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How do project team attitudes impact your project? I’m watching a volunteer group implode and wondering if there is a way to stop that from happening. I recently talked with the CEO of a small business about his struggles with HR problems. His thinking was that most organizations seem to think their biggest problems come down to people.

When equipment fails, it’s typically an easy (though maybe costly) fix. When people fail you, it’s rarely an easy fix. People have feelings and attitudes are the display of those feelings. Work can become inconsistent and impacted by societal and familial events. Mistakes can be made. Actions and words can be misconstrued. People are not machines, thankfully.

When equipment fails, it’s typically an easy (though maybe costly) fix. When people fail you, it’s rarely an easy fix. Click To Tweet

Additionally, there is a major disconnect between older people and younger people about whether feelings should even be discussed at work. Try talking to a senior lawyer about feelings on his team. Good luck!

From what I’m reading there is increasing evidence that the emotional intelligence of those in leadership is THE largest predictor of organizational success. It doesn’t matter whether we are talking about individual project teams, nonprofits, or businesses, the ability of leaders to react appropriately to the attitudes of those around them is a major success driver.

Emotional intelligence of those in leadership is THE largest predictor of organizational success. #leadership Click To Tweet

The most effective leaders are not throwing temper tantrums or presiding over a revolving door of exits and entrances. People want to work for them.

So, if attitudes are causing a problem in your organization or on your team, consider the emotional intelligence of everyone on the team. If you have troublemakers, consider removing them. Remember that people are hugely impacted by the people and personalities around them so doing some shuffling may be the first step. Here are four suggestions for working with the personalities on the team.

Create a governing statement that everyone supports.

I understand that there are a lot of worthless vision statements these days. I understand that some people don’t see the value of a having a vision statement. I also know they can be powerful motivators. There are many different definitions of vision statements, mission statements, and organizational goal statements. This blog is not about debating those definitions.

In this situation, I’m referring to what Patrick Lencioni refers to as a thematic goal. According to Lencioni, in his book, Silos, Politics and Turf Wars: A Leadership Fable About Destroying the Barriers That Turn Colleagues Into Competitors, a thematic goal is a “single, qualitative focus that is shared by the entire leadership team—and ultimately, by the entire organization—and that applies for only a specified time period.” (Loc. 1876)

There are times for enduring vision and/or missions statements and times when a thematic goal is more appropriate. And there are times when you need both. To create this kind of governing statement or thematic goal, I recommend a five-step process. You can use this same process, or a variation, for addressing many kinds of problems.

  1. Sequester as many people from the leadership team as possible for a long meeting. This will take time and probably can’t be done in one sitting. I recommend an off-site meeting, and an outside facilitator. The objective for this meeting is to create a governing statement that will cover a particular time frame and solve a set of problems. People need to be told in advance that this meeting is their opportunity to be part of a solution that will help everyone. In a volunteer situation, you can’t force people to participate but you can promote the meeting as an effort to solve a problem(s) and communicate that you need as much input as possible.
  2. Using sticky notes – have everyone write their understanding of the problem(s) to be solved. There should be no conversation here or in step three.
  3. Using sticky notes – have everyone write their assumptions and constraints on individual sticky notes and post them in the appropriate column. At this point, you want to outline, in writing, as much as you can get people to disclose. I recommend a break at this point.
  4. As a group, review the problem statements, assumptions, and constraints for accuracy and consensus. Start with developing agreement on what is true. Discard erroneous sticky notes, and edit the rest as needed. The goal of this step is three-fold: a) develop consensus on what the real problems are, b) understand what the valid assumptions and constraints are about possible ways forward and c) remove invalid assumptions and constraints.
  5. As a group, craft a short statement that solves the problem(s) that were identified and identifies the applicable time frame. If you have a larger group, you may benefit from dividing into smaller groups – and then, reviewing the statements to see if one of the statements emerges as the best choice. The goal here is to agree on a statement that covers a particular time frame and solves a set of problems.

Use that statement as the lens from which you make your operating decisions.

One of the big advantages of a written statement that drives your organization is that you can objectively decide when an opportunity aligns with that statement, or doesn’t. I think the story of Zingerman’s illustrates how this works.

Zingerman’s is a community of thriving businesses in Ann Arbor, Michigan, that grew out of a deli, opened by Paul Saginaw and Ari Weinzweig in the early 1980’s. About ten years after opening, it became apparent they had competitors looking to replicate their raging success. Saginaw dragged Weinzweig out of the deli in the middle of a lunch hour rush to discuss where they were going to be in 10 years. That discussion led to a codified 15-year plan that resulted in a dramatic cultural shift and the ongoing creation of related local organizations focused on the food industry.

That written statement drove operating decisions until the two men were ready to create their next plan, released in 2007.

One significant takeaway from their story is that their success is very much a function of the personalities in leadership. This was not a situation where a highly paid consultant was brought in to solve the problem. The two men slugged through the process themselves to get to their final results. And from what I’ve read, their training company (ZingTrain) shows participants what worked for them, not necessarily what will work for others. If you want to read more on Zingerman’s, check out their website, or Google one of the many articles written about them.

Adopt a set of operating principles.

When you work with people, there needs to be a short set of principles that govern behavior. Otherwise, you will be either writing rules all day long, or you will be dealing with a fair amount of problematic behavior. Is your organization going to be governed by environmental sustainability, honesty, ethics, transparency, customer relationships, or employee satisfaction? There are many, many choices.

Here are the eight principles that govern Zingerman’s:

  • Great Food!
  • Great Service!
  • A Great Place to Shop and Eat!
  • Solid Profits!
  • A Great Place to Work!
  • Strong Relationships!
  • A Place to Learn!
  • An Active Part of Our Community!


Short and sweet. These principles guide their operating decisions. And they guide the behavior of all of their employees.

Build a culture of trust and respect.

I’ve written a number of blogs on building a culture of trust and respect. As Peter Drucker says, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” It doesn’t matter how sound your project strategy or plan is, if you don’t have a culture that works, your project (and organization) is doomed. You can read more about building a culture of respect here.

Is your organization having a problem with attitudes? Schedule a call, and we can discuss.