Eliminate the Fear Factor

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A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) and most modern management texts emphasize leadership and motivation over directive control. 

Yet if employee surveys are to be believed, around 70 percent of managers still operate in command-and-control mode. These managers rely on authority, discipline and fear to drive performance. And their team's commitment to the organization and performance suffer accordingly. 

It's simply futile to tell people they must come up with a bright idea within the next 30 minutes or sanctions will be applied! Fear damages creativity and destroys openness; frightened people cannot work effectively in a knowledge economy.

If people are scared of being blamed, the last thing they'll do is pass on accurate information about an issue or a problem. And effective management decision-making depends on the open transmission of bad news. Project controls staff must know what's really happening and need honest estimates of future consequences to provide planning advice.

To understand how serious this problem can be, consider that one of the causes of the up to ₤425 million loss so far on the ₤2.4 billion U.K. Universal Credit program -- ultimately credited to "weak management, ineffective control and poor governance" -- was that no one in the development team felt able to highlight their problems to senior management. Fear of being blamed kept the knowledge of the problem from the people who needed to know. 

Trusting and empowering your team, open communication, leadership and motivation are all closely interlinked and in combination create high-performance teams. 

This is not a new concept. At the beginning of the 19th century, the Prussian military developed auftragstaktik (or mission command) under the core tenet of bounded initiative. The leader's role is to clearly outline his/her intentions and rationale. Assuming people have proper training and the organizational culture is strong, subordinates can then formulate their own plan of action based on their understanding of the actual situation. 

What do these ideas mean for project managers?

  • Move from a position of telling to asking. 
  • Work to build open and trusting communication; don't blame.
  • Instead of using control tools such as schedules as a target to measure, use them as a means to collaborate.
  • Be prepared to forgive mistakes -- encouraging creativity always has the possibility of the idea not working.
How do you eliminate the "fear factor" from within your team? 
Posted by Lynda Bourne on: July 18, 2014 01:16 PM | Permalink

Comments (2)

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Lynda, I eliminate the fear factor on my team by asking for feedback and putting that feedback into action. Taking action on feedback quickly is a great way to demonstrate that comments are heard and considered.

Raja Singu
I involve my team from scheduling to execution. I give the freedom to come forward and express the issues that they see. At the end of the day it is not I give or let them, it is we, us, I build that culture. It is also important that we need a person to have a final word.

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