Today’s workforce environment is as exciting and stimulating as it has ever been. Gender equality (well almost) and increased levels of multiculturalism mean that the average project team’s social and gender mix is as diverse and colorful as it has ever been.
I was pondering this point after being approached by Dan. Soft spoken and gentle giant, Dan was one of the business analysts working in my project. Given the nature of the project I had a team of 10 business and process analysts assigned to me, all of whom reporting to Julia, the BA’s team lead.
“I have a problem I need to talk to you about”, Dan said.
“Sure, what’s the problem”.
“I can’t work with Julia. She is driving me and the team crazy. She is micromanaging me and continuously interferes with my work. She needs to let go, I can’t work like that”.
“Ok”, I said, “let’s see if we can get to the bottom of this. Can you give me an example of the last such behavior that made you decide to come and talk to me”?
“Easy”, Dan said, “we just completed our standard analysis review. During these reviews we collectively look at the various models that have been worked on in the last cycle and make sure they are all properly and correctly integrated. Each member of the team walks through their section of the model and the team provides feedback, asks questions and give comments and suggestions. What drove me crazy today is the fact that as I was going through my presentation, Angela kept on asking the team – somewhat aggressively if you ask me – to find issues with my work. Not sure what was her problem, if the others don’t have any comments to make why does she have to push them to find issues”?
“I think I understand your point”, I answered. “You feel that Angela is picking on you for no fault of your own and you are hurt that she does not trust the quality of your work”.
“Correct”, Dan said, “so are you going to ask her to calm down a bit”?
“Well, I am certainly going to have a chat with Angela. In my experience there are always two sides to each argument. Let’s see if we can settle this peacefully”.
The matrix nature of my organization meant that most of my resources were assigned to my project by functional managers from different disciplines. Angela, like the rest of the business and process analysts, was a member of the business analysis center of expertise. I didn’t know her very well, beyond the fact that her line manager thought highly of her and assured me “she was the right person for the job”. From a project perspective I was comfortable with her performance given that her team’s deliverables were produced in accordance with the plans in a quality and timely manner.
I caught up with Angela later that day and described to her what transpired during my meeting with Dan.
“Interesting”, Angela said, “I have a different recollection of how the review meeting went. Want to hear about it”?
“Of course”, I said, “I am keen to get to the bottom of this”.
“Well”, started Angela, “over the past few weeks I’ve started noticing that some of the team members are not actively participating in the discussion. Two are uncomfortable voicing their opinion in a group environment and three others are relatively new to this country and are not culturally inclined to display what they perceive to be confrontational behavior. This means that out of a group of 10, 50% of the team does not actively participate in the discussion, putting in doubt the our ability to ensure we are producing a quality output.”
Angela paused for a minute and they continued.
“After I realized what was going on I decided to take control of the meetings and prompt the team to provide their input. Sitting on the fence is no longer an option and everybody need to voice their opinion”.
“I wonder if there was another way to resolve this situation”, I said. “if I understand correctly, you want to increase participation to ensure the quality of your team’s work if properly reviewed. The issue you are having is that not all members of the team take part in this discussion. Some are disinclined to speak up due to their personality and some due to cultural factors”.
“Correct”, said Angela.
“Your challenge is to increase participation without alienating the team. I would recommend you have one-on-one discussions with your team and explain the importance of having frank, open, non-threatening and constructive quality reviews. In the meantime I will have a chat with the HR team to see what training opportunities are available that might be useful for some of your team. I can think of things like ‘public speaking’, ‘conflict resolution’. There might be other opportunities as well”.
“Sounds good”, said Angela. “I will get to it right away”.
“Sure, and let’s keep this discussion going. This is now a project issue and we need to ensure our mitigation strategy is working before we can close if off”.
*Disclaimer: This is a fictional story and is meant for educational purposes only. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.