.

  • Slack
  • Microsoft Teams
  • WhatsApp

Lights, Camera, Action!

Regular video meetings (teams, Zoom) build rapport and allow face-to-face interactions. Appointing certain meetings as “camera on” will help to cross the miles and make the meetings more human.

Project Management Tools

Platforms like Jira, Trello, Assana, and MS Teams facilitate collaboration across miles and time zones.

 

Setting Expectations

  • Clarify Message Response Times.
    • Note all team member’s off-hours (unless they are on an “On Call” rotation) and make it clear that immediate answers aren’t necessary.
  • Encourage Asynchronous Communication.

Use tools that allow team members to contribute when it suits their schedules.

  • Set up group channels as well as project-specific channels, so there are several ways for teams and sub-teams to connect and collaborate.
  • Organizations usually have a channel they promote or prefer, such as teams, Slack, or Discord.
  • Set up one tool and don’t use too many, as communications may get missed or some team members may feel left out.

 

Embrace Flexibility | Be mindful and agile.

  • Overlap Hours

Find common working hours for critical discussions or decision-making.

  • Flex Work

Allow team members to adjust their schedules to accommodate personal needs or local holidays.

Understand that life happens. Being open and flexible to meeting and scheduling changes goes a long way in building trust and strength with the team.

Cultural Awareness

  • Holidays and observances
    • Be aware of local holidays and cultural events.
    • Adjust project timelines accordingly.
    • Be curious about national and local holidays and traditions.
  • Language and Tone
    • Understand language nuances and adapt communication styles to avoid misunderstandings.

 

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Project Management Tools

Some helpful Project Management tools

  • Trello: Organize tasks, assign responsibilities, and track progress.
  • Jira: Organize tasks and responsibilities, assign responsibilities, reporting and track progress.
  • Google Docs: Collaborate on documents in real time.
  • Time Zone Converters: Use tools like World Time Buddy or Every Time Zone to coordinate meetings.

 

Lead by Example

Respect Boundaries

Demonstrate that you value work-life balance by not expecting instant replies outside of working hours.

*Hot email tip: Delay sending emails to align with other’s working hours.

Model Communication:

Use various channels and encourage open dialogue.

Support Team Bonding

Schedule informal team and 1:1 chats to build camaraderie.

During or after meetings, have some informal team-building exercises.

  • Show an interesting TedED Talk
  • Have a topical and fun online quiz hour.
  • Pecha Kucha share-outs: Team members take turns creating and sharing a Pecha Kucha on a topic of their choice weekly.

 

Celebrate Diversity:

  • Embrace different perspectives and learn from each other. Encourage the team members to take turns and share a bit about themselves and their interests.
  • Embrace the variety of cultures and experiences team members bring to the project team.

 

The role of a Project Manager for a global team across multiple time zones requires adaptability, empathy, effective communication, and the ability to be agile. By leveraging today’s available technology, being aware of time zones and cultural nuances, and respecting work-life balance, you can successfully lead a team that transcends geographical boundaries.

Remember, the sun never sets on well-coordinated projects.

Walking The Reporting Tightrope in PMOs

Within project management, reporting stands out as one of the most critical services provided by Project Management Offices (PMOs). It serves as a crucial communication tool for fostering stakeholder engagement and is frequently highlighted as a major contributor to P3M (Portfolio, Programme, and Project Management) maturity. It’s also the area most stakeholders express a desire to enhance.

So, why must PMOs navigate a tightrope between reporting well but seemingly never well enough?

 

When executed effectively, reporting delivers timely insights, analysis, and information on key delivery matters. This empowers executives to make well-informed decisions that directly influence organisational success. However, when reporting falters, it not only raises the risk of poor decision-making but also jeopardises support for the PMO itself.

In achieving PMO reporting maturity, three factors are important: data, culture, and application. An organisation must gather ample data to conduct meaningful analysis. It must also have a culture that fosters and supports candid reporting of both favourable and unfavourable developments. Finally, it requires leaders to recognise the significance of applying and using collated information to inform their decisions and take appropriate action.

 

These factors however, interplay with each other considerably to affect reporting maturity within PMOs.

For example, data collection can vary across organisations. Some PMOs can collect data from all projects whilst others can only collect from a few.

Cultural differences also influence how PMOs handle reporting, with psychologically safe organisations able to conduct truthful reporting. In these organisations, red statuses are used to direct support into areas that are under stress. Less psychologically safe organisations lead PMOs and managers to avoid reporting altogether or to hide negative statuses. In these organisations red statuses are treated as pariahs and buried from view.

 

The application of reporting also differs amongst organisations, with effective boardrooms leveraging reports to inform their decisions. Others merely review data but don’t use it in their decision-making. From these observations, three key learnings emerge.

Data gathering remains challenging for organisations.

While visualisation software tools offer sleek dashboards, effective reporting hinges on robust PMO processes and stakeholder buy-in. The most effective PMOs treat stakeholders as customers, ensuring transparency and demonstrating the benefits of reporting.

Cultivate the right culture.

 

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Overcoming cultural barriers to reporting, such as a reluctance to report negative statuses, is essential. A shift towards collaborative working environments that welcome truthful reporting is necessary. PMOs play a pivotal role in facilitating this shift by nurturing collaboration and providing support for projects in need.

Reporting’s true value lies not in the data, but in its application.

 

Merely reporting data is insufficient. Having correct data reported is good, but without analysis, using it is hard. To derive optimal value from reporting, organisations must utilise it to drive informed decision-making. PMOs should therefore coach leaders to leverage reported data to help make impactful decisions that drive positive change.

Reporting is a tightrope walk for PMOs, it’s capable of either bolstering decision-making and organisational success or undermining it. By addressing challenges in data collection, fostering a supportive reporting culture, and applying it in decision-making, PMOs can elevate their reporting maturity and contribute significantly to organisational success.

Team Building: A Cross-Cultural Perspective

These days many, if not all, of our projects are performed by cross-cultural teams. Not only do members come from different national and ethnic cultures, but they come from cultures based on mindset (for example progressive and conservative, woke and anti-woke), generational attributes, socio-political influences, corporate environments, and more.

Teams are vehicles for getting things done. When people come together to accomplish objectives – whether to win a game or perform a project – having an understanding among the team members regarding their objectives and the way they will work together is critical to success.

 

What Culture Is

“Culture is often described through Professor Geert Hofstede’s definition: The programming of the human mind by which one group of people distinguishes itself from another group – the set of shared beliefs, values, and norms that distinguish one group of people from another. As global organisations become increasingly diverse, understanding and managing cultural differences has become a critical competency for business leaders.”[1]

In human societies, culture is a concept that groups people based on shared knowledge, beliefs, values, and practices. A culture includes social norms, habits, customs, institutions, behaviors, beliefs, arts, laws, and more. We have many overlapping cultures – for example, corporate, regional, national, ethnic, generational, and religious. In teams, there are diverse cultural norms including those around cleanliness and neatness, how close people stand when talking, punctuality, and styles of dress.

Cultures are dynamic. They change as people’s needs change and as one culture is influenced by another. New cultures evolve out of this dynamic change process. Each team has a culture. Some are consciously created and understood, others, not so much.

 

Why Team Cultures are Important

Our culture influences our mindset with its beliefs, biases, and values as well as the way we work, play, dress, relate to one another, and communicate. The more that team members understand one another and agree upon values, goals, objectives, and communication and collaboration norms, the more team effectiveness increases.

What are the differences in behavior that get in the way of your team’s optimal performance? Are they caused by cultural differences?

 

“Anthropologists consider that world cultures vary along five consistent dimensions, which include collectivism versus individualism, and cultural preference for uncertainty avoidance. The extent to which cultures vary for these different dimensions can lead to very different expectations when it comes to interpersonal relationships and business communication.”[2]

 

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If some people have a cultural norm of rigidly adhering to punctuality and others are more accepting of a looser adherence, conflict is likely. For example, a U. S. employee visiting his Scandinavian company’s home office was shocked and insulted when he was not permitted to enter a meeting to which he was five minutes late. The cultural norm in that company’s home office was that if you were not on time, then don’t come at all. In the U. S. division coming in a few minutes late was acceptable. The American’s lateness influenced the local colleagues’ opinion of him and made integrating him into the team more difficult.

In another example, there may be a clash between team members from a culture that values assertiveness and tolerates some abrasiveness and those from cultures that view conflict and abrasive language as undesirable. When an assertive team member puts forth an idea, she might expect others to bring up conflicting ideas or criticisms. When they don’t assert their opinions, thinking of doing so as being rude or disrespectful, the assertive person, not understanding the cultural norm in play, may take silence as agreement. The result would be adopting a less-than-effective idea, creating a design or plan deficiency.

 

A project manager from a culture that avoids uncertainty will tend to strictly adhere to detailed structured plans and take fewer risks out of fear of failure. This can frustrate team members who have a higher tolerance for ambiguity and seek to innovate, take a more agile approach, and change the plan to obtain more creative outcomes.

 

What We Can Do

Cultural consciousness and emotional/social intelligence can avoid the negative impact of cultural differences. Cultural consciousness means being mindfully aware of culture as a force in team performance, of the cultural attributes of team members, of the ability to transcend cultural conditioning, and of the tendency to think one’s culture is better than others. Emotional/social intelligence means having the capacity to be aware of one’s feelings, able to manage one’s behavior and be sensitive to the feelings and behaviors of others. As individuals, we can choose to be adaptive to our current situation rather than being limited by cultural norms that are no longer relevant or useful.

 

As project managers, we can build a team culture that respects the cultural backgrounds of team members while cultivating an understanding of how to behave in a way that leads to the team’s success. For example, when it comes to decision-making, adopting an approach like the Six Hats model makes it a norm to look at an idea critically and from multiple perspectives opens the door to a critical analysis of the idea. Combine that with the awareness that avoiding conflict robs the team of useful information, and that exhibiting abrasive speech patterns and behavior may be taken as a sign of weakness, a personal attack causing another to back off or fire back to escalate a conflict and redirect the process away from the idea content.

 

Creating and sustaining effective teams requires cross-cultural awareness training to promote mutual understanding and respect, effective communication processes, and team-building activities to speed up the movement from forming to norming without much storming, to promote optimal performing.

Make sure that team members can fully express their opinions and needs. Consciously agree upon common values and goals to achieve a team culture that integrates the multiple cultures of its members.

 

We build a team, and once it’s built, we sustain it throughout its life. Like any structure, if we build it well, sustaining it is easy. However, it takes ongoing mindful awareness and patient effort to overcome the obstacles presented by cultural differences and turn them into strengths.

[1] https://www.hofstede-insights.com/intercultural-management
[2] https://toppandigital.com/us/blog-us/saying-no-how-conflict-avoidance-varies-between-cultures/#:~:text=Cultures%20such%20as%20the%20USA,as%20Thailand%2C%20Japan%20and%20China.