Guest Post by John Ayers (first posted on CERM ® RISK INSIGHTS – reposted here with permission)
I am a curious about some of the new project team theories or methodologies that have arisen in the past 20-30 years that are undergoing a resurgent today primarily due to COVID -19 effect on the workforce. These theories are designed to improve performance and functioning of a project team by making people feel comfortable about speaking up and being creative without the fear of repercussion. Google and other Agile companies are in the process of implementing these methods.
The two new methodologies that are the focus of this paper are Psychological Safety and Adaptive Leadership. Both theories are being promoted by Harvard University, MIT, and other academic institutions. According to the internet, Google and other Agile companies are implementing these.
My contention is that new methodologies must be implemented into the company from the top down otherwise it will not be effective. Bottoms up does not work. A cultural change in the company is required to implement them successfully. For example, years ago Quality Circles were popular and encouraged by management. The circle members would meet during lunch hour to make suggested changes to improve quality. No funding for this effort was provided by Management. It did not work due to lack of support from management. Six Sigma on the other hand was sponsored and funded by management, created a cultural change and was a success.
There are numerous articles on the internet about the two theories shown below. The “experts” are giving workshops, consulting and writing papers about these theories and making money at it. I have searched the internet but did not find and articles on how to implement these theories into a company. If a company is serious about implementing new theories, then management needs to embrace and fund it. So far, it seems to be a bottom-up effort.
“Psychological safety is being able to show and employ one’s self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career (Kahn 1990, p. 708). It can be defined as a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking. In psychologically safe teams, team members feel accepted and respected. It is also the most studied enabling condition in group dynamics and team learning research.[i]
“Dr. Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky introduced the adaptive leadership model at Harvard University. Like many other business leaders, they realized that the single-figure, top-down leadership model is outdated and impractical. No single person can solve all of a company’s problems, which brings in the need for adaptive leadership.
Equipping a team of leaders to work together with employees is essential for a business’s survival. The adaptive leadership model goes against traditional problem-solving methods. In this model, there are two types of problems: technical and adaptive. Technical issues rely on protocol, procedures, rules and regulations to solve them. Adaptive challenges, on the other hand, depend on dynamic, people-focused solutions. What’s more: creative solutions strengthen the organization and ensure its long-term success.[ii]
IMPLEMENTING SIX SIGMA STORY
Implementing six sigma into a company for the first time is a big challenge and requires a culture change to get it done.
Management wanted to implement six sigma into the company. They hired a new CEO from another company where he successfully implemented six sigma. The company under the new CEO tutelage spent two years and millions of dollars trying to implement the new method. Management created an in-house website, printed numerous papers and flyers, held workshops, and encouraged employees to learn the new system and commit to it. Management’s efforts backfired. The lower levels of the company laughed at six sigma and thought it was a joke.
Management decided to change their approach and hired approximately 170 six sigma experts from outside the company to help train and sell the new method. The experts trained level 1 management. They in turn trained level 2 management and so on until all levels were trained. Management mandated that every employee become a six sigma specialist and provide time and funding to do so. Management required a six sigma facilitator run every meeting including those where a technical issue was the problem. Before six sigma, the project team would hold a meeting to address the problem.
Management spent hundreds of millions of dollars and 5 years to change the culture and successfully implement six sigma. Today, six sigma is a way of life in the company. No one laughs at it anymore. Six sigma has proven itself to improve productivity and implement creative new procedures to change the company’s efficiency for the better.
New theories are great if they work. They need to come out of the academia space and demonstrate that they work and produce positive results in industry before taking them seriously. To be effective in a company, management has to embrace them and fund them. The implementation of new theories into a company requires a culture change. Management should anticipate that it will take time and lots of money to change the company culture and implement the new methodologies.
Prior to these two theories, a good project manager would tell his/her team to feel safe to speak their mind. Usually, project teams have 2-3 individuals that dominate the discussion. Then there are quite or shy members of the team that are reluctant to speak up due to the basic personality. It is up to the project manager to limit the members that dominate the discussion and solicit input from the quite team members. A good project manager is open minded, willing to self-correct, and empathetic towards employees just like an adaptive leader.
I am not convinced that these new theories will result in a significant change. It will just be a new methodology the employees will have to digest.
Currently John is an author, writer and consultant. He authored a book entitled Project Risk Management. It went on sale on Amazon in August 2019. He authored a second book titled How to Get a Project Management Job: Future of Work. It is on sale on Amazon. The first book is a text book that includes all of the technical information you will need to become a Project Manager. The second book shows you how to get a Project Manager job. Between the two, you have the secret sauce to succeed. There are links to both books on his website.
He has presented numerous Webinars on project risk management to PMI. He writes columns on project risk management for CERM (certified enterprise risk management). John also writes blogs for APM (association for project management) in the UK. He has conducted a podcast on project risk management. John has published numerous papers on project risk management and project management on LinkedIn.
John earned a BS in Mechanical Engineering and MS in Engineering Management from Northeastern University. He has extensive experience with commercial and DOD companies. He is a member of PMI (Project Management Institute). John has managed numerous large high technical development programs worth in excessive of $100M. He has extensive subcontract management experience domestically and foreign. John has held a number of positions over his career including: Director of Programs; Director of Operations; Program Manager; Project Engineer; Engineering Manager; and Design Engineer. He has experience with: design; manufacturing; test; integration; subcontract management; contracts; project management; risk management; and quality control. John is a certified six sigma specialist, and certified to level 2 EVM (earned value management). Go to his website to find links to his books on Amazon as well as numerous papers he has written. https://projectriskmanagement.info/