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:
- Teamwork Myths: Formation
- Much of the conventional wisdom about teams is in the form of over-generalized rules of thumb, or myths.
In this first part of our survey of teamwork myths, we examine two myths about forming teams.
- The Planning Fallacy and Self-Interest
- A well-known cognitive bias, the planning fallacy, accounts for many unrealistic estimates of project
cost and schedule. Overruns are common. But another cognitive bias, and organizational politics, combine
with the planning fallacy to make a bad situation even worse.
- Anticipating Absence: How
- Knowledge workers are professionals who "think for a living." When they suddenly become unavailable
because of the pandemic, we consider substituting someone else. But substitutes need much more than
skills and experience to succeed.
- Some Perils of Reverse Scheduling
- Especially when time is tight, project sponsors sometimes ask their project managers to produce "reverse
schedules." They want to know what would have to be done by when to complete their projects "on
time." It's a risky process that produces aggressive schedules.
- Defect Streams and Their Sources
- Regarding defects as elements of a stream provides a perspective that aids in identifying causes other
than negligence. Examples of root causes are unfunded mandates, misallocation of the cost of procedure
competence, and frequent changes in procedures.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 13: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: I
- To take the risks that learning and practicing new ways require, we all need a sense that trial-and-error approaches are safe. Organizations seeking to improve processes would do well to begin by assessing their level of psychological safety. Available here and by RSS on December 13.
- And on December 20: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: II
- When we begin using new tools or processes, we make mistakes. Practice is the cure, but practice can be scary if the grace period for early mistakes is too short. For teams adopting new methods, psychological safety is a fundamental component of success. Available here and by RSS on December 20.
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