Project Management

Project Therapy. What Else Did You Expect From A Project Shrink?

From the The Project Shrink Blog
Bas de Baar is a Dutch visual facilitator, creating visual tools for dialogue. He is dedicated to improve the dialogue we use to make sense of change. As The Project Shrink, this is the riddle he tries to solve: “If you are a Project Manager that operates for a short period of time in a foreign organization, with a global team you don’t know, in a domain you would not know, using virtual communication, high uncertainty, limited authority and part of what you do out in the open on the Internet, how do you make it all work?”

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Remember that grumpy employee that just kept on complaining about the company? Or perhaps you can recall your team mate that was just indifferent to the host organization?

You don’t have to be all ecstatic about your company to do a good job – although it would help. But real negativity and indifference can be a source of project trouble.

For some reason an employee has this horror picture of the organization in his mind. The story that is told inside his head is not one of joy. It’s this negative narrative that causes the behavior.

This narrative can be changed. It’s a bit like the David Copperfield solution to problems: if you cannot move the mountain, just change the angle of the camera.

Think about The Travel Guide To [your organization].

In this exercise you are asked questions about your organization that explore your relationship with its culture. You talk about habits, rituals and anecdotes. The interaction with with these cultural elements help you shape a new narrative.

By creating something, in this case a Travel Guide and drawing maps, you externalize your relationship with the organizational culture. This allows you to explore the connection from a small distance, taking a step back from the sensitive topic.

I didn’t make all this stuff up. I borrowed it and applied it to the context of projects.

It’s stuff from therapy. Sssst. I’m a Project Shrink, what else would you expect! (Disclaimer: I’m not a licensed family therapist or something similar. You already knew that. But. Just saying.)

To be precise, Narrative Therapy:

“This process of externalization allows people to consider their relationships with problems, thus the narrative motto: “The person is not the problem, the problem is the problem.” So-called strengths or positive attributes are also externalized, allowing people to engage in the construction and performance of preferred identities.”

Basically, if you help people to change their internal story, they can change their attitude. I said: “help”. Not “tell”. If you are explaining the values of your company, you are entirely missing the point. And oh, yes, there is so much more to it.

Within projects there are more typical problem areas. More mental stories that can cause trouble. Not only the relationship with the host organization. Think about relationships with the team, the project, individual stakeholders, your role and your working environment. Problems around expectations, trouble caused by friction between the project and the host organization.

You can apply this technique of revealing the narrative without dictating the story to all those areas. Yes. It’s the cards of Your Big Adventure.

In 2008 I wrote about “being a Project Shrink”:

“With a project shrink I was thinking more along the lines of relationship therapy. Without having all details, you can improve a situation by means of having guided counseling. “How did you experience this situation?” “What is your relationship with your mother like?” It can provide a needed “snap-out-of-it” moment for a PM (or BA). Reflection is not something that comes natural to all of us. We discussed earlier that cause-and-effect chains are getting complex, so someone to help you order your thoughts on any situation can be beneficial.”

Well. This appears to me the structure to do it.

Bas de Baar is a Dutch writer who draws. Documenting a world in transition. He loves to make inspirational cartoonstravel guides and other story-telling structures for the collaborators of our brave new world. 

Posted on: November 01, 2013 05:41 AM | Permalink

Comments (1)

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I love the grumpy, resistant, negative and doom-saying employee or team member. I hunt them out in any change management assignment and want them in the key stakeholders and the change definition and communication teams, because if I can win them over they become the greatest champion you could hope for, and everyone in the organisation knows that if they even grudgingly admit that the change looks OK, that really means it is wonderful!

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