In our last blog, Janet and I discussed Tip #1 for working with Dynamic Change projects. We suggested that you first “assess the situation” by meeting with business sponsors, project teams, and stakeholders to understand and align the characteristics and approach for working on your project/program.

Once you do this, it’s time for Tip #2 – Create a Culture. Develop and maintain an effective cross-functional team that embraces a learn-and-adapt mindset to help each other maneuver through dynamic change.

Why is culture so important to maneuvering through change?

Knowing how the team works is as important as what the team is trying to accomplish. In a Dynamic Change project, unknowns (about the solution), shifting priorities, and scope fluctuations require continual changes to project plans. Not knowing how the team will handle these changes keeps the team in constant churnand causes it to work ineffectively.

To avoid this, effective teams develop a team culture based on common understanding and mutual trust about what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and how they’re going to adapt to changes as a team, while delivering value to the business. When team members talk to each other and act according to this common understanding, mutual trust develops.

When team members talk to each other and act according to their common understanding, mutual trust develops.

Unknowns and ambiguities are the norms in Dynamic Change projects, and teams must deliberately figure out how to handle these norms.

Unknowns and ambiguities are the norms in Dynamic Change projects, and teams must deliberately figure out how to handle these norms. One way is to build a learn-and-adapt culture. Below are three suggestions Janet and I have found to be successful.

1

Create the concept of “cross-functional” in your team!

It all starts with this. To work effectively (learn and adapt), team members do their own work, but not in isolation. Team members also actively engage in the work of the team, as do sponsors and stakeholders. Active engagement from all parties maintains the common understanding needed to progress through the “messiness” of a Dynamic Change process.

2

Kick it off right!

The old expression, “Go slow to go fast,” applies here. Take the time now to learn how to work together so the team is positioned to pick up momentum later. One way to do this is to have a kickoff to establish a team playbook. The playbook documents team roles/responsibilities, shared business outcomes, and agreed upon ways of working. (How often do we meet? How do we resolve conflicts? How do we communicate with each other?) Don’t just make the playbook and put it on the shelf. Keep it open, use and revise it; live the culture every day by working effectively through a learn-and-adapt mindset to reinforce mutual trust.

3

Make the risks and uncertainties your friend!

Risks and uncertainties don’t have to lead to chaos.

  • Have candid discussions with sponsors, the project manager and team members on how the team wants to manage risks. (Decisions go in the playbook as team operating processes.)

  • Establish structure to support the culture and keep the project on course. Organize team meetings to accomplish specific things: for example, hold stand-ups (quick meetings that cover task-level activity) and have process checks (Are the processes working, not working? How can we x them?)

Both of these help identify problems as they arise and include all team members as part of the solution.

Rick’s Story:

After years in this business, my fondest memories are when I was part of teams that operated with trust. I once worked on a multi-year program to update the core systems of a global, Fortune 200 company. The risks were high, and the potential impacts of failure were significant as the effort involved many interdependent components, people, and organizations. Since the business environment, technologies and people all changed throughout the three-year journey, I now realize this perfectly fits our definition of a Dynamic Change project.

 

We had strong leaders and sponsors who did it right:

  • They dedicated time to develop the team and build team processes.

  • They emphasized building trust.

  • Throughout the project, they held work sessions to review and continuously improve team interactions.

  • They monitored the team’s effectiveness (including sub-teams), often on a monthly basis.

In addition, because people entered the program at different times over the years, the team developed an on-boarding process to immerse new members in the team culture and to clearly explain team goals, roles, and responsibilities. New team members appreciated being included and quickly brought up to speed, and existing members appreciated the lift in productivity the new members brought.

So how did this culture-building work make a difference?

As the project approached a highly anticipated go-live event, a critical technical challenge was identified. This is the type of problem that quite often results in last minute project delays and often triggers the blame-game. In this case, the team pulled together, assessed the situation, considered alternatives, and found a new path forward, ultimately completing the project with time to spare. Talk about learn-and-adapt!

 

What I will always remember is how the team had the emotional energy at the end of the project to solve a complex, last-minute problem without resorting to finger-pointing, blaming, or second-guessing – just trust and immediate solutions.

 

This experience deepened my understanding and belief in the power of trust to overcome complexity and create an outcome and experience everyone has been proud to look back on. It started with commitment from our leaders to dedicate specific time – separate from the time to deliver results – to develop a team culture of common understanding and mutual trust.

In our next blog, we will discuss the concept of how you create a plan when there are shifting priorities and uncertainties throughout the project. In other words, how do you plan for “no plan”.

Contact us and we can help you develop teams that can maneuver successfully through the many moving parts of Dynamic Change projects.

In 1965, Bruce Tuckman introduced the theory that teams go through four phases of group development: forming, storming, norming, and performing. Tip #2 deals with ways to avoid the pitfalls of storming.