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Topics: Ethics, Talent Management, Teams
The influence of unconscious bias in leadership, project management and teams interaction?
My company every year make anonimous mandatory assets by an external institution about unconsouscious bias, so that each person be aware of potential wrong behaviors directed to different cultures, religions, gender, sexual orientation, that could affect decisions and work relations in general.

What do you think as project managers, that could be the impact in your team of unconscious bias?
What effective measures do you think are the best to avoid this?
Have you witnessed cases of unconscious bias in your experience as project managers, team leader or decisor of any kind?
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It is a wasted of time and money to talk about of unconsourscious bias, just for definition of unconssouscioness.
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2 replies by Alexandre Costa
Dec 25, 2019 2:24 PM
Alexandre Costa
...
Sergio,

This is not my opinion, I think it has influences that are stronger and deeper in everyday life than people think and that create various injustices.Unconscious bias can be identified and measures can be taken to mitigated this problem.

But I respect your opinion as an expert I'm sure that @Sergio should have more experience and knowledge than me in this area however ended up wasting some time commenting the topic (just a small joke).

Like any opinion there is always the perspective of those who look from above and the perspective of those who look from below and are rarely coincidental.

Thanks for your contribution.
Dec 26, 2019 4:49 PM
Alexandre Costa
...
Dec 25, 2019 1:57 PM
Replying to Sergio Luis Conte
...
It is a wasted of time and money to talk about of unconsourscious bias, just for definition of unconssouscioness.
Sergio,

This is not my opinion, I think it has influences that are stronger and deeper in everyday life than people think and that create various injustices.Unconscious bias can be identified and measures can be taken to mitigated this problem.

But I respect your opinion as an expert I'm sure that @Sergio should have more experience and knowledge than me in this area however ended up wasting some time commenting the topic (just a small joke).

Like any opinion there is always the perspective of those who look from above and the perspective of those who look from below and are rarely coincidental.

Thanks for your contribution.
...
1 reply by Sergio Luis Conte
Dec 25, 2019 2:48 PM
Sergio Luis Conte
...
@Alexandre: my point is, trying to explain that in the best english I can, while I know what does mean what some people called "unconscious bias", it has no sense by definition of consciousness and unconsciousness. Something that is unconsciousness can not be defined because to define it or to meassure it must be consciouss. And if human being could make consciouss what each of us store in our uncounsciousness the world will be totally different. That is what some people try to do when go to phycological teraphy (while I know there are different schools on the matter). So, what you can do, putting this in the field of project management, is to take care of organizational architecture which is the framework that will create people culture and ways of thinking and behave. Unfortunatelly, as other type of things, is easy for organizations put the focus on saying people "you have to change" instead of saying themself "we have to change by creating the environment that will help people to behave and think like our strategy needs". In fact, one of my fields of work, is organizational consciousness which is on top of organziational culture. That is widly used on sports like tennis when you need to help people to unlearn and relearn. My recommendation, but just my recomendation, for people that like to go deeper on that, is take a closer look about what unconsciousness mean or going to science related to genetic. As I mentioned, just my opinion no more than that.
Dec 25, 2019 2:24 PM
Replying to Alexandre Costa
...
Sergio,

This is not my opinion, I think it has influences that are stronger and deeper in everyday life than people think and that create various injustices.Unconscious bias can be identified and measures can be taken to mitigated this problem.

But I respect your opinion as an expert I'm sure that @Sergio should have more experience and knowledge than me in this area however ended up wasting some time commenting the topic (just a small joke).

Like any opinion there is always the perspective of those who look from above and the perspective of those who look from below and are rarely coincidental.

Thanks for your contribution.
@Alexandre: my point is, trying to explain that in the best english I can, while I know what does mean what some people called "unconscious bias", it has no sense by definition of consciousness and unconsciousness. Something that is unconsciousness can not be defined because to define it or to meassure it must be consciouss. And if human being could make consciouss what each of us store in our uncounsciousness the world will be totally different. That is what some people try to do when go to phycological teraphy (while I know there are different schools on the matter). So, what you can do, putting this in the field of project management, is to take care of organizational architecture which is the framework that will create people culture and ways of thinking and behave. Unfortunatelly, as other type of things, is easy for organizations put the focus on saying people "you have to change" instead of saying themself "we have to change by creating the environment that will help people to behave and think like our strategy needs". In fact, one of my fields of work, is organizational consciousness which is on top of organziational culture. That is widly used on sports like tennis when you need to help people to unlearn and relearn. My recommendation, but just my recomendation, for people that like to go deeper on that, is take a closer look about what unconsciousness mean or going to science related to genetic. As I mentioned, just my opinion no more than that.
Alexandre -

Unconscious bias is unconscious to us, but hopefully we have a team which is diverse enough and has the right level of psychological safety that team members can interact with each other with radical candor such that they can keep each other honest and objective.

I've seen examples of the negative impacts of unconscious bias many times, especially when it comes to decisions like staffing new team members.

Kiron
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1 reply by Alexandre Costa
Dec 25, 2019 4:06 PM
Alexandre Costa
...
Kiron

I am aware that for us is always unconscious, that's why the assessments are made by third independent parts, and the results are used only by the evaluated to be aware of his flaws or trends and allow them to grew as persons and mainly as professionals workers.

I agree with you that all members as a team have the responsability to identify this situations and in a honest and transparent way should try to mitigate this problem as team.

As a big multi-cultural organization, my organization treats this topics in a very serious way with anual assessments, and with a existence of ethical comission always available to evaluate unfair situations, not only with workers, but also with suppliers, buyers, consultors etc..., not only to unconscious bias but also to conscious bias.

Thanks for your contribution.
Dec 25, 2019 3:41 PM
Replying to Kiron Bondale
...
Alexandre -

Unconscious bias is unconscious to us, but hopefully we have a team which is diverse enough and has the right level of psychological safety that team members can interact with each other with radical candor such that they can keep each other honest and objective.

I've seen examples of the negative impacts of unconscious bias many times, especially when it comes to decisions like staffing new team members.

Kiron
Kiron

I am aware that for us is always unconscious, that's why the assessments are made by third independent parts, and the results are used only by the evaluated to be aware of his flaws or trends and allow them to grew as persons and mainly as professionals workers.

I agree with you that all members as a team have the responsability to identify this situations and in a honest and transparent way should try to mitigate this problem as team.

As a big multi-cultural organization, my organization treats this topics in a very serious way with anual assessments, and with a existence of ethical comission always available to evaluate unfair situations, not only with workers, but also with suppliers, buyers, consultors etc..., not only to unconscious bias but also to conscious bias.

Thanks for your contribution.
Alexandre

it is unconscious if we do not think about it, we take it for given, and it has an impact on our decisions. Isn't any bias in thinking unconscious? If it were conscious, it would be a factor in our decision making.

I like what your organization is doing and I did it often in my projects when starting a new team: a cultural workshop with the target to make bias visible, create awareness about differences in behaviors and hopefully leverage these differences. Though there are some scientific questions around it, I use Hofstede's country culture comparisions in these workshops and in other occasions. The people in question are not stereotypes anyhow, but you can see them nodding all the time.

There are many cases of intercultural fractures. For example, when working in Moscow on a project, I noticed that many young women strictly followed a 9-5 schedule for working. Were they lazy, not engaged, underpayed? The real reason was that they were single mothers who had a fixed schedule to take their kids to a day care. If your country does not have kid day care for most, you have no chance to come to that conclusion by yourself.
Alexandre,

In general, I appreciate the attention organizations give to the issue of unconscious (i.e., implicit) bias. However, most address their concern through training programs meant to “check a box” for the mitigation of liability. When we recognize that implicit biases are formed through parental, societal and environmental conditions, then we recognize that they did not occur overnight. So, what are the chances that a short course will break through decades of conditioning, breaking chains that feel like jewelry to its owners?

So, to answer your questions:

- Have you witnessed cases of unconscious bias:
Yes, managing international projects, I’ve had many issues with developers and analysts from different cultures clashing with each other over divisive cultural issues that are centuries old. I’ve even had to send developers back home (from one continent to another) due to these biases. And nothing is more fun than having to referee a workshop where you have representatives from 15 different countries whose primary arguments for not agreeing with each other is their perception of the other’s intellectual capability to understand the content. I’ve also had to let developers go on local projects for extreme cultural biases; for instance, during “USA’s 9/11”, I had to let a consultant go who started distributing propaganda representing that we deserved the attack. So, to state it lightly, I’ve seen unconscious bias in action and recognize it needs to be strategically addressed.

- What is the impact of unconscious bias on a team:
In extreme cases, it will completely “shut a team down,” where they will refuse to work unless the issue is immediately addressed. However, in most cases, “reasoned thought” that directly and openly addresses the issue of concern brings calm to the team when done by the leader/manager.

- What measures do you think are effective to deal with “unconscious bias” on a team:
I see this as a two-fold answer. First, when bias is involved, a leader must with empathetic understanding, openly and directly address the issue. They cannot ignore it and hope that it will go away, as there will be a cost to the project and to the well being of your resources if this passive route is taken. Secondly, the leader must “model” the practices of unbiased behavior and decisions making to their teams on a consistent and absolute basis.

A lot more could be said about this topic, and although I’ve had my run-ins with biases, I’ve also seen teams overcome them and excel.
...
1 reply by Alexandre Costa
Dec 26, 2019 5:00 PM
Alexandre Costa
...
George,

Your opinion fit as a glove on my thougths, the questions that i made weren't inocent, i also already witeness cases of unconscious bias, and I am happy that my company worries with this topics. But , to be honest in my life time I have to say that this is not a common practice, at least in the places where I already work in the past.

Thanks for your detailed thougths,
all kind of opinions are welcome, the purpose is to learn with them.

Alexandre
Dec 25, 2019 1:57 PM
Replying to Sergio Luis Conte
...
It is a wasted of time and money to talk about of unconsourscious bias, just for definition of unconssouscioness.
Dec 26, 2019 4:29 PM
Replying to George Freeman
...
Alexandre,

In general, I appreciate the attention organizations give to the issue of unconscious (i.e., implicit) bias. However, most address their concern through training programs meant to “check a box” for the mitigation of liability. When we recognize that implicit biases are formed through parental, societal and environmental conditions, then we recognize that they did not occur overnight. So, what are the chances that a short course will break through decades of conditioning, breaking chains that feel like jewelry to its owners?

So, to answer your questions:

- Have you witnessed cases of unconscious bias:
Yes, managing international projects, I’ve had many issues with developers and analysts from different cultures clashing with each other over divisive cultural issues that are centuries old. I’ve even had to send developers back home (from one continent to another) due to these biases. And nothing is more fun than having to referee a workshop where you have representatives from 15 different countries whose primary arguments for not agreeing with each other is their perception of the other’s intellectual capability to understand the content. I’ve also had to let developers go on local projects for extreme cultural biases; for instance, during “USA’s 9/11”, I had to let a consultant go who started distributing propaganda representing that we deserved the attack. So, to state it lightly, I’ve seen unconscious bias in action and recognize it needs to be strategically addressed.

- What is the impact of unconscious bias on a team:
In extreme cases, it will completely “shut a team down,” where they will refuse to work unless the issue is immediately addressed. However, in most cases, “reasoned thought” that directly and openly addresses the issue of concern brings calm to the team when done by the leader/manager.

- What measures do you think are effective to deal with “unconscious bias” on a team:
I see this as a two-fold answer. First, when bias is involved, a leader must with empathetic understanding, openly and directly address the issue. They cannot ignore it and hope that it will go away, as there will be a cost to the project and to the well being of your resources if this passive route is taken. Secondly, the leader must “model” the practices of unbiased behavior and decisions making to their teams on a consistent and absolute basis.

A lot more could be said about this topic, and although I’ve had my run-ins with biases, I’ve also seen teams overcome them and excel.
George,

Your opinion fit as a glove on my thougths, the questions that i made weren't inocent, i also already witeness cases of unconscious bias, and I am happy that my company worries with this topics. But , to be honest in my life time I have to say that this is not a common practice, at least in the places where I already work in the past.

Thanks for your detailed thougths,
all kind of opinions are welcome, the purpose is to learn with them.

Alexandre
Conscious and unconscious when used as adjectives to bias are not referring to some medical definition or condition. Rather conscious vs. unconscious bias as adjectives to bias is more closely associated with awareness and unawareness.

The larger objective is to raise the awareness of behaviors and communication that can be offensive to others -- which heretofore have never been realized by the person as potentially bias: Thus, unconscious bias. This is about context.
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1 reply by Alexandre Costa
Dec 27, 2019 2:47 PM
Alexandre Costa
...
You are totally right, that's why i made this several questions about the topic, is important that we can be aware of our unconscious bias to try change our behavior in order to reduce , mitigate or improve any injustices that we can commit without perception of them.

Thanks for you contribution.
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