We all have been part of multiple project teams; projects big and small, spread over weeks to months and years, functional and cross-functional, department, geography, or enterprise wide. We have played roles ranging from team member, functional or project lead, sponsor, champion, or simply an observer. We have shared the euphoria on successful completion and anguish of failed projects, the pain of projects missing timelines, the anger when someone does not get it, the relief of recovering from missed milestones, heartbreak when a project was abandoned.
Every project has its set of protagonists, antagonists and fence-sitters; the mix largely determined not always by reality but the perception of impact to self, team, function, and organization. The difficulty level and the change to existing norms, processes, role, conventional wisdom also determines the enthusiasm demonstrated by everyone. Position within the organization hierarchy and age too play an important role in determining how we embrace the project and the change it brings about.
Change management has thus become an industry where specialists and consultants have defined frameworks to help overcome resistance to change. From proactive to resistive management, these practices collate experiences from multiple projects with a hope that some of them can be universally applied. The faith in such an intervention keeps fueling the growth of change specialists and enterprises continuing to invest in managing change with every project. There are a few basics that address the challenge: engagement, communication and agreement.
Project charters to creation of a team, and bringing them together typically defines the first few stages of any project. The collective belief in the outcomes is a basic necessity to create a foundation on which the project will be build. When a motley group gets together the first time, their collective conscience needs alignment to the common goal. Achieving this requires the leaders to engage the team in formal and informal settings. Their professional, social and emotional states require tuning with each other.
Communication needs a plan and then you break the plan to adapt to project progress; there will always be instances when a few will raise a furor that they were not informed or involved or constrained from participation. Everyone in the team needs to take charge of communication rather than a few chosen ones tasked with it. It is not just status reports, newsletters, and email campaigns, but open and honest dialogue within the team across hierarchy and laterally, is the best mechanism to keep the spirits high and aligned.
Whenever a group assembles, there is disagreement, conflict, and politics; projects with significant change also bring fear of the unknown, surfaces insecurities, and highlights missing competencies. These emotions and states challenge not just the project, at times also the company and business continuity. It does not matter if they were mediocre or high performers in earlier roles, or their longevity; the fact that they have to change is unpalatable to the human mind by design.
Young are impressionable and embrace all ideas without judging them; as we grow older we benchmark any new ideas with our past and what we believe is correct. We want things to be white or black equated to right or wrong rather than as an alternative view or way of working. What we disagree with is not necessarily wrong. This fixation to slot every action or decision into two buckets leads to conflict and a change averse behavior. We all learn through experience as there is a limit to what we can gain from others.
Every day is a discovery of our ignorance; we have to unlearn the past to learn something new. Giving up old beliefs is always difficult, they were part of our lives and brought us where we are. As Marshall Goldsmith said “What got you here, won’t get you there.” I believe that change starts from self. Change is a threat when done TO us, but an opportunity when done BY us. Threats are resisted, opportunities are embraced. We have to give up being a caterpillar to become a butterfly.
Change is like that only!