In Business Analysis and Leadership Andy Wilkins and Kate Stuart-Cox write about the impact that the culture of a business has on business success. They call this ‘climate’ and define it by saying that climate is:
- Distinct from culture because you can see it more easily
- More changeable than culture
- More scalable than culture and more situational
- Measurable so that you can assess some climates as being better than others – you can’t do this with culture.
Whether you agree with the distinction between culture and climate or not, it is useful to think about the factors that influence the project management environment and make some businesses more successful than others.
Wilkins and Stuart-Cox use something called the Situational Outlook Questionnaire to help businesses think about the aspects of their working environment that affect success.
They have split this into 9 dimensions of climate, and while they say the full questionnaire is far more complete, it is definitely useful for project managers and those working on project teams to think about the different dimensions and see how they could influence them to generate an environment more conducive to project success.
So, let’s take a look at the dimensions and see how they could have an impact on projects.
This dimension of the project management environment looks at how emotionally involved the team is to the work. How committed are your team to the project? Do they understand the aims and objectives? Ideally, you should work together to establish the goals of the project, or to at least ensure that these have been communicated adequately if they have been set by a more senior group.
The work itself should be challenging and meaningful, so find ways for people to contribute and thank them for their contributions. Celebrate achieving project milestones and say thank you. You want people to feel invested in the project and for them to see how their involvement fits with delivering the organisational strategy and project goals. If the environment doesn’t lend itself to this, how are you going to create a sense of participation in the team?
Do you micromanage your project team members? Try to avoid doing this as they probably don’t need it and it is something that doesn’t create a good team environment. By all means delegate tasks to individuals – in fact, that’s a key part of your role as a project manager. But let them decide how best to achieve it and give them the resources they need to be able to achieve it.
In some cases, for example, with junior project team members, they will need some direction and will be looking to you for advice on how to complete their work. That’s different. Provide the support and encouragement that those team members need to successfully complete their project work. But for experienced team members, let them share the decision making and be as responsible as possible for their own work.
You may have to set sensible boundaries in order to do this, so discuss these with your team. For example, you may allow certain team members to authorise budget changes up to a certain amount if that is appropriate for their tasks, but anything over that amount needs to be approved by you.
Your project management environment should enable the team to come up with ideas and think through solutions to problems creatively before having to jump in and take action. That means building some slack into your project plans so that there isn’t the pressure to do the first thing that comes to mind and the team have the space to be able to assess different options. Using tools like iMindQ in meetings will help you come up with creative solutions and ensure that you make time in meetings to discuss alternative routes forward.
Make sure that you know what the priorities are so that you can focus your creative efforts on the most appropriate things. You’ll also want to practice your facilitation skills so you can help everyone have a say and make sure you gather contributions from everyone in the team.
Coming up with ideas is one thing, but putting them into practice is something else. Your project management environment should be equipped with the tools to be able to put new ideas into practice – otherwise what is the point of coming up with them?
Wilkins and Stuart-Cox say that you should establish peer-based seed programmes, funds or resources for ideas and special projects, although in many office environments this is likely to be out of the project manager’s hands. You can instead put one of their other suggestions into practice: find ways to share ideas and information through peer group learning and collaboration, and use your facilitation skills to develop ideas into something workable.
Trust and openness
Wilkins and Stuart-Cox say that it is important the project team feel comfortable speaking their minds and offering different points of view. If you can build that culture into the project environment then you are likely to get those different points of view presented, which in turn leads to greater levels of creativity and cross-team working. It can also help you identify unspoken assumptions about project tasks that may influence the work that is being undertaken.
While you do have to be careful making jokes at work – not everyone finds the same things funny – a good natured environment is far more fun to work in than one that is stuffy and dull. Is it OK to have fun and make appropriate jokes? Is the working culture relaxed but professional? Wilkins and Stuart-Cox suggest personalising your workplace, encouraging wild ideas and creativity, using cartoons to illustrate business concepts and having fun while facilitating workshops.
Conflict isn’t something you want to encourage generally, so Wilkins and Stuart-Cox have some suggestions for reducing friction in the project team. Using common goals and setting shared expectations for behaviour is a good way to start. They also talk about having clear policies and strategies to deal with issues as they arise. “Being crystal clear about roles” is another tip, so that decisions can be made appropriately with everyone understanding who will make decisions and why.
You want a lively debate on your project team. If you don’t have a team who will interact with each other, you end up with a group of people nodding at your every suggestion and who will not put forward their own ideas. Wilkins and Stuart-Cox talk about finding ways to encourage debate, which are largely around facilitating discussions. They suggest modelling active listening so that the team sees you listening to ideas as they are presented. You should also be actively open to suggestions and different points of view, and encourage the team to put these forward. Cross-functional teams are a good way to promote debate as people will necessarily bring different backgrounds and opinions to the conversation.
It might seem counter-intuitive to want to encourage risk-taking on your project, when your risk management process is specifically designed to mitigate and minimise risk! But this is more about whether you create a project culture where it is OK to fail if you try something new. New ways of working are encouraged and no one seeks to blame when something goes wrong. Instead, you pick yourselves up and try a different route forward. You can build this culture into your project by encouraging learning from mistakes, providing stretch targets and also simulated environments to test out new ideas before they are put into practice.
These 9 points will help you create a business and project environment that in turn supports the chance of being successful. Of course, no amount of facilitated workshops, measured risk-taking, cartoons on the wall or debate will guarantee that your project will be a success.
But if you can take a few steps to encourage your team towards creative, collaborative thinking and find a way for them to work together effectively, then you are helping your project team move in the right direction.