Category Archives: Project Management

Lead by Example – Humor

Recently a client of mine came to me with a problem I hadn’t heard about in a long time.

He had the funny feeling that his boss didn’t actually like him as much as he kept saying. It was a series of little things.

When he told me what his boss had said, I told him that he wasn’t wrong – but that he also might not necessarily be correct.

His boss was notorious for having a laugh at someone else’s expense and then protesting ‘What’s wrong? Can’t you take a joke?’.

That isn’t a joke. It’s passive aggressive bullying.

In her recent article , Rebecca Morgan, an international coach on growth and leadership, takes this subject on with clarity and courage. I say courage because she lays bare her own struggle with this type of humor. In childhood she had been taught that it was a form of affection – even as it subtly and insidiously chipped at self-worth and self-confidence.

Rabbi Edwin Friedman wrote ‘A Failure of Nerve’,  addressing some key points where he believes we, as a society and as individuals, fail ourselves and our organizations. In it he suggests if you truly want to understand a person’s leadership you must understand the organizational culture of the first organization they were a part of – their family.

The culture of your team will evolve whether you guide it or not. In leadership-centric project management we believe every aspect is one that you positively affect. How you encourage or discourage the use of humor and language is a big part of it – and it’s accomplished by leading by example.

So when you start to make a ‘funny’ ask yourself: Would this comment invite a defense of ‘Where’s your sense of humor?’ or ‘Gee, I was just kidding!’?

If it would prompt that kind of defense, then just don’t say it. Build your team members up – be the project or team leader that helps people grow and progress, not question and hold back.

Back to Basics

Back to Basics

Back to Basics – farther than you might think!

For some time now I’ve been suggesting that we re-examine the basics.

This has meant the basics of communication, the basics of project management, the basics of team dynamics, and the basic understanding of how a culture feeds into and affects the behaviors of teams.

I am in the midst of exploring Eric Weiner‘s The Geography of Genius. He offers an expansion of the definition of culture. That, and the resulting tweak of its impact on us as people, struck me.

According to Weiner,

“Culture is more than what the dictionary tells us: “a set of shared attitudes, values and goals”. Culture is the enormous yet invisible ocean in which we swim. Or, to put it in modern, digital terms, culture is a shared IT network. Yes, it’s temperamental and crashes too often for our liking, but without it, we can’t communicate with one another or accomplish much of anything.”

He also makes the point that within every culture are sub-cultures – a part of, but also apart from, the overarching culture.

Think of it as the difference between how a person from manufacturing might view a new product versus how a person from product development might view it.  Then throw in the folks from finance and the human resources department.

Each area of expertise has also generated its own sub-culture.  The finance department of a company, focused on manufacturing consumer products, will likely have a different sub-culture than one that focuses on services in a business to business perspective.  The sub-cultures of these two finance companies will have a great deal in common with each other.  They will also have significant differences due to the underlying culture of the organization where they work.

Project teams (and specifically new product development teams) are particularly vulnerable to this as each project team – temporary in its nature – will also develop a sub-culture of its own.  That sub-culture is still connected to the ambient culture of their organization. It also has the opportunity to become something more than the best parts of the larger culture – more productive, more focused, more profitable – by the simple fact of being separate, temporary, and often smaller than other groups that will form their sub-cultures.

These sub-cultures are a bit independent of, yet must align with, the higher level organizational cultures, an Organizational Breakdown Structure that focuses on culture, if you will, that focuses on the culture. The dominant culture may prize precision.  The new product development team has to be able to embrace a larger level of uncertainty. Each sub-organization, each team, must change their behaviors to embrace and align with the larger culture without losing their specific focus points. Additionally, how will you keep from accidently affecting beliefs and values, resulting in behaviors that are counterproductive or downright destructive?  

Weiner opens his book with this quote from Plato. I have long felt that it is one that would bring great benefit if more people would spend some time and give serious thought to it. It proves how far back you need to go, sometimes, when you go back to basics.

“What is honored in a country will be cultivated there.” – Plato

What is honored in the ‘country’ that is your team’s home and how is it manifested in their behaviors and productivity levels?

Key Actions for Higher Performance:

  • Gain clarity: what is the existing cultural norm? Do a project team's specific SWOT (Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats) analysis on the potential impact of the organization’s overall culture on your team.
  • Enlist and enroll key stakeholders in this exercise. Each member of an existing sub-culture that will participate in the project’s lifecycle and eventual success can give you valuable insight into the questions – and even answer some issues for your stakeholder analysis.
  • Prioritize! Choose the single area that you believe can either make the greatest difference, the fastest win, or the most visible win – and, based on what is most valued in the dominant culture of your organization, pick that one thing to work on first. The Key Success Parameters of any high performing project team are so beautifully intertwined that you will begin to affect other areas with a solid shift in one.

Contact me if you want to put our Team MRI to use in this effort. You can reach me at I’ll be glad to set up a link for your specific teams so that your results are immediate, discrete, and actionable. What will you do first with the results of this diagnostic tool?



Come to the Orlando Premier CIO Forum on Dec. 13 and hear me speak on “Defining Teams and Cultures That Deliver”. Join me and your peers for networking and hearing experts discuss IT topics and trends that are important to CIOs and IT Executives. Register now

Quick note: A tip for increasing Clear Definition

Category : Project Management

I hope you enjoy my first foray into podcasting – and if you have any other suggestions of how you’ve helped your teams improve the level of clarity in communications please leave ideas in comments!

The “Save” Icon

Category : Project Management

The "Save" Icon

The other day, after speaking on a panel for Chick-Tech, I realized that I was, by at least a decade, the oldest person in the room.  That meant it was also highly likely that I was also the only person in the room who had actively used a tool that every single person in that room sees every day.

A 3.5 inch floppy – or, as many will more likely recognize in graphic form, the ‘Save’ icon.

It reminded me of a time when my step-daughter asked me “what exactly does ‘cc’ mean?”

When I replied that it stood for “carbon copy”, she said that she had always wondered, did we really make carbon copies of things? How, exactly did that work?

That conversation happened years ago – possibly even decades ago.

And remembering that, coupled with the flash of realization the other night, caused me to ask myself an important question – one that we don’t always think to ask ourselves (me included!):

”Are you sure that everyone you are working with understands the same way that you do and why?”


“Why are you sure?”


“Why do you think they see the situation/issue/question the same way that you do?”

Which engenders the question,

“How did you confirm that understanding?”

The odd thing about a meritocracy: building one doesn’t guarantee that the team – or the company – will succeed.  The people who have the maddest technical skills may not be the best at working in a team environment.  The person with the best interpersonal skills may not be able to bridge the gap in a spot crisis when solid (possibly even amazing!) technical skills are needed.

We are not suggesting that implementing Clear Definition, combined with Ownership and Collaborative Spirit, will remove these problems.

We are suggesting  that these three Key Success Parameters will give you a stronger shot at addressing these problems with less stress on the leadership team, the project team, and lastly – but not least – you.

KSP Tip for High Performance: Model the behavior that shows that you do not take common context for granted.  Ask for paraphrased loop-back periodically during discussions with your team members. Encourage and support when they do the same. If you‘re asked, feel free to blame it on me (‘that darned consultant wants us to try this!’). Or, alternatively, you can tell them the story of the ‘Save’ icon and ask:

“How many of you have actually used one of these ‘floppy’ disks?”



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