In the project context, to coordinate is to organize events or activities across a group of people to help them work together effectively. The coordinator role often serves as a clearing agent for information, gathering data and distributing it across the project team. And sometimes, coordinators negotiate with team members to help them find ways around obstacles, conflicts in schedules, and conflicting agendas. Ethical coordinators are reliable sources for information about what some call the project's ground truth — its reality, its true status.
Unethical coordinators are up to something else. Their motives vary, but generally they have two sets of goals that can sometimes conflict. One goal, clearly, is the project's success. Another goal is more personal — the success of the organization or team they represent, or perhaps the success of their immediate supervisors. Coordinators who are in these conflict-of-interest situations are at risk of a breach of ethics when they place the personal goal above the project's success.
For example, consider an enterprise — call it OMC (Over Matched Corporation) — that's undertaking a large and complex project — call it Marigold — that requires sophisticated capabilities unavailable in-house. OMC has enlisted external assistance — call it LPC (Large Project Coordinators) — to coordinate Marigold. While it's true that LPC personnel want Marigold to succeed, they also want LPC to be seen as contributing to Marigold's success. And that situation can create a conflict of interest for LPC personnel. They must exercise their responsibilities with special care to avoid ethical breaches. Most do. Some don't.
To gain insight Project coordinators are at risk
of a breach of ethics when
they place personal goals
above the project's successinto the ethical difficulties relating to coordinating large projects, let's consider the relatively narrow topic of how LPC personnel might make decisions about Marigold project information. For convenience I'll use the name Larch to refer to LPC's coordinator on Marigold.
- Withholding information — or not
- When Larch takes minutes at meetings for distribution afterwards, he gathers status information about action items. When action item Daffodil is overdue, he can choose how he presents the reasons for it being late. Assume for the moment that the reasons for Daffodil being late do shelter Daffodil's owner from any repercussions. Larch might be more inclined to include those reasons in his meeting minutes if Daffodil had been assigned to LPC personnel, than he would be if it had been assigned to OMC personnel. He might also be more inclined to include that exculpatory information if Daffodil's owner is someone from OMC whom LPC favors. If his choice is influenced by whether or not LPC favors Daffodil's owner, he might have crossed the ethical line.
- Manufacturing information
- "Manufacturing" information includes creating it from whole cloth, but it also includes unusually energetic research to develop information that meets specific needs. For example, Larch might want to provide cover for an LPC mistake or lapse; or he might want to raise questions about the performance of an OMC employee or someone affiliated with a contractor other than LPC. Any such activity at odds with the truth, or undertaken for reasons other than Marigold's success, might constitute an ethical breach.
- Managing information flow
- Larch can also control the timing and targeting of information distributions. He can provide information earlier to some people than to others, which provides advantages to those who receive it early. For example, if he uncovers bad news about LPC performance, he can provide it to LPC personnel, who then have extra time to prepare responses or to fix whatever is amiss. He can do this for seemingly appropriate reasons: "I asked Nan to review the report for accuracy," or "I asked Ed for background on the Severn delays."
Detecting these kinds of ethical breaches is difficult for OMC personnel if LPC has tight control over Marigold information. The situation can easily develop into one in which the tail (LPC) wags the dog (OMC). Recognizing these tactics is a valuable first step. Prevention and possible correction of unethical coordinator behavior are topics for another time. Top Next Issue
Is every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenCRzJQOgFUybgduejner@ChacpJRPtnWitQlGhTsboCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Devious Political Tactics: The False Opportunity
- Workplace politics can make any environment dangerous, both to your career and to your health. This
excerpt from my little catalog of devious political tactics describes the false opportunity, which appears
to be a chance to perform, to contribute, or to make a real difference. It's often something else.
- Patterns of Everyday Conversation
- Many conversations follow identifiable patterns. Recognizing those patterns, and preparing yourself
to deal with them, can keep you out of trouble and make you more effective and influential.
- Fooling Ourselves
- Humans have impressive abilities to convince themselves of things that are false. One explanation for
this behavior is the theory of cognitive dissonance.
- Coercion by Presupposition
- Coercion, physical or psychological, has no place in the workplace. Yet we see it and experience it
frequently. We can end the use of presupposition as a tool of coercion, but only if we take personal
responsibility for ending it.
- Big Egos and Other Misconceptions
- We often describe someone who arrogantly breezes through life with swagger and evident disregard for
others as having a "big ego." Maybe so. And maybe not. Let's have a closer look.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 18: High Falutin' Goofy Talk: III
- Workplace speech and writing sometimes strays into the land of pretentious but overused business phrases, which I like to call high falutin' goofy talk. We use these phrases with perhaps less thought than they deserve, because they can be trite or can evoke indecorous images. Here's Part III of a collection of phrases and images to avoid. Available here and by RSS on July 18.
- And on July 25: Exploiting Functional Fixedness: II
- A cognitive bias called functional fixedness causes difficulty in recognizing new uses for familiar things. It also makes for difficulty in recognizing devious uses of everyday behaviors. Here's Part II of a catalog of deviousness based on functional fixedness. Available here and by RSS on July 25.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenCACwtMUVLqECKXaDner@ChacfRrWzSQIjCbpLPUFoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, USD 28.99)
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- The Race to the South Pole: The Power of Agile Development
- On 14 December 1911, four men led by Roald
Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen
had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished.
As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough. Lessons abound. Among the more important
lessons are those that demonstrate the power of the agile approach to project management and product
development. Read more about this program. Here's
a date for this program:
- Ohio National Insurance, 1 Financial Way, Blue Ash, OH: July
Monthly Meeting, Cincinnati
chapter of the International Institute of Business Analysis. Register now.
- Ohio National Insurance, 1 Financial Way, Blue Ash, OH: July 17, Monthly Meeting, Cincinnati chapter of the International Institute of Business Analysis. Register now.
- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.