Posts From November, 2015

I Love This Book! The Culture Code

Build Your Project Team Culture

The Culture Code Reveals the Power of Safety

“When we talk about courage, we think it’s going against an enemy with a machine gun. The real courage is seeing the truth and speaking the truth to each other.”
         –Dave Cooper, Retired, Commander Master Chief, SEAL Team Six (From The Culture Code, by Daniel Coyle)

Why is it so hard to see the truth and speak the truth to each other? Why does that demand courage? And, can any team reach their potential without this ability?

Safety: The Foundation of High Performance

Daniel Coyle, in his new book, The Culture Code, offers three necessary cultural elements of what he calls “highly successful groups.” These elements are safety, vulnerability, and purpose. After reading the first few chapters, I became convinced that safety should be the primary focus for every leader, especially project leaders

I’ve always thought of safety at the office and in my work group as physical safety. Coyle refocused my attention to that of emotional safety. Frankly, I am surprised I haven’t seen it before. I’ve been reading and writing about project team performance for about twenty years. I’ve always known that trust is crucial to creativity and innovation, but Coyle’s angle brought a fresh light on the foundational role of safety. His theme is that for teams to reach their potential, each member must feel safe enough emotionally to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is critical to giving and receiving authentic feedback, which is the only way a group will improve its performance. Feedback within the group is directed toward serving the purpose. Purpose becomes the North Star. That logic is tough to dispute.

Project teams are temporary, formed to accomplish something unique. These teams solve problems and make decisions every day. Versatile’s high-performance team checklist lists nine characteristics that enable a team to survive the “give and take” of creativity and problem solving while maintaining trust and keeping relationships intact. But I have to admit that emotional safety has always been assumed, rather than explicitly called out.

Coyle’s logic, that safety precedes trust and trust precedes authentic feedback and team learning, lays bare the importance of establishing emotional safety within our teams. The quote at the beginning of this article comes from a key story in the SEAL Team Commander’s evolution as a leader. In Cooper’s early career he advised a superior that a particular course of action was dangerous and should be avoided. That superior ignored his  advice and the result was exactly what Cooper had feared. Cooper took away from that experience a desire to be the kind of leader that invited opposing points of view and encouraged criticism from every member of his team.

The Primary Focus of Every Project Leader

Do you want your team to “see the truth and speak the truth to each other”? What could be more important? From creation of a business case and charter, through risk identification, scheduling, and daily problem-solving, your team is making decisions and working through conflicts.  Every day of every project is affected by team culture. Pick up Daniel Coyle’s Culture Code. He illustrates his theme with stories from a wide range of teams and follows up with specific actions for the reader. I predict his lessons will stick with you and reignite your focus on team culture.

Change Management Increases the Impact of Innovation

Projects make changes. For many projects that means people will have to change their behaviors for the project to deliver results. But will they? Will people on the receiving end of a project embrace the new strategy, policy, or technology? Or will they shrug, duck their head and try to ignore it?

Tim Creasey is an executive for ProSci, a company that has been focused on this question for over 20 years. According to Creasey, “The people side of change sits squarely along the critical path to delivering value above and beyond specifications.”

Experience has shown that without conscious attention to helping people change their behaviors, many people won’t change. And that resistance can ruin the value of your project. This reality explains why the framework and techniques of change management are gaining new appreciation in the world of project management.

According to Creasey, there are concrete steps that every project manager can take to win the cooperation of these essential stakeholders. But first, he emphasizes, we must understand the critical principle that forms the foundation of ProSci’s work: “The first step in applying change management is to understand how a single individual makes a change successfully, because, in the end, it is through individual employee adoption and usage that project and organizational value is created.”

Individual change follows a pattern, which ProSci has named ADKAR for the five steps of change:

  • Awareness of the need for change
  • Desire to participate and support the change
  • Knowledge of how to change
  • Ability to implement required skills and behaviors
  • Reinforcement to sustain the change

Project managers who grasp this model use it as a foundation for developing project change management plans. As the size of the target audience grows or the changes become more complex, it makes sense to engage with an organizational effectiveness professional to design and implement the communication, training, and coaching plans that have proven to be so valuable.

Successful projects do more than deliver to specifications, on time and on budget. They deliver business value. Winning the cooperation of the affected people can make the difference between realizing the value and wasting the investment. That’s a compelling reason to add change management to your project management tool kit.

Tim Creasey, ProSci Chief Development Officer, has co-authored Change Management: The People Side of Change and other books.  Read his in-depth introduction to change management in the newly released Fifth Edition of The Fast Forward MBA in Project Management.

Tim Creasey commented on the growing interest in Change Management from the project management field. Read his comments.