Inspire Aligned Behavior

ARTICLE | Jun 27, 2017

By S. Chris Edmonds

Project teams are often the catalyst for change in organizations. They design new systems and new approaches that will require people across their organization to operate differently, to use different systems or tools, and to embrace the new tools nimbly, effectively, and—hopefully—without drama.

You probably have experienced how much easier it is to design a new system than to get people to embrace it. People resist change. They're used to doing it "the old way" and "their way." Even when they're educated about the benefits of the new system and trained to use it, gaining traction with the new approach takes time, energy, reinforcement, and praising of progress, ad nauseam.

Project managers have always faced such challenges as changes in scope, unclear goals, unrealistic deadlines, "real work" demands, a project manager's absence of direct authority over team members, personality conflicts, and so forth.

New trends for project teams include agile project management (beyond software development) and the increasing use of nontraditional collaboration tools like Slack, Yammer, and Jive, which shift daily communications and documentation away from e-mail and project management platforms (http://bit.ly/2k3Osuv and http://bit.ly/2mT91xr).

These new trends place greater demands on project managers to not only be comfortable with those approaches and tools, but also to help teach team members how to effectively use them.

Also gaining traction is the requirement for project managers to attend to the people management, "soft skills" side of team leadership. Creating a purposeful, positive, and productive work culture boosts project team member engagement and results, as well as increases service to internal and external customers.

Overreliance on Announcements

In the face of these myriad team challenges, project managers (and many organizational leaders, for that matter) can often resort to "managing by announcements" or MbA. This approach is a virus-like plague that causes leaders to announce a new policy or new approach, and then expect that everyone will immediately embrace the new policy because the leader "told them to."

Telling people what to do doesn't always inspire people to do what you want or need them to do. Telling them is a great start. Getting people to embrace the new approach, policy, or tool requires that leaders spend time and energy to ensure people modify their behavior, adapt their approaches, and demonstrate the new requirements.

With the MbA approach, project managers announce changes to team members frequently, including goal changes, scope creep, shorter deadlines, and more. In the absence of consistent reinforcement and accountability, those project managers experience widely varying implementation of those changes.

Some team members jump on board, while others ignore the new demands. Many complain. Some quit coming to team meetings. Aligned teamwork is not what occurs.

Your project team charter might contribute to the "managing by announcements" plague in your team. If your charter includes team operating principles—typically broad expectations for meeting attendance, participation, alignment to the charter, and more—that are not demonstrated by team members daily, that charter has been announced but isn't embraced.

A Better Way

There is a better way. Project managers can take charge of their team culture, creating a purposeful, positive, and productive work environment, by crafting an organizational constitution.

An organizational constitution builds on your project team charter. It includes team strategies and goals, which specify performance expectations and deadlines. It includes a servant purpose, which describes your team's "reason for being" besides creating a product. A servant purpose outlines who the team's primary customers are and how those customers will benefit from the team's efforts.

Most importantly, an organizational constitution includes your team's values and behaviors, which translate vague operating principles into observable, tangible, measurable form. The number of strategies and goals can depend on the organization; however, I coach leaders to have three to four values and two to three behaviors for each value. Rather than an "announced" operating principle that says "team members hold each other accountable for goals and deadlines," one example is a team value of integrity that specifies exactly how team members are to behave daily.

One organization defined integrity value as "acting with virtue, sincerity, and truthfulness." Its three integrity behaviors are:

  • I align my actions with our values.
  • I am honest and do what I say I will do.
  • I take responsibility for my actions and I learn from my mistakes.

With these behaviors formalized, it's much easier for leaders to live these values and behaviors, coach them, and hold team members accountable to them.

Don't manage by announcements. It's not an effective way to inspire aligned behavior or build trusting and respectful relationships in a project team. Craft an organizational constitution. Live it. Coach it. Align all plans, decisions, and actions to it. You'll boost engagement, service, and results.

S. Chris Edmonds is founder and chief executive officer, The Purposeful Culture Group (http://drivingresultsthroughculture.com), Denver, Colorado, and author of The Culture Engine (chris@chris-edmonds.com).

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