Mark clicked to the next slide and paused, waiting for the explosion. Everyone at the table seemed to be reading and re-reading his conclusion, but none of them were exploding. So he began.
"The Review Team's conclusion is simple. We don't believe that Marigold can make any date before July…even August is doubtful. To get to 95% confidence, we think we have to go out to November."
There. He'd said it.
Lambert, both elbows on the conference table, leaned forward. He seemed to make eye contact with everyone around the table at once. "Well," he began, "before we sort this out, I need one thing. What we've just heard is not to be repeated to the rest of the team. Or anyone. Clear?"
By choosing secrecy, Lambert might be guiding the group into a see-no-evil mode, which could jeopardize the project. It's a risky course.
When a team shares all team-relevant information, it's functioning as an open system. A team that intentionally confines some information within small subgroups is functioning as a closed system.
To function at their potential,
teams must share all
team-relevant informationBoth systems can work, provided that all team members are aware of the reality. But in project teams that are closed, team members are often unaware that they're closed. That is, the fact that the team is a closed system is itself a secret. And that disparity between reality and perception can lead to trouble. Even when team members are aware, closed systems face special risks. Here are just a few.
- Increased risk of bad decisions
- If team members believe that they have access to all information relevant to their own activities, when they actually don't, they might believe that they're making correct decisions and trade-offs when they actually aren't.
- Infringing the personal freedoms of team members
- Some information is so significant that it can affect personal decisions. For instance, if a fatal flaw is discovered, some team members might choose to move on to a new assignment. If the flaw is concealed, they might stay, thinking that all is well when it isn't.
- Re-inventing the wheel
- In closed systems, when someone discovers a problem and finds a workaround, there's a temptation to implement the workaround without revealing the problem. If the root of the problem is deep within the system, failing to reveal it prevents resolution at the root. Several people might discover the problem independently, each one implementing a separate — and possibly different — workaround.
- Management problems
- When a team is closed, and it hasn't discussed the choice to be open or closed, and when its culture professes the values of openness, any team members who discover the brutal truth could begin resenting the team leadership. They might feel manipulated and alienated, and their behavior might lead to management problems.
It's tempting to contain problems until we have repairs underway. But the tactic can be misleading and disrespectful, creating problems even bigger than the ones we were trying to avoid. Leaders who conceal truth from others lead others to conceal truth from them. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Project Management:
- Backtracking in Incremental Problem Solving
- Incremental problem solving is fashionable these days. Whether called evolutionary, incremental, or
iterative, the approach entails unique risks. Managing those risks sometimes requires counterintuitive action.
- Project Improvisation as Group Process
- When project plans contact reality, things tend to get, um, a bit confused. We can sometimes see the
trouble coming in time to replan thoughtfully — if we're nearly clairvoyant. Usually, we have
to improvise. How a group improvises tells us much about the group.
- Publish an Internal Newsletter
- If you're responsible for an organizational effort with many stakeholders, communicating with them is
important to success. Publishing an internal newsletter is a great way to keep them informed.
- Projects as Proxy Targets: I
- Some projects have detractors so determined to prevent project success that there's very little they
won't do to create conditions for failure. Here's Part I of a catalog of tactics they use.
- Risk Creep: I
- Risk creep is a term that describes the insidious and unrecognized increase in risk that occurs despite
our every effort to mitigate risk or avoid it altogether. What are the dominant sources of risk creep?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 12: Downscoping Under Pressure: II
- We sometimes "downscope" projects to bring them back on budget and schedule when they're headed for overruns. Downscoping doesn't always work. Cognitive biases like the sunk cost effect and confirmation bias can distort decisions about how to downscope. Available here and by RSS on October 12.
- And on October 19: Bullying by Proxy: I
- The form of workplace bullying perhaps most often observed involves a bully and a target. Other forms are less obvious. One of these, bullying by proxy, is especially difficult to control, because it so easily evades most anti-bullying policies. Available here and by RSS on October 19.
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