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Learn from the Past to Perfect Performance

To optimize performance, learn from experience. Set aside time for reflection, learning, and making the intention to perfect the way you live and work.

Hopefully, we are always reflecting and paying attention to intentions, performance, and goals. Though it is skillful to give full attention regularly and intentionally to deep introspection, both as an individual and team.

It might be during a retreat, retrospectives, or lessons learned activities, and performance reviews. It might be for an hour, a day, or longer.

As individuals, we can use meditation and contemplation techniques to cultivate self-awareness, reflect on past errors and successes, and to identify values and commit to positive action going forward. As teams, we can come together to review performance and find ways to improve – candidly and meaningfully.

Acknowledge errors, celebrate successes, and commit to skillful behavior going forward into the next cycle, phase, or project. Keep in mind that imperfections and uncertainty are facts of life. How we handle them makes all the difference.

 

Simple But Not Easy

So simple and logical. Reflect and learn. But we find that it is not that easy. Egos get in the way.

Egos get in the way when there is a criticism-averse mindset. Fear of being fired or disrespected and the need to be perfect lead to avoiding candid feedback from others and even from oneself. Without open self-awareness and intention to continuously improve, to optimize performance, there is a common tendency to avoid criticism, particularly negative feedback.

In a 2016 article on project performance review[1] and in my new book, The Warrior’s Path[2], I refer to warriorship and the need to confront resistance to looking at yourself and your team candidly and compassionately.

 

Warriors

“Warriorship here does not refer to making war on others. Aggression is the source of our problems, not the solution. Here the word “warrior” … literally means, “one who is brave.”[3]

A warrior is dedicated to a cause, a struggle. The peaceful warrior is dedicated to the cultivation of clarity and compassion, with the goal of personal wellness, group wellness, effective performance, and being of service.

It takes courage and skill to confront one’s own and one’s team process and behavior, particularly the imperfections. It takes more than a formal performance review procedure.

 

In one case a software development organization “lost” the video recording of a project performance review that became too “negative” with some members of the team “attacking” members of a functional group who “defended” themselves.

This is not the kind of struggle the Peaceful warrior engages in. Seeking optimal performance is not about attacking and defending. It is about bringing issues to light and discovering causes by confronting the issues collaboratively.

Doing that requires disengaging from one’s identification with one’s role to take on the role of an objective assessor.

 

Not Easy

Taking on the role of objective assessor of your own performance is not so easy. Aversion to negative criticism is deeply embedded in culture and psychology.

To first acknowledge and then do something about the resistance to confrontation begins with oneself as an individual.  If you can’t face your own shortfalls, how can you expect others to face theirs? When you identify with your team and its performance you transfer your resistance to criticism to the team. Criticism of the team becomes personal. If you are on the attack or are defensive, you are not being objective.

But not all aversion to criticism is based on mental habits. Much of it comes from organizational cultures that seek to blame rather than understand and improve. It comes from leadership that is conflict averse, often because they don’t know how to handle conflict or have their own personal issues with criticism.

 

Emotional intelligence

Can you simply be present with the uncomfortable emotions you feel when confronted with your shortfalls? Being present with emotions means feeling them fully without reacting to them by trying to throw them off through ignoring, making excuses, blaming others, or disparaging yourself and your own competencies. This is emotional intelligence in action.

You and the team get nowhere without objectively addressing issues and their causes. Unmanaged emotions get in the way.

 

Facilitating Organizational Awareness

Facilitating the quest for optimal performance starts with self-aware individuals who can manage their emotions and who value criticism of any kind to avoid repeating unskillful behavior while promoting effective performance and healthy relationships.

Not everyone is self-aware and motivated. Embedding performance improvement in the organization or the team is enhanced by training individuals to recognize their aversion to criticism and value the opportunity to improve. At the same time, regular anonymous micro-assessments provide objective data to cut through subjective opinions.

Effective facilitation is another vital factor. The facilitator promotes objectivity and awareness of participants’ ability to give and take feedback in a positive, non-attacking and non-defensive way.

 

The facilitator prepares the team by promoting the understanding that:

  • Negative criticism is valuable to the end of improvement
  • It is normal to be averse to it
  • Whether averse to it or not, it is necessary to invite, accept and thrive on criticism
  • In most cases, the process and not the individual performer is at the root of errors and omissions. Take performance seriously but not personally.
  • Blaming and defensiveness are emotional reactions that get in the way of cause analysis and improvement.

 

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Next Steps

Assess where you, your team, and your organization are when it comes to using critical analysis in performance review to improve performance.

At what level of the organization does aversion to criticism exist? Is there lip service but no follow-through? Are training and facilitation needed?

How can you best promote candid useful reviews of team and individual performance so you and your team can learn from experience?

 

Related articles:

https://www.projecttimes.com/articles/the-key-to-performance-improvement-candid-perfromance-assessment/

https://www.projecttimes.com/articles/project-performance-review-the-power-of-recognizing-what-s-going-on/

https://www.pmi.org/learning/library/lessons-learned-process-thinking-review-3169

https://www.projecttimes.com/author/george-pitagorsky/page/7/#:~:text=Performance%2C%20Attention%20and%20Focus

https://www.pmi.org/learning/library/managing-virtual-teams-high-performance-7310

 

 

[1] Pitagorsky, George, Project Performance Review: The Power of Recognizing What’s Going On https://www.projecttimes.com/articles/project-performance-review-the-power-of-recognizing-what-s-going-on/
[2] Pitagorsky, George, The Peaceful Warrior’s Path: Optimal Wellness through Self-Aware Living, to be available in late October 2023
[3] Trungpa, Chogyam, True Perception: The Path of Dharma Art, Shambhala, November 11, 2008, ISBN 1-59030-588-4 [3]

 

Best of PMTimes: 5 Ways Your Company Culture Affects Project Management

A brand’s culture is the personality and identity behind the company.

 

It is the set of values, rules, and commitments that the employees live by at the office, and employers use to build an appealing brand image both internally and externally. So naturally, you can expect your company’s culture to influence and affect every process in every department, and thus effectively shape the future of your brand as a whole. When you’re managing a new project or several projects, though, your company’s culture will have avital role to play.

Not only will it help you assemble a crack team of professionals, but it will also help you delegate roles, ensure healthy and continuous communication and collaboration, set your goals and objectives just right, and ultimately deliver on the projected results ahead of time. With all of that in mind, here are the five ways your company culture can affect project management, and how to use it to take your projects to new heights of success.

 

Incentivize employees to increase productivity

At its core, your company’s culture serves the purpose of incentivizing your employees to love their job and the brand they work for. Through numerous employee-oriented rules and routines, the causes your company supports, and the values your brand stands for, you’re building a friendly work environment where people can live, laugh, and work with a positive attitude and a clear goal in mind – to give it their best on each and every project.

This is why it is important to find ways in which your company’s culture can directly influence and elevate the productivity of the individual, before you can start optimizing it to positively impact the team as a whole. Be sure to find out what moves your employees as well as the values they stand for, and try to weave them into the narrative in some form in order to inspire them to care for the project and its outcome.

 

Ensure accountability and boost collaboration

In order to manage a successful project from inception to finalization, you need to build accountability among your team members. Your employees and colleagues need to hold themselves and each other accountable for their actions, as well as the actions of the team as a whole in order to keep the project moving forward at all times, react to mistakes and setbacks effectively, and even predict possible pitfalls to avoid them successfully.

When you have accountability, you can also boost collaboration and co-dependence easily. Through a positive company culture that nurtures accountability and collaboration, your employees will lean on each other for support, you will be able to spark innovative thinking and decision-making, and of course, you will have an easier time running a tight ship with minimal risk of error.

 

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Bringing diversity to the team and the project

It’s no secret that one of the keys to an efficient and successful project is diversity. But beyond the project itself, your company’s culture should emphasize the need to attract, bring in, and retain diverse talent from numerous communities and demographics in order to improve the brand’s image, and bring value to the company in terms of skilled and loyal employees. This is a solution favored by Australian business leaders, so let’s take a look at their example.

In Sydney and other highly-competitive business hubs, project managers will source diverse talent from agencies such as atWork Australia in order to bring people with disabilities into their ranks and tap into a lucrative talent pool that resides within this community. Likewise, they will use AI-software and specialized HR recruitment programs to eliminate all bias from the recruiting process, in order to give all applicants a fair chance at proving their worth to the company.

Following the same mindset, be sure to bring people from all walks of life to your project in order to spark creativity and innovation, improve collaboration, and gain loyal brand members.

 

Define leadership roles and strengthen organization

Another way in which your company’s culture can help you manage your projects and deliver on the desired results is helping you assign leadership roles, structure communication, organize workflow, and organize your employees individually. Now, this requires you to combine your own leadership skills with the insights your company’s culture brings to the table in order to help with delegation and workflow.

Using your skills as a leader, be sure to analyze how your team members respond to the values of your brand and the governing rules that shape your culture, and then proceed to pick out the individuals best suited to run the team. Assign complementary personalities to your leaders, people you know are devoted to the cause and passionate about their work, and of course, find the right “contrasting” figure that will serve as the counterweight to the team – in order to improve the decision-making process and ensure critical thinking.

 

Carrying the project with shared values and passions

And finally, keep in mind that a positive company culture builds passionate mindsets. When your employees and team members are in love with their job, and when they resonate with the values of your company, they will invariably become more committed to the project, and they are likely to become passionate in the process. Through this shared passion, your team members will carry the project to fruition.

 

Final thoughts

Project management is the driving force behind long-term business success in the modern corporate world. Be sure to act on these insights and work on your company’s culture if you are to fine-tune the PM process, and create a diversified and passionate team that will take your brand forward as a whole.

 

 

Published: 2019/09/04

Revitalizing Remote Teams Across Generations

Over the past couple of years, the skill of engaging remote teams composed of different generations has become critical for companies and teams to avoid the “Great Resignation” that has led to decreased team engagement. This article introduces various methods to highlight the similarities and minimize the differences across the generations.

 

Today’s workforce is composed of four different generations, and consequently managers are tasked with motivating teams despite the contrasting wants and needs throughout the age groups. Remote work offers many perks that people love, however one noticeable drawback is the lack of team culture which can easily lead to staff feeling isolated and disconnected. Company culture is imperative to overall job satisfaction and when company culture is poor, companies are quick to see employees quit. So, the question is, how does management equally motivate baby boomers who tend to prefer face to face communication and formal communications, while simultaneously satisfying Gen X employees who tend to prefer email and less formal communication styles?

 

For reference of the generations:

Baby Boomers: (1946-1964)

Generation X: (1965 – 1980)

Millennials: (1981 -1996)

Generation Z: (1997 – 2012)

 

Any successful leader or project manager needs to understand, implement, and compromise to appeal to the team’s communications preferences and recognition styles. This can be done by highlighting the similarities and minimizing the differences. However, this tends to force management to get a bit more creative when figuring out how to engage their teams in the remote space.

 

Highlight the Similarities:

  • People Crave Connection: A lot of the workforce can agree that moving to remote can feel more transactional. A study by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) called Lonely at Work, highlighted that eight out of ten employees feel lonely in the workplace. A few tactics to improve this would be hosting healthy lifestyle challenges, virtual happy hours, online trivia, personality tests, etc.

 

  • Create a Mentor Program: The perfect opportunity to get the different generations working together is creating a mentorship program. According to the Cigna 360 Global Well Being Survey 2022, young employees of Generation Z are the most likely to be worried about the lack of job opportunities available to them. Mentorship programs are mutually beneficial as they provide the ability for employees to engage and develop close relationships with people in a different age group. The also provide the opportunity for mentees to learn more about different positions throughout the company and aid in boosting confidence in the workplace.

 

  • Provide Transparency on Organizational Structure: Nobody wants to be lost on where they stand within a team and/or company. For instance, baby boomers are known for preferring hierarchy, while millennials are associated with valuing clear opportunities for growth all while Generation X is associated with craving transparency. These shared values can be satisfied by posting and maintaining the organizational chart on a shared internal platform. To take this further, it is conducive for all parties when leadership provides clear written guidance on requirements to be promoted to the next level.

 

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Minimize the Differences:

  • Awareness of Team Preferences: Know how your team likes to be communicated and implement ways that meet each need. This can best be achieved by having the team complete surveys on tools such as Microsoft Forms or SurveyMonkey. Due to employees potentially being reluctant to share their true communication preferences with leadership, it is best to have the surveys set up with providing their name as optional vs. required when completing the survey.

 

  • Foster a Culture of Flexibility: Focus on what you have the power to make more flexible. Once employees have proven trustworthy and capable, there are benefits in letting employees pick projects, create their own project plans, etc. Encouraging employees to have the autonomy and creativity to know when and what is required tends to boost employee confidence and buy-in on the overarching team and company values.

 

  • Keep Customer as the Priority: When the customer is the priority there is less time for the team to have internal debates and more time for the team to focus on the mutual goal of a satisfied customer.

 

  • Communicate in Multiple Channels: People’s attention span and preferred communication methods differ; so to appeal to the variances, it is valuable to share the same messages through several mediums such as emails, meetings, articles, etc. For instance, employee A may have a hard time focusing in virtual meetings, while employee B tends to skim longer emails. This method may be harder for the project manager but is mutually beneficial by ensuring the team receives messages in the way that most resonates with them and leaves no excuses for missed information within the team.

 

 

Remote and hybrid teams are here to stay, so it is important for today’s managers and leadership to create ways to revitalize their multi-generational teams. One method managers and company leadership can build cohesive multigenerational teams is by highlighting the similarities and minimizing the differences. Similarities can be highlighted by providing opportunities for connection, creating mentor programs, and providing organizational transparency.

Differences can be minimized by boosting communication, incorporating flexibility, and keeping the customer as priority. The best interconnected teams have the awareness and structure set in place to play off each other’s strengths and weaknesses, so when these four generations create bonds, it can lead to today’s teams being stronger than ever.

 

 

References:
Exhausted by Work – The Employer Opportunity. (n.d.).
https://www.cigna.com.hk/iwov-resources/docs/Cigna-360-Global-Well-being-Survey.PDF
Gurchiek, K. (2016, May 9). What Motivates Your Workers? It Depends on Their Generation. SHRM. https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/behavioral-competencies/global-and-cultural-effectiveness/pages/what-motivates-your-workers-it-depends-on-their-generation.aspx#:~:text=Baby%20Boomers%2C%20like%20Traditionalists%2C%20prefer
‌Gurchiek, S. M. and K. (2023, February 25). Lonely at Work. SHRM. https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/all-things-work/Pages/lonely-at-work.aspx
Kaplan, J. (n.d.). Welcome to Generation Quit. Business Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/gen-z-jobs-generation-quiet-quitting-great-resignation-recession-economy-2023-2?r=US&IR=T

Best of PMTimes: Does People Behavior Impact Projects? How? And What Do We Do About It?

We all know that projects are considered successful only when they are completed within the boundaries of scope, time, cost and quality. Bad project management is detrimental and can be very difficult to deal with – for especially large projects that involve a lot of money. A small percentage of several projects undertaken across the globe are really successful. Projects do get completed and closed but not necessarily are considered successful due to cost or schedule overruns – cost overrun – being the most common cause for project failure. Therefore, it is imperative that organizations employ better ideas and novel methodologies and frameworks in managing projects.

 

People behavior is one of the KEY factors that drive successful project management. In today’s world – virtual project teams often not co-located – are commonplace. In this environment, it is essential that behavior, emotions and culture be well understood by project managers.

Traditional Project Management methodologies revolve around sound technical and procedural factors: Scoping, Scheduling, Budgeting, Quality Assurance & Control, Risk, Communications and Procurement; and they all have very well established frameworks. Even with all these well established methodologies and frameworks, we just don’t seem to get project management right.

If you just thought “there MUST be something that is NOT well-documented or frame-worked well enough yet”, you have just arrived at the right place! The core of project management is – PEOPLE – around which all other processes revolve and interact.

 

PEOPLE CENTRIC PROJECT MANAGEMENT (PCPM)

People centric project management emphasizes that project management should be based on Experience, Dynamics, Human Psychology rather than solely on Processes. Wise project managers focus on learning and understanding how people function in an organization – both as individuals – and as a team. It is important to figure out during project initiation how people in the performing organization behave and adapt.

Human Psychology should also be considered as an integral part of Project Management. Technical knowledge and following standard processes is one aspect but that is only 30-40% of day-to-day activities. We need to better manage the remainder of the 60-70% – which is people centric.

The aspect of projects that gives project managers sleepless nights is people behavior – especially factors emerging from them – such as push-back, resistance to change, acceptance, trust etc. There are several real life scenarios project managers encounter – that emanate from these aspects. Project managers are encouraged to implement people centric management techniques that will eventually will help them implement processes as well as manage behavioral aspects of people successfully.

People centric project management differs from traditional project management in that it does not reject the basic principles of traditional project management but in addition, it emphasises that all traditional project management processes be followed as usual but be tailored according to the need in order to reap rich benefits coming from good people behaviour being exhibited as part of the project implementation.

INSTRUMENTAL ELEMENTS FOR SUCCESSFUL IMPLEMENTATION OF PEOPLE CENTRIC PROJECT MANAGEMENT (PCPM)

 

1. UNDERSTAND CULTURE – PEOPLE VS PROCESSES

The most important factor coming from humans including sensitive aspects is Culture. The term culture means different things to different people. From a project management perspective, culture simply means “how is stuff done here”. Culture is something that comes with people as a baggage along with them. It is imperative that a project manager understand and interpret what the culture of the performing organization is. This becomes increasingly challenging with virtual global teams. When a team member responds swiftly “It is impossible for us to carry out this work” without analyzing the work assigned – it is likely that employees are striving within an organizational culture that is not supportive of their efforts!

 

  • Study: People will likely not understand this concept at the outset – since PCPM focuses on how people function and how they apply project management to be people centric. Managing triple constraints (Scope, Time and Cost) is the objective of healthy project management. However, it needs to be understood that this does not happen in isolation. This happens in a colloidal medium where people see each other, talk together and interact with others. It is crucial that project managers don’t curb or belittle Emotions, Politics, People Dynamics. Instead, they should be seen as the arteries and veins of human life and we should be able to better manage them.
  • Analyze: How you go about implementing PCPM varies from one organization to another. It needs to be a part of the organizational strategy. Organizations would be project based – where large parts of the workforce is involved in multiple projects. Analyzing how the organization is structured helps the project manager make some of the most important people related decisions in an effective manner.
  • Adjust or Adapt?: Most project managers tend to enforce processes without understanding the culture and capabilities of the project team and stakeholders. In PCPM – focus should be on adjusting processes to fit the culture and behavioral responses rather than trying to adapt human nature to follow processes. Adjust the role and processes for people – do not enforce processes on people.
  • Propose Changes: Create a governance committee or steering committee that is part of the leadership team. Ensure that the PMO, Senior Management are on board and devise a strategy on how you will move from rational to behavior centric project management. A roadmap needs to be laid to bring about either procedural or cultural changes. In 99% cases, people work in environments that Resist Change. So, what is new with PCPM? In PCPM, project managers must educate the senior management, team and stakeholders of considering people behavior while planning each project phase of the project.
  • Gain Buy-In: The challenge for most project managers is to work with senior management and the team in tandem, to gain buy-in and decide on adjusting or adapting. Adjusting or adapting does not happen overnight.
  • Implement (Kaizen): PCPM will not happen overnight but will require a cultural transformation. PMs should quickly identify strengths and weaknesses of team members and encourage people to identify their strengths and work with their strengths. Some people will have competitive strengths and it is important to leverage their competitive skills. Project managers tend to polish people and make sure people fit the role instead of adjusting the role for people.
  • Introspect: It is essential that project managers introspect how PCPM is being implemented. The introspection frequency will depend on several factors such as the team size, stakeholder size, location of teams and stakeholders, senior management demands etc. Introspection is the only way of answering the questions “How are we doing today? Will we be able to implement PCPM? What else needs to be done to strengthen the PCPM process? How long will it take for people to be on board? etc.”

 

2. ENGAGE TEAM MEMBERS

Engaging project team members is the foundation to project success. In PCPM, it is extremely important that the groundwork be laid to engage team members and stakeholders and finally sustain in the short and long term. Focus should be setting key performance/productivity indicators for the performing team as a whole. The level of engagement of team and stakeholders should be monitored and strategies be devised to maximize the engagement levels of both at the same time. Performance, Productivity, Efficiency and Efficacy must be maximized or at a minimum balanced.

Across the project lifecycle, engagement levels of individual team members and the team as a whole should be monitored. Emotional and personal expectations of the team members must be addressed to bring about the best in them. Questions such as “How is this individual doing on the current project?”, “How does this employee react to his work load?”, “Does the employee feel good at the end of every day’s work?”, “Does the team connect their personal objectives with project objectives and organizational objectives, in turn?”, “How is the project team doing as a whole?”, “How are we engaged as a group to meet our objectives?”, “What do stakeholders/customers think abour the project team?” etc. – must be asked and answered satisfactorily.

 

At the Senior Management Level or at a PMO level (if a PMO exists), it will be important to update or change the overall project management framework to integrate all the knowledge about human nature and the questions answered above. Tools must be developed or customized to measure the level of engagement of teams or stakeholders accurately. These new tools must be integrated into the new project management framework.

Finally, the new approach of People Centric Project Management (PCPM) should be reflected in the overall PMO’s strategic objectives and long term vision/mission.

 

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3. IMPORTANCE OF EMOTIONS & MOTIVATION

Emotions have to do with hormones and neurotransmitters in the human body. Emotions drive employee motivation positively or negatively. Oh boy! Isn’t it difficult to psycho-physio-bio-logically scan a person’s mind and body to anticipate what the Expressions, Feelings, Body Language, and Actions he or she may exhibit e.g.– they are sometimes Happy, Sad, Angry, Excited, Tender, Scared etc. This has been a long standing challenge for most people managers, especially project managers!

Feelings, Moods and Actions affect the manner in which team members and stakeholders carry out their work on projects and so management of emotional aspects is supreme for successful project management. A good project manager should not just be a technical person but should be a rare breed of individual who should be able to manage both the technical and emotional factors. If both factors are not managed, projects will cost way higher than what they are originally planned for! e.g. a strong skilled, high performing employee with tremendous knowledge (not shared with anyone else on the team) exhibiting negative attitude and emotions may not only choose not to perform but also may become a project manager’s nightmare if he decides to not co-operate.

Little attention is devoted to emotional factors in traditional project management – project managers must realize that this is the key reason for project failure! E.g. when we conduct lessons learned for failed projects, we focus only on the project management methodologies followed or those that were not followed – but we hardly attempt to identify the lack of focus on the management of the emotional and motivational aspects of people.

 

To ensure project success – PCPM might be a critical factor that needs to be looked into and implemented so that project managers are allowed to exhibit strong people skills and vibrant emotional intelligence!

 

There is advantage to project managers being assigned to a project during initiation and PCPM reinforces just that principle.

In ensuring that project teams will get better and provide maximum output, the following steps are recommended:

✓ Select & Recruit Team members keeping in mind the new PCPM framework, project and organizational objectives.
✓ Develop Team based on PCPM framework, keeping in mind the culture of the team on board – here we again stress on adjusting processes vs adapting!
✓ Motivate Team keeping in mind Emotional factors. More about the impact of motivation below is discussed. Emotional stability would ensure project success.
✓ Periodically Introspect behavioral responses of the team members – understand that PCPM framework needs to be iteratively fine-tuned and optimized.

Project team members or stakeholders do NOT work in an environment where they feel threatened, insecure or disarmed. Productivity is at its lowest when there is no trust and people don’t feel comfortable. If people don’t have confidence and passion for the work that they do – it does not bring about the best in them.

 

How is this addressed? Here is a simple question that will help us understand better:

Q: So, we all know from the laws of Physics that Force = [Mass] x [Action].Here, Mass refers to people and Action refers to project success. So what is the force then that needs to be applied to people to achieve project success?

A: Motivation!

Motivational factor in knowledge based industries (IT etc.) is important and is desperately needed in PCPM. Project managers need to look at alternative ways to look at projects as a social system rather than a technical system.

 

From an organization perspective, projects entirely involve around costs, risks, frameworks, internal/external market scenarios, decision making, harnessing talent, identifying critical resources etc. With virtual global knowledge teams working in different time-zones across different projects at the same time, it is very important to ensure that people stay motivated and magnetized to a specific project. PCPM becomes a guiding methodology in this dynamic environment and proper motivational drivers are a MUST. This helps get people focused on one project and give it the priority it deserves.

There are several motivational theories that can be applied in the PCPM framework but it is important to consider Motivation as one of the key drivers.

 

4. IDENTFY BEHAVIORAL RISKS USING INTUITIVE MIND-READING

Behavior refers to the range of actions and mannerisms exhibited – in this case – by people. Certain desired behavior is assumed by project managers when they stitch and integrate several of the established project management processes. This assumption is based on factors such as Culture, Attitudes, Emotions, Perceptions, Values, Ethics, Authority, Rapport, Hypnosis, Mindset and Persuasion, among others.

On most occasions some of these assumptions don’t hold quite valid. When people don’t behave like the way we originally assumed them to, their behavior seems unpredictable to us. And, when people behavior becomes unpredictable – project outcome is inevitably affected – either positively (success) or negatively (failure). Even if project managers don’t forget to include people behavior, they may find out that the people in the system don’t behave as expected, with unanticipated project outcome.

Think of the human brain emitting encrypted signals. Most project managers intercept these signals but hardly a few actually decrypt and interpret them. This act is called Intuitive Mind-Reading!

The ultimate goal of project management is to ensure project success. As part of PCPM, project managers MUST sharpen their mind reading skills and identify potential Known Behavioral Risks that may emanate from ALL people involved (team members, stakeholders, bosses, senior management etc.) in the project and adapt to this behavior to ensure that things that can go wrong don’t go wrong. Successful project managers are gifted with Intuitive Mind-Reading. During project execution, project managers must reach out to all these people involved, observe what tends to go wrong – and ensure it doesn’t.

Is Intuitive Mind-Reading the only tool for identifying behavioral risks? Not necessarily but in most cases, Yes! E.g. it is best to begin with analyzing our own behavior and from there extrapolate and extend our understanding to all types of people behavior across the team.

However, in other cases where Unknown Behavioral Risks show up during project execution, it is the skill and brilliance of project managers that helps them better manage the situation and drive towards project success.

 

5. …AND LASTLY: COMMUNICATION, COMMUNICATION & COMMUNICATION!

The real problem of projects is NOT the planning or technical aspects but is the day to day contact with people – which is the major nightmare and poses the biggest challenges to project managers.

At any given point of time in the project lifecycle, there will likely be hundreds or thousands of communication channels across project team members and stakeholders. These channels provide the opportunity for people to exchange information among one another. Whether it is Email, IM, Meetings, 1:1(s), Reports etc. it is important to question – what percentage of these channels actually yield positive and fruitful interactions? This will be a key indicator for project success. Project managers need to create a conducive environment for nurturing positive people interactions.

As always, you need the right blend of people in your team to talk to the appropriate stakeholders, gain buy-in and work along project integration. Once you have the PCPM thinking in place, then the next step is to focus on the project team.

In PCPM, it must be the daily duty for project managers to maintain the line of communication very open so that they keep catering to the basic needs to employees.

What needs to get communicated across and top things project managers need to keep in mind while implementing PCPM?

  • Understand and believe that project managers have the most impact in opening up communication channels.
  • Communicate what is expected of each team member
  • Establish a clear sense of what each team member’s duty or role is.
  • Provide recognition – this is actually part of communication!
  • Empower team members’ with the right tools and techniques to do the job
  • Keep your ears open to suggestions
  • Have open conversations about every aspect that requires the PCPM framework to be adjusted.
  • Frequently talk to team members about their progress and provide feedback –
  • Learn from people on how they think they connect to the mission of the project team and compare that with how you think they connect.
  • Communicate between the current statefuture state the gap  and how is the team member is doing.
  • Make Action Plans for the longer term to ensure you are actively managing the emotional and motivational aspects of ALL the people
  • Gather feedback and inputs on how are people interact with each other on their communication channel.
  • Finally, it is the project managers duty to ensure that interactions on ALL communication channels yield positive results!

The key truly is communication, communication, communication and communication!

 

CONCLUSION

If organizations want project managers to deliver projects perfectly, that cannot be done solely by following a rule book, using project management software, firefighting problems, implementing the concepts from PMBOK etc. Project managers MUST also be able to manage the thousands of interactions people have within the project and outside of it (environmental factors). The emotional bonding between individuals must be well understood and recognized to get the best out of the people. This ultimately is crucial for achieving proper level of teamwork, communication and performance that is needed for successful project management.

In addition, because our society or organization is not good at working with the behavioral and emotional drivers, we cannot motivate people to complete the project on time, cost, scope and quality. Aspects of project management dealing with people, behavior, emotions are not much stressed upon. In most documented areas, either it is in a footnote or in an appendix.

To conclude, emphasis must be on the importance of people behavior and having a framework such as PCPM – in place to account for people behavior – as an effective solution guaranteeing higher project success rates!

 

Published: 2014/08/07

 

About the Authors

Shreenath Sreenivas, B.Sc.(Hons.), M.Sc, PMP has in-depth knowledge and experience in software project planning, integration management, requirement gathering, risk management, scheduling, vendor management, contract management, execution, monitoring, controlling, quality assurance and on-time delivery. He is a Project Management Professional (PMP)® credential holder and has delivered projects successfully across a wide range of domains, such as Pharmaceuticals, Bio-IT (LIMS), Tax and Accounting, Mobile Web Apps; in addition to the field of software product development and consulting. He earned his Bachelor’s B.Sc. (Hons) & Master’s M.Sc. degrees in Industrial Chemistry from the Indian Institute of Technology (I.I.T.), Kharagpur, India.

Ambadapudi Sridhara Murthy, M.Tech, PMI-SP, PMP has extensive experience in the fields of software project planning, scheduling, risk management, budget management, vendor management, contract management, execution, tracking, monitoring, controlling, quality assurance, and on-time delivery. He is a Project Management Professional (PMP)® credential holder, PMI Scheduling Professional (PMI-SP)® credential holder, and has delivered projects over a wide range of domains, such as Leak Detection Software, Semiconductor software, implementing desktop/mobile websites, and Bio-Information Management Systems, in addition to the field of software services. He earned his bachelor’s degree (B.Tech) in chemical engineering from Pune University, India and earned his master’s degree (M.Tech) in computer-aided process and equipment design from REC/NIT in Warangal, India.

BREATHE Your Way Through Conflict

Conflict in and of itself is not bad. It can drive innovative solutions as organizations tackle tough, challenging, and complex problems. While some conflict is healthy, too much is not. Conflict, if not managed correctly, can quickly spiral from something healthy, to something toxic resulting in destroyed relationships. How we manage conflict matters, in leadership, business, or at home.[1]

Conflict management is a skill everyone needs in their kit bag. When dealing with emotionally charged topics, one should have the courage to communicate their way through conflict. Confrontational situations may require one to take a moment to breathe.[2]  While physical breathing techniques to remain calm during conflict are helpful, BREATHE is a conflict management framework one can use to navigate their way to achieve productive results. BREATHE stands for:

  • Be aware of the situation; and with whom one is in conflict.
  • Reflect, then respond. Do not react.
  • Exercise emotional intelligence and empathy.
  • Actively listen, ask clarifying questions, and acknowledge.
  • T Think of others first.
  • Humble yourself.
  • Execute and evaluate the results.

This BREATHE framework can serve as a cyclical, sequential and nonlinear tool, with interconnecting components. One can initiate the framework at any point and execute multiple elements simultaneously. For example, empathy may open the door to active listening and acknowledgement, which may activate one’s humility, allowing one to think about others first and engage in teamwork. Moreover, while each component can serve as its own independent conflict management device, the comprehensive employment of all elements working together may prove most effective in producing optimal outcomes.

Be Aware.

Be situationally aware. Understand the factors contributing to the conflict. A tool to help one become situationally aware is to conduct an environmental assessment. When conducting an environmental assessment, consider the following external and internal factors. Externally, analyze the political and economic situation. Determine whether one is dealing with social or cultural issues, or labor market challenges. Evaluate technological capabilities.[3]  Internally, various friction points could contribute to conflict, such as production problems; lack of assets and resources; and ineffective policies.[4]  At the individual relational level, environmental contributors could include work life stressors, health concerns, personal finances, and or relationship issues. Finally, something to keep in mind. One or all contributing factors could exist simultaneously, affecting one or all parties.

The external and internal environment is complex and complicated enough without introducing the volatility of the human dynamic. However, one must understand with whom one is in conflict. Maintaining positive relationships is critical to achieving desired outcomes because it involves trust. Positive relationships build trust, contribute to esprit de corps within an organization, and enable one to achieve their objectives with the help of willing participants. The goal of the BREATHE framework is to help the implementor move the needle from a negative relationship to a positive one, from conflict to collaboration.[5]

To help one maintain positive relationships, a stakeholder analysis may be helpful.[6]  The intent of conducting a stakeholder analysis is to decide with whom you should engage, how you need to engage them, and when. You are trying to determine: 1) Is the conflict worth your time and effort? 2) Is the stakeholder of such influence you should care? Given the gravity of the situational context, and the relational importance of the stakeholders with whom one is in conflict, how we respond is an essential element of ensuring a positive outcome. This leads to the next stage of the BREATHE framework, reflect, then respond.

 

Reflect, then respond. Do not react.

Instead of impulsive reactions typical of conflict, take time to reflect, then respond. The difference between reacting versus responding, is analogous to instinct and thought. Instincts are primal behaviors below the conscious level responding to environmental stimuli without reason. Thought on the other hand, is a developed plan based on the intellectual product, views, and principles of a group or individual.[7]

Another difference between reaction and response is the potential impact. Depending on the severity, reacting without thinking can lead to potentially negative unintended consequences. Conversely, reflecting, and then responding can lead to planned outcomes. The BREATHE framework is a methodology requiring reflection through each phase, resulting in a deliberate and intentional response. Reflecting, then responding, is the gateway to the next phase of the BREATHE framework, exercising emotional intelligence and empathy.

 

 

Exercise emotional intelligence and empathy.

            Responding instead of reacting is an exercise of controlling one’s emotions. Therefore, while in the moment, we should understand what we are feeling, why we are feeling that way, and what can we do about it. Meaning, we should exercise emotional intelligence (EI). EI “is the ability to identify, assess, and manage the personal emotions of oneself and other people….”.[8]  The exercise of identifying, assessing, and managing one’s feelings can serve as a calming technique in and of itself. Additionally, deliberately mapping out the BREATHE framework may help influence one’s emotions to a less aggressive state. The last step of EI is to repeat the process but from the perspective of the person or group with whom you are in conflict. This leads to exercising empathy.

Empathy is “the ability to understand and share other people’s feelings”, [9] enabling one to “see others as they see themselves”.[10] As you think through your assumptions regarding the other party, try to think through how the other party may feel if your assumptions about them were true. Try to place yourself in the other party’s shoes. Ask and answer, “How would I feel if I were (insert other party)?” After completing this exercise, the next step is to turn your assumptions into facts through fact-finding techniques. The most effective fact-finding technique is face-to-face communication.[11]  This leads to the next phase of the BREATHE framework, actively listen, ask clarifying questions, and acknowledge the other party or parties.

 

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Actively listen, ask clarifying questions, and acknowledge.

            Communication is a widespread problem in every organization, as well as in relationships. Therefore, effective communication skills are essential.  An essential element of effective communication is active listening. Active listening is the ability to apply one’s undivided attention to the speaker, taking in not only the words spoken, but the tone and mannerisms as well. It is the ability to hear and see past emotions to understand what the speaker is trying to communicate. One who is actively listening, hears the message, understands it, signals their understanding with appropriate body language and gestures, reflects on it, then communicates their understanding by repeating the message to the sender, followed by an appropriate interpretation.[12]

When engaging in conflict management, ask clarifying questions. Asking clarifying questions deepens one’s connection with the other party. It helps each party further understand and empathize with each other’s perspective. Asking why questions, such as, “Why did you”, may spark defensiveness. Instead, use the “What? So what? Which means? Therefore?” Technique, which is useful in turning data into actionable information.

The “what” statement acknowledges the transmission of data between sender and receiver. For example, “What I hear you saying is….” The “so what” communicates the importance of the data. It may sound like, “So this is important to me because….” The “which means” statement translates data (what and so what) into useful information, which may potentially affect the individual receiving it. Finally, the “therefore” statement translates the information into potential decisions one may take in response to the information received.

The “What? So What? Which Means? Therefore?” technique increases communication between the sender and receiver by confirming the receiver received and understood the sender’s message and knows what to do with the information. When communicating through conflict, each party wants the opportunity to voice their opinion and be heard. This technique ensures that opportunity by acknowledging the communique.

For clarity, acknowledgement is different from agreement. One does not have to agree with the other party to acknowledge what they are saying. Acknowledgement is a way to extend dignity and respect to the other party. It signals one values and understands what the other is saying. With understanding, the conflicting parties can work through the issues together to achieve amicable resolution. With shared understanding, conflicting parties can attack the problems instead of each other. This leads to the next phase of the BREATHE framework, teamwork and think of others first.

 

Teamwork. Think others first.

Conflicting parties should work through issues together as a team. Their goal should be to reach amicable solutions based on mutual interests. Suggestions for setting a positive atmosphere of trust and collaboration may start with eliminating counterproductive behaviors such as stigma and biases. These behaviors tend to isolate and divide rather than unify. To mitigate these behaviors, one should embrace the differences between parties, be culturally competent, and establish an atmosphere of psychological safety to build trust and teamwork.[13]

While cultural diversity typically applies to different ethnic groups, one can apply cultural diversity in other contexts as well.[14]  For example, within professions, there are distinct institutional cultures. Within these cultures, there are dimensions distinguishing one culture from another, driven by the output each profession produces. These differences drive how each profession deals with such topics such as power, risk, autonomy, teamwork, and operational versus strategic orientation.[15]  Further, each profession has its own distinctive language, to include, subtext associated with subspecialties or special skill identifiers. They each have a preferred way of communicating, whether a common core language or terminology, direct or indirect communication methods, or adjusting tone and volume.[16]

To effectively communicate with diverse groups, one should display a measure of cultural competence. One demonstrates cultural competence by communicating and behaving in ways that demonstrates knowledge and understanding of diverse groups. By going out of one’s way to demonstrate cultural competence, one begins to set the atmosphere for psychological safety, which enhances teamwork while reducing conflict.[17]

Psychological safety is a teamwork enabler. It sets conditions for collaboration. Psychological safety is when one feels comfortable in their environment because they believe the group in which they belong will not discard or embarrass them, regardless of circumstance. In this environment, people are free to share their relevant opinions. Once there is an atmosphere of safety, collaborative learning begins to take place.[18]

As part of establishing and maintaining teamwork, teammates should think of others first.[19] To help one think of others first, consider three key factors. First, the importance of being a steward by placing the needs of stakeholders first to build and maintain trust.[20] Second, exercise an emotive approach by focusing on the individual, trying to satisfy their individual needs while accomplishing one’s goals and objectives.[21] Third, as able, meeting reasonable accommodations.[22] While reasonable accommodation is traditionally a term used to accommodate those with physical or mental limitations, one can use it to negotiate one’s way through conflict. The objective of any negotiation is to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes. Thinking of others first while navigating and negotiating one’s way through conflict can assist in achieving this goal. Effectively managing conflict through teamwork, requires a measure of humility, which is the next phase of the BREATHE framework.

Humble yourself.

Thinking through problems as a team, and thinking of others first, requires humility. It takes humility to admit, “Hey, we are struggling in this area, and we need help solving this problem.” It takes humility to remain silent and listen while fellow teammates share their opinions and ideas during open dialogue. It takes humility to keep an open mind while listening to creative solutions aimed at solving complex problems. One must remain humble enough to admit when someone else has a better idea and be willing to support the idea with proper effort.

Leaders must remain humble enough to allow their fellow teammates to speak truth to power when trying to attack and solve organizational wide issues. These leaders display humility by underwriting risks associated with recommended actions, while leveraging adequate staffing, equipment, and resources necessary to ensure the plan’s success. This leads us to the final step of the BREATHE framework, execute and evaluate.

 

Execute and evaluate.

            After working through the problem as a team, it is time to execute the plan and evaluate the results.[23]  Here we are talking about measures of performance and measures of effectiveness, with measure of effectiveness being the most important, as it deals with results and desired outcomes. Measures of effectiveness answers the question of did we achieve the desired effect? Conversely, measure of performance has to do with efficiency. It answers the question of did we do what we said we would, and can we do it better? Bottom line, we are talking about quality, the “perceived degree of excellence”.[24]

We measure quality in terms of outcomes and improvement using evidence-based methodologies. Quality and its associated outcomes start with evidence-based management, which is a method of incorporating performance measurements, best practices, as well as systems and processes to achieve desirable outcomes.[25] Outcomes are the results of something.[26] Meaning, in any endeavor, results matter. However, how we achieve those results matter as well. The right way to achieve desired outcomes is through quality planning and use of evidence-based approaches and continuous quality improvement.[27]

Conclusion.

            Conflict in relationships is unavoidable. It is not a matter of if, but when. Therefore, how you deal with conflict matters, as it will impact the results achieved. You can avoid it, or deal with it counterproductively, inevitably degrading trust and perpetuating conflict. Or you can manage it using more productive methods. The BREATHE framework offers “a way” of navigating the potential messiness associated with complicated and complex relationships.  The framework encourages awareness of one’s environment, and each other. It intentionally attempts to get its users to slow down and think through their next steps. It encourages self-awareness and shared understanding. It advocates for teamwork through humility.  Finally, it is result oriented. While the BREATHE framework does not guarantee a relationship free of friction, it can provide a life raft when sailing its turbulent waters.

 

[1] A. Ripley, “How to Work with Someone Who Creates Unnecessary Conflict,” HBR, 26 March 2023, https://hbr.org/2021/08/how-to-work-with-someone-who-creates-unnecessary-conflict
[2] A. McDonald, “A Powerful Tool to Stay Grounded in Conflict,” The Ripple Effect, 26 March 2023, https://therippleeffecteducation.ca/mindful-breathing-tool/
[3] R. Dunn, “Haimann’s Healthcare Management”, 8th ed. (Health Administration Press, 2007), 123.
[4] S. Walston, “Strategic Healthcare Management: Planning and Execution, 2nd ed,”(Health Administration Press, 2013), 181-212.
[5] S. Covey, “The Speed of Trust”, (Free Press, 2018), 13-26
[6] P. Spath, “Introduction to Healthcare Quality Management,” 3rd ed. (Health Administration Press, 2009), 143-144
[7] Webster online dictionary instinct vs. thought https://www.merriam-webster.com/
[8] “A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge PMBOK,” 6th ed. (Project Management Institute, 2017), 705
[9] M. Moudatsou, A. Stavropoulou, A. Philalithis, S. Koukouli, “The Role of Empathy in Health and Social Care Professionals,” 3.1, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7151200/
[10] A. Kovner and D. Neuhauser, “Health Services Management,” 8th ed., 2004, 7;
[11] Dunn, “Haimann’s”, 8th ed., 72; “PMBOK”, 360-393
[12] R. Abrahams and B. Groysberg, “How to Become a Better Listener,” HBR, December 21, 2021, https://hbr.org/2021/12/how-to-become-a-better-listener
[13] E. Forrestal and L. Cellucci, “Ethics and Professionalism for Healthcare Managers,” 1st ed., Health Administration Press, 2016, 191-192, 267-268; K. White and J. Griffith, “The Well-Managed Healthcare Organization,” 9th ed. (Health Administration Press, 2019), 502
[14] Dunn, “Haimann’s” 10th ed.
[15] White and Griffith, “The Well-Managed Healthcare Organization,”, 337-365
[16] C. Sampson and B. Fried, “Human Resources in Healthcare,” 5th ed. (Health Administration Press, 2021), 125-150
[17] White and Griffith, “The Well-Managed Healthcare Organization,” 348
[18] C. Sampson and B. Fried, “Human Resources in Healthcare,” 5th ed. (Health Administration Press, 2021), 513
[19] M. Miller, “The Heart of Leadership,” 1st ed., Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2013;
[20] Forrestal and Cellucci, “Ethics,” 311
[21] Dunn, “Haimann’s”, 8th ed., 438
[22] Sampson and Fried, “Human Resources,” 5th ed., 38
[23] D. Sinha, “ADDIE Model: A Comprehensive Guide to the 5- step Instructional Design Model,” CHRMP, March 26, 2023, https://www.chrmp.com/addie-model-guide/
[24] Spath, “Quality,” 3
[25] White and Griffith, “The Well-Managed Healthcare Organization,” 9th ed., 509
[26] E. Briggs, “Healthcare Governance: A Guide for Effective Boards,” 2nd ed. (Health Administration Press, 2011); M.A. Krousel-Wood, “Practical Considerations in the Measurement of Outcomes in Healthcare,” NCBI, October 1999, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3145439/
[27] Spath, “Quality”, 12-14, 54, 1-7