Project Management

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about hints of  turf wars: It seems management staff have dug in there heels while workers are just complacent.

I am starting a new position as project manager in a non-profit organization. The organization is growing and trying to expand. A primary focus of my hiring is to push projects through. The challenge, as I understand it, will be interdepartmental push back. It sounds as though there are some turf wars going on here. It seems management staff have dug in there heels while workers are just complacent. Any suggestions on how to bring down these walls permanently?

Signed, New Hire

Dear New Hire:

You are not a tank charged with tearing down walls. Rather you have hired into an organization, and an organization is not a noun. Rather organization is a verb. It is a complex verb, and its ongoing process is as fluid as is communicating. Again you see I use an active progressive verb communicating when I describe organizing as a process.

If you heard, via rumors you have picked up, that there is resistance and complacency, as a new hire you will meet even more of that if you are seen as a pusher. In short you have been told that you’ve hired into a walled structure or maze, one that seems fixed. Now what has this concept to do with you and your assumption that somehow or someone must “bring down these walls permanently”? Might it be wiser to think of this non-profit as floating islands that need bridge building–islands to which you can boat until bridges are built?

And might your first task be to clarify what it is you are hired to do and then to find out who must be consulted, approve, and sign off on projects you are assigned and/or propose? You need to find and/or create over arching goals. What can this non-profit accomplish only if and when it several parts work cooperatively? And what is the pay off in these islands finding ways to cooperate?

Let’s suppose your workplace would be shut down or that many people would lose their jobs if it didn’t prove successful? Wouldn’t that be a motivator for finding super-ordinate goals? Transforming apathy and resistance usually is facilitated when people can’t accomplish a goal that has payoff only if and by cooperation. Teamwork and workplace-wide effort happens when we realize that working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. Will you keep us posted on what you do and if it works or tells you to try again?

************************* A response from Tina Lewis Rowe I am aware that a project manager’s job is difficult! It’s like being an air traffic controller but the pilots turn you off, then you get fired when they crash!I suggest you first ensure you have the full support of your own manager. If he or she has a positive upbeat style, it might be good to have her meet with department heads as well as supervisors or others (preferably everyone!)with you present. She could then clarify your role and let others know that you will be responsible for ensuring that each phase of every project is completed on time, without exception.

Of course, that should done in the context of working together, not laying down the law! I just mean, that everyone should know you and your role.If you don’t think your manager would handle that optimally–or if you want to do it yourself, you could do a self-introduction with everyone and let them know that your focus is on working with them to complete the work.You shouldn’t have to do what the managers aren’t willing or able to do, when it comes to barriers between units…however, you may be able to facilitate better communication through your efforts. One way to approach it is to simply not accept that the groups don’t work well together! Don’t refer to it, don’t acknowledge it, don’t over-emphasize it, just work as though you are all being paid to do a job for the organization and you will get it done. (A novel idea!).

That may sound a bit callous, but I have found that sometimes moving forward breaks down the barriers better than standing still and lamenting them together! Since you are new, make this a great chance to start fresh and be a leader across the table of organization. That is what is so unique about the project manager’s job. Businesses are more and more about “managing by projects” so you can be an integral part of the hierarchy no matter what your formal level.

Most successful project managers find the best communication style to be friendly, supportive and adamant. Otherwise, there are always “reasons” why things can’t be done on time. But timelines are crucial when there are multiple contributors to projects. I would imagine most of the current problems do not involve individual projects so much as they involve internal conflicts between programs and processes, all the time. Consider bringing unit heads together and building a bond, so they are more likely to develop the bridges Dr. Gorden talked about.

That will happen more quickly than trying to bring the average employee into a sense of partnership with other groups.Finally, use this as a chance to develop yourself personally and professionally. There are several national associations for project managers and some of them have subgroups for non-profit organizations. Establish your credibility through outreach and continual training for yourself. Then, use Dr. Gorden’s advice about fitting in as a new employee. Keep in mind as well that you were hired to get a job done not neccessarily to change the culture of the group. Work closely with your own manager-who should know the problems, people and groups better than you will. Stay on target with what your manager wants as a work product from you, doing it in a way that is more likely to build better relationships than it is to build more walls. Best wishes with your new work! Let us know what happens.–Tina

William Gorden