Guru was happy that the weekly project status call was conflict-free. His feel-good was shattered by a sudden jolt. Nathan, a system architect, seemed to be in a foul mood. He was almost screaming. “Ananya: This is the worst documentation I’ve ever seen. You also delivered this trash several days late. I don’t want to work with you anymore!”
Ananya, a fresh college graduate and new recruit to the team, was shell-shocked. Her silence further angered Nathan, who demanded, “Is there a reply coming?”
Guru was also shocked by Nathan’s outburst. With Ananya staying silent, he moved through the remaining agenda items and ended the call.
Still dazed, Ananya headed straight to the cafeteria. Feeling for her, Guru wanted to immediately tackle the issue with sensitivity. Reaching out to her, he said, “What Nathan did was inexcusable. I apologize on his behalf. Why was he so upset with your work?”
She replied, “My colleague Jahangir was supposed to peer-review my manual on Wednesday. He fell sick. Since we were already late, I emailed it immediately. I agree that there were some quality issues. But that’s no reason for Nathan to humiliate me!”
Guru soothed the youngster. “I agree. Nathan shouldn’t have been so harsh. Maybe he was just being brutally frank. I too have faced the music from several people who are brutally honest with their views. But that’s no excuse for disrespect. I’ll certainly talk to him.”
He connected with Nathan for a brief discussion explaining the serious impact of the harsh words and unwarranted outburst. Nathan understood. He promised to immediately call Ananya and apologize.
Guru’s project was staffed by a virtual team with contributors from the US, UK, Brazil, India, and Japan. There had been several past conflicts based on cultural issues. However, severe time constraints had not allowed him to deal with these challenges.
At the PMI EMEA Congress that weekend, Guru attended the session, “Respect Culture or Face Failure: Leadership Lessons from the world over.”
Katherine, the speaker, started with the impactful words, “Does your project team gel well? If not, success will certainly elude you! If you, as PM, ignore this, you invite disaster.”
The presenter listed many factors that could adversely impact virtual teams: Age, Geography, Language, Attitudes towards Ethics, Religion, etc. Quoting NASA’s Dr. Stephen Johnson, she said, “The root causes of project failure are often cultural, not technical.”
She said that her experience as a global cultural consultant showed that such situations could be reversed. Proactive leaders could leverage positive cultural traits for the good of the project.
Katherine proposed a six-step process named “ASSIST” to manage cultural differences effectively:
When Katherine asked attendees to share their experiences, Guru narrated the recent project issue and actions he had taken. He asked, “What would you recommend?”
She replied that Guru’s actions were excellent responses. However, to prevent more such dangerous conflicts, the team would need to take a proactive stance on cultural differences.
At the tea break, Guru requested Katherine’s professional assistance in turning around the difficult situation. She readily agreed to help.
She began with an analysis of the team’s cultural mix and various traits that needed careful handling. Using customized team activities such as quizzes and role-plays, she sensitized the team on cultural differences.
Katherine’s interventions worked like a charm as conflicts significantly dropped.
As he approved a final payment, Guru thanked the consultant for her inputs. He told her that she had made a huge difference to his team’s chemistry and resolved to apply the six-step ASSIST process on every project.
Please comment on these factors to benefit our dynamic community here on projectmanagement.com:
If you ask anyone in your workplace how they would like to be treated by their managers and co-workers, most will use the words ‘Respect’, ‘Dignity’ and ‘Trust’. No one wants to be treated poorly, with bias and mistrust irrespective of the status, titles at workplace.
In today’s digital age where tweets run faster than thoughts and opinions are shared faster than the facts, the diversity is no longer means having different race, gender and religions but it also means respecting and treating differences in work style, generations and personalities with equality. Embracing workplace diversity is important, as it increases the talent pool and brings new ideas, perspectives and skills to your workforce.
People don’t always see eye-to-eye, and there are many things colleagues might disagree over at work. The correct order to carry out a project, the best way to solve a problem or a difference in work style could all be areas your employees often clash over. After all, everyone has a different perspective and outlook on how a project will progress. However, it’s important that your employees understand that, while discussion is important, you must be respectful, professional and pleasant while at work.
As we have seen, respect is a very important contributor to forming a positive, vibrant & thriving work culture. There are many ways that you and your teams can increase respect @ work
“Hey Peter, here’s my submission. Apologies for the delay but had to do some research to get the algorithms working the right way”. Maya rushed into Peter’s cabin.
“Thanks. What took you so long?” Peter wanted to know.
“Oh! I needed time to check on the output. That took some time. The logic behind these algorithms was present on a website and I used that material” Maya continued.
Peter was a new project manager to the organization and had been recently deputed to a project related to Innovation in the information technology domain. He was a product of an elite business school and was chosen for this project for his innovative ideation and a drive to succeed.
Peter knew this work wasn’t Maya’s original work and it needed to be called out by providing an appropriate citation. However Peter also knew if she did that, his project would not be considered for Innovation and that he and his team would lose out on the award.
“Well we need to make the appropriate attributions to the original document that had the logic. That would be an appropriate next step” Maya wanted to check with Peter.
“I guess so but the process of deriving output is your work and so I don’t think we need to call an attribution separately. I have noted that the so called “original” works that are out there are actually ideas from other sources. I guess it is fine to be “inspired” by such ideas as there is always someone who would have said it before you do. I would focus on our part of the work and in this case our original work is in processing the output or the effort that has gone in deriving the research outcome. Your part of the activity is quite complex and important for the eventual objective of our project” – Peter.
“Well I don’t agree with you. After all the output is the function of the original algorithms and those are not my original scripts” Maya continued to debate.
“Well, I guess I differ with your thought. Also remember that if we do so we are likely to be disqualified and will probably be out of the Innovation contest. Do you really believe that all original work out there is truly "original"? Well we are inspired by someone's ideas and that fuels the creativity in us. Well, give it a thought and let me know what you think” – Peter seemed disappointed.
Given the easy availability of information on internet for most of the research papers today, these instances are not uncommon. This dilemma cuts across domains. It’s a belief that the scope for original thinking has reduced and that most of the works are a “copy-paste” or a derivation of someone’s original work. Blatant copying of original works and passing it off without an appropriate attribution is a common complaint. Resorting to these tricks is perceived as means for a quick success. The publishing community is quite aware of this and has set appropriate check points (created software applications for plagiarism check) to flag such instances.
What can be done in such situations? How do we drive inspiration to write original articles? How can project managers work towards an appropriate balance of creativity and derivation? Applying originality of thoughts with the right attributions builds on the credibility of the author and ensures their authenticity and appropriate processing of guidelines.
Your thoughts on this ethical dilemma are welcome….
Disclaimer: all characters, names and incidents in this story are fictional. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Have you ever had an ah-ha moment because of something that just happens to you?
As I sat at my desk preparing for a Skype call with a colleague from across the globe, I watched the sun rise as it kissed and glistened the morning dew. While sitting in front of a pair of windows, I noticed the one on my right had taken on cloudiness in the glass, and the window on the left is perfectly clear. And yes, the azaleas are still blooming, and the mock cherry is starting to light up!
Since I sit right in the middle, and with a slight turn of my head I could go from a crispy clear view to a not so clear view.
As the phone rang, a multitude of thoughts were racing through my head, including several quotes, “if you change the way you look at things the things you look at change!” – Wayne Dyer.
“Good leadership requires the ability to imagine life through another’s eyes”- Seth Godin.
And then I checked on a definition of Empathy- “Being able to appreciate and experience emotion from another person’s perspective.”
This led me to think about the many ways we view the world, and how often we have differing interpretations or views of the same idea or situation, whether it be a problem, an opportunity or a solution. We tend to view the world and our impact through our own lenses. I wondered how much we could benefit and learn from other perspectives and how my friend was seeing the world today.
So, I asked…., and here is a small portion of our conversation.
Although we did not achieve the intended purpose of our call, what we did accomplish by better understanding each other and growing our relationship was much more valuable.
While this happened by accident, we imagined how many of our relationships that would benefit from having more of these types of conversations, intentionally!
We discussed the critical importance of clarity. What is crystal clear to one person may not be so clear to the next person. And within that difference, with its presence or absence, therein lies the opportunity for conflict, creativity, and growth. And among other things, also the breakdown or building of Trust!
What is the difference between those two outcomes?
If we can so easily become vulnerable to see things differently, how often do we understand the things we hear differently from intended? Or how often do two or more of us hear the same things, and walk away with a different understanding of what was said?
How often do we take the time to look at things through the other person’s lenses, and make a sincere effort to try and understand what, why or how they see things?
Empathy is a leadership competency. Practice putting yourself in the other persons shoes, see it and hear it from where they stand, and see if you can find a common ground to build on.
Discovering clarity on our different perspectives increases our understanding, capacity and ability to find the best solutions and outcomes for whatever we are trying to do.
If you think that is important, how might we make achieving clarity a shared responsibility?
Please join our conversation, we welcome your perspective. Where do you stand on this?
If yes, then what other values or attributes should we include when exercising this responsibility?