According to Einstein, it is a sign of insanity to do more of the same while expecting different results. Yet this is what happens in almost any team, company, and project worldwide. We fail, and then we try harder. Put in more effort. More time. More resources. Then we wonder why we still get the same bad results.
Admittedly, it is hard to take a step back in the middle of a crisis. Some problems will indeed be resolved by adding sheer numbers of people, server power, or money. But in the world of interlinked processes, systems, and people we call organizations, we often face problems which need a smarter way of doing things. This is especially true when it comes to handling people who have a stake in our projects.
In a way, this is a misnomer. We cannot manage our stakeholders. Though we can analyze them, rate them, rank them, communicate to them, inform them, and negotiate with them, we are hardly ever in a position to manage them. What we can manage though is our treatment of them. What is in our power is our own behaviour, the behaviour of our team, and our attitude and communication to those stakeholders.
So what do you do when you have spent a zillion hours explaining to your stakeholder what is required of him or her to achieve the success of your initiative? When you tried to convince them of communicating inside their part of the organization, involve people, or promote your project, and all you experience is your personal version of Groundhog Day?
More of the same?
Peter Block in his book “Flawless Consulting” calls this “Consulting with a Stone“. He argues that once in a while you will encounter an individual who is immune to all your communication skills, ignoring your efforts or simply resisting the initiative for his or her own private reasons. I’ve been there, dealing with the Department Head for one of the key topics of our initiative. That person had our team explain our data, our results, our methods, our conclusions over and over again. If he ever joined the meetings, that is. The team was frustrated, but willing to put in more effort, explaining our data, methods and results in more detail, in a visualized form, and with even more data. No change.
When the team started avoiding the meetings, I took a step back and looked at the dynamics of the game. And it became clear that we would not make any progress by explaining more and more, putting in extra effort in providing more background and reasoning.
Instead of sending my team into more meetings where they would not be appreciated, accepted, or even heard, I got in touch with his Senior Management. The effect was instant, even funny. Just seeing me talking to his boss, having lunch with his boss in the Cafeteria, walking into another meeting with his boss, made me a relevant stakeholder for him. And suddenly we had conversations on a different level which led to a more productive cooperation for our teams in the long run. It may not always be so easy to change the outcome. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to managing difficult people. But it is worth trying a different approach when the current one fails too often.
How to avoid this Project Success Trap
- Watch out for repeating failures, large or small.
- Observe the frustration level of your team.
- Take a step back every now and then, to reflect on the things that are going well and those where your efforts don’t have the intended effect.
- Brainstorm different ways of handling the situation or person.
- Establish the habit of testing different approaches. This is more commonly done for IT problems than for interpersonal problems.
- When it comes to difficult stakeholders, find out who in your team is the best person to establish a working relationship. Styles vary, and building rapport may not be asked for.
- Find a sparring partner to discuss your observations and challenge your conclusions.
Folge 19 der Serie “Project Success Trap of the Week – Beliebte Fallen für Ihren Projekterfolg”.