Ethics Bistro

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We all tackle ethical dilemmas. Wrong decisions can break careers. Which are the key challenges faced? What are some likely solutions? Where can we find effective tools? Who can apply these and why? Dry, theoretical discussions don't help. Join us for lively, light conversations to learn, share and grow!

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Kimberly Whitby
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Viewing Posts by Karthik Ramamurthy

Caustic Comment Causes Cultural Crisis

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:

  • Have you faced similar issues with cultural diversity in your teams? 
  • What were the negative effects of these issues?
  • What did you do to handle the problems?
Posted by Karthik Ramamurthy on: May 31, 2019 01:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (23)

A Tale of Two Friends

Julio and Martin were best friends in graduate school. Since then, their careers had taken them to many cities around the world. They now worked in the same city and shared the same profession, project management.

The duo would often meet for lunch every few weeks at their favorite Italian bistro. Over these lunches, they readily shared their personal and work experiences.

This week, Julio sensed that something was bothering Martin. Even over the phone in the past weeks, Martin had not been his cheerful self.

Julio asked, “What’s up buddy? You’ve seemed out of sorts for some time now.”

Martin was indeed troubled and badly wanted to talk. Julio was the one person he could really trust. He said, “You’re right. I’m having a tough time. My customer doesn’t trust me. Even worse, my team members seem to hate me. I’m under attack on several fronts!”

Friends sharing lunch at Italian Bistro

In an empathetic tone, Julio said: “That’s tough. Tell me more.”

“In my latest customer status report, I didn’t disclose a delay with a critical work package. A key AutoCAD expert suddenly fell sick. I didn’t want to panic my customer since I was sure we could catch up before the next report. The status column had a green icon when it should’ve been yellow. The AutoCAD guy didn’t recover in time. The work got further delayed. Someone from my team told the client that I was misrepresenting progress. My customer now questions every minor detail in my reports!”

Martin paused to sip his drink and continued: “I’m terribly understaffed and behind schedule. There’s no option but to drive my team very hard. I’m often rude, sometimes even mean. On Wednesday last week, I overheard two team members say that I was the worst boss they ever had. My woes seem endless!”

Julio realized that the situation was worse than what he had originally assumed. He reassuringly said, “I’d feel the same way if I was in your place. I’m very sure we can work this out.

“You know me. I don’t sermonize, but it’s obvious that you have a serious trust issue with your client. I too have made the same mistakes of reporting inaccurate progress. While each seemed like a small untruth, they soon cascaded and resulted in broken trust.

“I quickly realized that it's better to be completely honest with stakeholders. But don’t just go to them with issues. Explain your plan to get back on track. Believe me: They start to trust and respect you.”

Julio recalled a leadership workshop where the trainer had spoken about the importance of project managers being completely transparent and respectful to all stakeholders. He had referred to PMI’s Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct1 which stressed four important values: responsibility, respect, fairness, and honesty.

“Pushing your team members overly hard plus being rude and mean to them may fetch short-term results. In the long run, many team members may push back or quit. You will lose valuable time in finding and training new personnel.

“Take responsibility for your behavior. Don’t blame the schedule. Invest time in team building. Explain the challenges of your tight schedule and request their help. You’ll get their buy-in and better results!”

Martin thanked Julio for his practical advice.

Now that he had a way out of his troubles, his favorite lasagna seemed to taste so much better!

1 https://www.pmi.org/about/ethics/code

Posted by Karthik Ramamurthy on: August 12, 2018 01:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (24)
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