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I continue to wrestle with the many divisions in our world. It makes me wonder how project teams should deal with the subject of change. Our divided country and our divided world reflect the difficulty that people have with change. Change is simply hard. In this blog, I discuss my observations on what division can teach project teams. Try these suggestions if your teams are struggling with change or need help knowing how to make the decisions needed to move a project forward.

Avoid debate after decisions are made.

One characteristic of the GE culture (or at least, it used to be) is the idea that there can be spirited debate on new ideas prior to the decision to make a change. But once the decision is made, everyone rallies, and the debate on the change is over. While perhaps entertaining, it is rarely time well spent to debate a decision that has been made by those who get paid more.

It is rarely time well spent to debate a decision that has been made by those who get paid more. Click To Tweet

Understand the reluctance to change.

One of the most valuable pieces of advice I have received as a project manager is to analyze people’s reactions to change. This is particularly true with the people on your team. Typically, when someone has a very negative reaction to a new idea, it may say less about the idea and more about something that is going on in the psyche of the individual having the reaction.

The first emotion that I begin to suspect is fear. I try to analyze what the individual might be afraid of. Then, I have a private conversation about their very valid concern.

Try for consensus. Have a plan when that fails.

Sometimes, groups simply cannot reach consensus. Is that because there is more homework to be done? Or, is the question truly one on which reasonable minds can disagree? Reaching consensus can slow the process down. While not all projects have the luxury of time; sometimes, we all need to take a deep breath, and slow down.

Look at what kind of project you are doing. If you are building a new software solution, consensus may be less important than if you are doing an organizational change project where buy-in is critical. If you are doing an organizational change project and you have leaders who simply cannot buy-in to the new organizational vision, you will likely have to remove them from the organization, swiftly and kindly. You simply cannot have two conflicting visions for an organization and be successful.

When you decide that consensus is unreachable or unnecessary, you need a plan for how you are going to make decisions. Does everyone get a vote? Or, will the project sponsor be called in to make the decision? Have a plan. But recognize that all decisions are not equal. Some questions may call on the project manager to make an exception and pursue a different approach.

Remember that feelings are very important.

If the question that is being decided has a high emotional value attached to it, you will need to communicate carefully. I often see decisions made, and communicated in a way that is hurtful. How can teams work towards a higher level of respect for each other? Respect needs to be part of your culture. If it’s not, be prepared for the difficult task of changing your culture.

There are experts who believe that a healthy culture produces better financial results, but I’m less likely to accept the correlation. I do agree with David Grossman, as quoted in the Wall Street Journal. “Culture change today is at the heart of winning because it’s so difficult for other employers to copy.”

“Culture change today is at the heart of winning because it’s so difficult for other employers to… Click To Tweet

Be careful when groupthink begins to take over. It can be dangerous.

Teams need to meet and discuss and then disband and consider issues individually. When conversations get heated in team meetings, I suggest returning to your why statement, discussing the why, and reviewing the objectives. Then, disband and assign individual responsibilities. From what I am reading, millennials, in particular, are largely influenced by emotions more than facts. And when emotions get out of hand in a group, too much damage can occur.

Does that mean that storming is not an important process for teams? No. Teams sometimes need those times. But, the project manager needs to watch for groupthink, and individuals who are letting their emotions get in the way of their strategic thinking. Groupthink can result in some pretty bad decisions.

Allow time for quiet reflection.

When I think about offices with open floor plans, and the crazy busy days that people have, both personally and professionally, there isn’t a readily apparent time and place to sit and think. And yet, self-examination, essential for our own individual development, is also key to our collective growth, both as teams, and as a society. Project leaders should encourage team members to spend time in quiet reflection.

Be careful about hidden messages.

When project teams are divided or stressed, project leaders need to understand how their actions are perceived. When the leader of a team advocates one thing in team meetings and then is heard to utter conflicting messages, it can raise eyebrows, or worse.

Consider your motivation before communicating.

There has been a lot of talk about loving each other. It may sound a bit like kindergarten, or religious communities, to be talking about trying to love everyone on your team. It’s a nice idea but for some people it may not be realistic. Some people are more loveable than others.

What we can do is to consider our motivation before we speak, tweet, and meet. Once words have been spoken, they cannot be unspoken. Did your mother ever say: sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never harm you? Or, am I alone on that front? My mother was wrong. Words can do great damage. We need to think before we speak and push send buttons.

Are your teams struggling with change? I’m happy to help teach project teams to work more effectively. Sign up for my weekly newsletter, or give me a call.