Mark clicked to the next slide and paused, waiting for the explosion. Everyone at the table seemed to be reading and re-reading his conclusion, but none of them were exploding. So he began.
"The Review Team's conclusion is simple. We don't believe that Marigold can make any date before July…even August is doubtful. To get to 95% confidence, we think we have to go out to November."
There. He'd said it.
Lambert, both elbows on the conference table, leaned forward. He seemed to make eye contact with everyone around the table at once. "Well," he began, "before we sort this out, I need one thing. What we've just heard is not to be repeated to the rest of the team. Or anyone. Clear?"
By choosing secrecy, Lambert might be guiding the group into a see-no-evil mode, which could jeopardize the project. It's a risky course.
When a team shares all team-relevant information, it's functioning as an open system. A team that intentionally confines some information within small subgroups is functioning as a closed system.
To function at their potential,
teams must share all
team-relevant informationBoth systems can work, provided that all team members are aware of the reality. But in project teams that are closed, team members are often unaware that they're closed. That is, the fact that the team is a closed system is itself a secret. And that disparity between reality and perception can lead to trouble. Even when team members are aware, closed systems face special risks. Here are just a few.
- Increased risk of bad decisions
- If team members believe that they have access to all information relevant to their own activities, when they actually don't, they might believe that they're making correct decisions and trade-offs when they actually aren't.
- Infringing the personal freedoms of team members
- Some information is so significant that it can affect personal decisions. For instance, if a fatal flaw is discovered, some team members might choose to move on to a new assignment. If the flaw is concealed, they might stay, thinking that all is well when it isn't.
- Re-inventing the wheel
- In closed systems, when someone discovers a problem and finds a workaround, there's a temptation to implement the workaround without revealing the problem. If the root of the problem is deep within the system, failing to reveal it prevents resolution at the root. Several people might discover the problem independently, each one implementing a separate — and possibly different — workaround.
- Management problems
- When a team is closed, and it hasn't discussed the choice to be open or closed, and when its culture professes the values of openness, any team members who discover the brutal truth could begin resenting the team leadership. They might feel manipulated and alienated, and their behavior might lead to management problems.
It's tempting to contain problems until we have repairs underway. But the tactic can be misleading and disrespectful, creating problems even bigger than the ones we were trying to avoid. Leaders who conceal truth from others lead others to conceal truth from them. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Project Management:
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do they face, and what can we do about them?
- Seven Ways to Get Nowhere
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no real progress towards the goal. How does this happen? What can you do about it?
- Personnel-Sensitive Risks: II
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on someone's privacy, or lead to hurt feelings, or to toxic politics or toxic conflict. If we can't
discuss them openly, how can we deal with them?
- Projects as Proxy Targets: I
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won't do to create conditions for failure. Here's Part I of a catalog of tactics they use.
- More Obstacles to Finding the Reasons Why
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miss important insights. Here are some additions to our growing catalog of obstacles to learning.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming March 28: Four Overlooked Email Risks: II
- Email exchanges are notorious for exposing groups to battles that would never occur in face-to-face conversation. But email has other limitations, less-often discussed, that make managing dialog very difficult. Here's Part II of an exploration of some of those risks. Available here and by RSS on March 28.
- And on April 4: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: III
- People who behave narcissistically tend to regard themselves as special. They systematically place their own interests and welfare ahead of anyone or anything else. In this part of the series we consider how this claimed specialness affects the organization and its people. Available here and by RSS on April 4.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.