The Ups and Downs of Project Work

As reported by Nicholas Valery, the work of R.J. Saldich the ups and downs of innovation cause wide variations in the project members’ enthusiasm. It is up to the senior managers, gatekeepers, and executives provide support during the down times and celebrate milestone successes when things go well. The leadership style which surrounds the project team has a lot to do with the speed to which the project team moves forward. As described in chapter 9 of motivation the project teams feelings can easily be assessed and the recommended management behaviors implemented.

A source of variation in team performance on the positive side is when Project Leaders exhibit the behaviors advocated in the “One Minute Manager”. When Project Leaders take just a minute to exhibit the following behaviors team performance increases dramatically.

First, Project Leaders set one minute goals by being very clear on their goals, defining what good behavior looks like to reach those goals, write each goal and behavior on a single sheet of paper, read and reread each goal each time you do it, take a minute every once in a while out of the day to look at your performance, and see whether or not your behavior matches your goal.

Second, engage in one minute praising of team members’ work by telling people up front that you’re going to let them know how they’re doing, praise people immediately, tell people what they did right by being specific, tell people have good you feel about what they did right and how it helps the organization and other people who work there, stop for a moment of silence to let them feel good you feel, encourage them to do more of the same, shake hands or touch people a way that makes it clear you support your success in the organization.

Third, engage in one minute reprimands by telling people beforehand that you’re going to let them know how they’re doing in no uncertain terms, reprimand people immediately, tell people what they did wrong by being specific, tell people how you feel about what they did wrong in no uncertain terms, stop for a few seconds of uncomfortable silence to let them feel how you feel, shake hands or touch them in a way that lets them know you’re honestly on their side, remind them how much you value them, reaffirm that you think well of them but not of their performance in the situation, realize it when the remand reprimand is over it’s over.

This simple advice is easy to describe, but hard for most Project Leaders to make habitual. Those that do become proficient at these behaviors also become very successful.

Another important source of variation in team performance on the downside is when a corporation undergoes a large organizational change, reorganization, divestiture, or merger. In such cases project leaders and team members typically go through what are essentially the four phases of mourning as described by John Bowlby in his classic study called “Loss”. The four phases are: (1) a phase of numbing that usually last from a few hours to a week in may be interrupted by outbursts of extremely intense distress and her anger. (2) a phase of yearning and searching for whatever has been lost lasting some months and sometimes for years. (3) a phase of disorganization and despair. (4) a phase of greater or less degree reorganization. It is important that when organizations undergo such changes project leaders be trained in the mourning process in order to guide the organization’s team members through the phases rapidly and successfully.

Most project team leaders are successful through the first phase where most of their team wants to deny the event. Project leaders can usually point out that the event is for real and must be dealt with.

The real challenge for project leaders is in the third phase were team members are sometimes just blindly walking around. To guide teams through this phase it is often desirable to utilize the seven ages of organizational life which are analogous to Shakespeare’s seven ages of man. What is important here is to remember the trying to talk employees out of their feelings will get you nowhere. You have to find a way to act. The most important principle to remember is to give people information. It has to be done over and over again. This process is described more fully in William Bridges books.

When such dramatic events are known ahead of time by management, putting together a carefully constructed change process is critical to a smooth transition. Again this process and plan is more fully described in William Bridges books.