Me to project team member: “Can you send this information out to the project group? I’ll provide a small distribution list along with the email.”
Project team member to me: “Sure.”
The Next Day: That team member sends the information to all the employees in the company months before we were ready to announce the change.
Have you ever tried to implement a significant change, had a well-thought-out plan, obtained buy-in from the right stakeholders, and felt like everything was going smoothly only for your plan to get hijacked? The situation above isn’t exactly how things played out . . . but it almost did.
Thank goodness, even though the team member was going to send the email to all the employees, we found out and intervened at the last minute. I didn’t know the individual well at the time and think they must have had the best of intentions, but they didn’t understand the impact of the path they were taking by so broadly sharing that information. In hindsight, it really was a shared responsibility, as I should have provided them with more context and an understanding of the plan and the “why.” #LessonLearned
Consulting with companies, leaders, and teams throughout my career and managing organizational change initiatives, there are a few things I have learned that will provide guidance about mitigating risk and optimizing results when new teams are assigned to significant change projects.
Provide context to everyone involved to ensure understanding of the big picture.
Case in point above. Even if a team member, senior leader, or SME is only participating in part of the project, at least some context around the larger plan can help avoid situations where individuals go off in their own direction. In the situation mentioned above, the reason we didn’t want all employees to know about the change was that they needed more context and implementation plan information than we were able to give them. Without context and a plan, employees tend to worry and make up their own stories about what’s happening and why.
Ensure there is clarity around roles and responsibilities.
Especially with large organization-wide projects, it’s imperative that everyone involved in the project team and those brought in to work on aspects of the project have clarity around who is responsible for doing what. In the absence of clear responsibilities, team members end up doing double the work, wasting time making power plays and arguing about who has the right to make the decisions and neglecting to do essential work that team members think someone else is or should be doing. Avoid that scenario by setting expectations up front. Yes, it takes more time and effort to work through the details, but it is well worth it in the end.
Assign project roles based on skill sets, not titles or popularity.
Put decision-making authority where it belongs.
Project team members are assigned roles and responsibilities to enable focus on key project areas that others do not have the time to sufficiently focus on. By assigning the right individual to the right role, the team ensures the necessary considerations are evaluated to bring about the best outcome. If others not directly involved try to overrule the authority delegated to project team members or the team overarching, it’s essential that project sponsors put the responsibility back where it belongs.
Some of these tips may seem like common sense . . . like something we learned back in business school or should just automatically know. The problem is that during high-speed organizational change and back-to-back meetings, we don’t always maintain discipline and focus on some of the simple things that can save us so much time in the long run.
By outlining context and the “why” to everyone involved, providing clarity of ownership, picking the right people with the right skills sets for the right reasons, and ensuring decision-making authority isn’t superseded by others in the organization, we are creating structure and alignment in our project teams that are optimal for success.