Sustainability’s Human Element

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For my last blog on Sustainability (’s theme for April), I want to get away from analyzing the more technical aspects of the Project Management Information Systems that comprise a mature, sustainable PMO, and focus instead on another key element: organizational behavior and performance. After all, even the best, most efficient system, implemented with the optimal strategy, is going to fail if the personnel involved can’t (or won’t) make it work. While modelling human behavior can be very tricky, there are some usable insights that can be gleaned from the available scholarship, mixed with my own observations.

For example, I’ve often referred to Michael Maccoby’s excellent book The Gamesman: The New Corporate Leaders (Simon and Schuster, 1977), and the organizational archetypes he discusses, particularly the Jungle Fighters. I have come across more than my share of this type (or, perhaps, I’ve become sensitized to them, and more readily recognize when they’re around), and it seems to me that they can be sub-categorized so:

  • While all Jungle Fighters use deceit and calumny rather than actual performance to get ahead, the subcategory I’ve dubbed the Novice is the most innocuous. The Novice will pretty much confine his dubious machinations to claiming credit for work he didn’t do, while deflecting blame for things that went wrong. Some non-Jungle Fighters will engage in this behavior episodically, but JF-Novices will use it as a kind of standard template, their go-to canned strategy whenever they interact with the rest of the project team. These shouldn’t be ignored – pretending to address the projects’ scope while actually manipulating people and circumstances in order to evade responsibility for one’s mistakes is clearly counterproductive behavior. If you are confident that even this anodyne variety of Jungle Fighter is on your team, it would be good to get rid of him; if you can’t, at the very least keep a sharp eye out.
  • The next step up in my scale of Jungle Fighter severity I’ve named the Aggressor. In addition to the Novice’s tactics, the JF-Aggressor will deliberately select targets within the project team to undermine, and will then carry out a series of actions to make their lives miserable. Their favorite approach is to engage in ex parte discussions with the other members of the team, at first, and then, when their slanderous narrative begins to gain traction, such discussions will happen with management. The point is to make the JF-Aggressor appear to be the target’s superior in some way, by downplaying the target’s contributions, or by making some claim to having been victimized by the target. If a JF-Aggressor perceives he is not receiving the level of attention or accolades that his inflated ego demands, he can (and will) make their targets’ working hours nightmarish, and can unravel team cohesion at light-speed.
  • The most dangerous variant of the Jungle Fighter to the successful initiation of a sustainable Project Management Office I’ve labelled the Master. In addition to being able to expertly perform the tactics of the Novice and the Aggressor, the JF-Master will attempt to manipulate the thoughts and feelings that third-party Project Team members have among each other. Consider the example of a Project Team made up of two Craftsmen (Craftsman A and B), a Company Man, the Target (who can be of any of the Maccoby archetypes), and the JF-Master. The JF-Master will attempt to turn the opinions of the two Craftsmen against the Target using slander and calumny. When these tactics fail (Craftsmen are usually resistant to the Jungle Fighter’s machinations), the JF-Master will begin to lean on the Company Man, not to antagonize the Target, but to influence the stubborn Craftsmen. Think of Iago in Othello, who successfully poisons Othello’s opinion of the virtuous Cassio and, by extension, Desdemona, who dies as a result. As far-fetched as this sort of strategy sounds, I’ve seen Jungle Fighters engage in it, and succeed.

I genuinely hope that the vast majority of GTIM Nation is now thinking “ clearly does not care if its bloggers are from the universe where Spock has a beard, ‘cuz I have never encountered any of the archetypal behaviors that Hatfield is ranting about.” But my sense is that at a significant percentage is thinking “Michael just described one of my (former or current) co-workers to a tee.” What to do about it?

First off, Jungle Fighters cannot advance at all in a pure meritocracy. Unfortunately, the only large organization that I’m aware of that operates as a pure meritocracy is the United States Chess Federation (US Chess®), where your point ranking is your value to the organization, and Jungle Fighters can slander away without ever changing a thing. If the target can consistently point to an objective record of scope accomplishment and/or high performance, some level of JF insulation can be had.

Another very effective anti-Jungle Fighter strategy is the elimination of ex parte conversations. If any employee engages any manager on the topic of another Project Team member, the manager must stop such conversations until the third party being discussed is present. The first time the PM does this, the Jungle Fighters will have one of their key tactics ripped away from them, and they will become far less effective. Unfortunately, this counter has to come from management, and a lot of managers are either unaware of this type of toxin, or they do not care.

A third strategy is to make other Project Team members aware of the existence of Jungle Fighters within the organization. But don’t use ex parte discussions to do so – that’s a marker of the Jungle Fighter. Instead, copy this blog’s link, and send it to the members of your team. The beautiful part of this action is that the Craftsmen, Company Men, and Gamesmen will either ignore the link, or read it with casual interest. The Jungle Fighters, though, will become agitated, thereby revealing their true natures.

Alternately, one could hang a full-length mirror in the Program Office, and note those who do not cast a reflection.


Posted on: April 29, 2019 09:46 PM | Permalink

Comments (2)

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Very valuable thoughts Michael. Thank you

I like this viewpoint. Ultimately, it is the PMs job to recognize the personality types and interactions of key team members to avoid this type of behavior. I have never picked up the referenced book but will be taking a look at it now. Thank you.

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