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MISFIRING TEAMS

- 16 Jun 2015
Posted by: Andrew Roberts

Irritations can turn into big cracks when the team is under pressure to deliver on a project. Mediators can make all the difference.

Technically trained people often focus on processes and outcomes without acknowledging the influence of human aspects – gender, race, experiences and personality.

Overlooking these human factors can lead to team misunderstandings, conflict, poor communication, low morale, high turnover and dysfunctional ways of working. They all undermine the successful delivery of a project.

Establishing shared values and behaviours among the team can make a big difference to effective communication and interaction.

Identifying and applying the lessons that need to be learned, using a “narrative therapy framework”, can achieve significant outcomes. In this approach, stories are used to outline the issue, to understand the meaning of what is being said and to construct a way forward.

 A mediation and conflict resolution approach is the most effective way to tackle this.

Mediator’s Role

A facilitator/mediator does not maintain a neutral position but expresses a clear commitment to a fair hearing for all, protects those without a clear power base and ensures equity in outcomes. In essence, the mediator promotes a sense of social justice within the team.

Mediation Process

Most work done as a team requires co-ordinated action amongst multiple individuals. To achieve it, they must access knowledge, develop a shared understanding of how best to apply it, and act in a co-ordinated manner that reflects newly attained knowledge and insights. That’s the theory; in practice, there’s often a lot more friction.

Mediation enables an alternative understanding of events and behaviours. The mediator can change team dynamics by facilitating new insights into one another’s beliefs, feelings and behaviours. A key outcome is to diminish the negative motivations that individuals attribute to each other’s actions. This is done by building trust in the people and the process, using language that externalises the issues and their effects, deconstructs the negative connotations, and develops strategies to show meaning and solutions to the problem.

Story telling, listening, psychological safety, reflection, co-operation and strategy development are key elements in the learning and resolution process.

Case Study

The managing contractor for the $1.5 billion construction phase of an Australian mine used mediation and conflict resolution extensively and that project was delivered ahead of time and 10 per cent below budget.

Conclusions

If project managers can understand what drives humans, they are well equipped to manage varied conduct and draw together teams of individuals to realise shared goals. Lessons learned should be carried forward in a process of continuous improvement process. These lessons are mostly behavioural and centre around respect, attitude and manner.

Technically focused professionals need to reject the imperial empiricism of design and processing and be helped to construct new meaning and new interpretations of who they are, who they have been and what they can become.

Mega projects are notorious for dysfunction and missing their targets. Keogh’s research paper delves into experiences in the Asia-Pacific region.

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