8 Warning Signs That Your Project is Doomed

“Where are we?” is a good question, and one you and your team are probably familiar with. It’s also a question that needs to be asked at the start of any project.

Imagine that you and seven members of your team are preparing to race on a dirt track. Your team’s goal is to run to the nearest town. You have all agreed that you want to break the record set last year by another team. Clear goals, total agreement. But you’re not going to make that goal. The problem is that Team Member 7 is starting on the part of the track that has three inches of mud and her shoes are already caked. Team Member 4 knows that there are snakes on either side of the track, and he is deathly afraid of them. Team Member 6 is just getting over bronchitis and has trouble catching his breath. Team Member 3 is highly allergic to a number of different plants that are on either side of the track, and she didn’t take her allergy medication.

Each team members’ perspective of the current situation is different, and without discussing and understanding these perspectives and dealing with the current barriers to performance, this team will not reach their goals.

Often, when companies talk about alignment, they mean ensuring that everyone is aligned toward the same goal. However an often neglected – but critical – part of alignment is understanding everyone’s perspective of the current situation. A comment we often hear from groups is, “We all know where we are.” This rarely turns out to be true, unless active discussions have taken place that engage each member to talk about their perspective.”Where are we now?” is an important question to ask each member of a team to ensure you are all starting in the same place. If a team is not in agreement about the current situation, you may find that your carefully aligned goals fall apart very quickly.

Here are eight warning signs for a team that is not aligned about their current situation and will fail to meet their goals:

  1. Team project meetings last too long with no clear outputs
  2. There is increasing conflict within the team and many disagreements about how to proceed
  3. Team members are frustrated with the performance of their team
  4. There are too many conflicting priorities within the team
  5. Team members begin to emotionally check out of the project
  6. The organization spends time, money and resources to implement goals, but the team cannot achieve the correct outcomes
  7. Team decisions are made that don’t support the goals of the business
  8. Deadlines and client commitments are missed because the “ball got dropped.”

Let me describe a real life example of how critical it is to make sure your team is aligned about their current situation. A few years ago, we did some work for a high-profile executive team in large hi-tech company. The team’s goal was to come up with new ideas for products over the next 12 months. They were all on board with this goal, but by the end of six months they had not come up with a single idea that they could agree on. The problem, we found, was that no one in the team was in agreement about their current situation, so they were all starting from different places. Some saw numerous obstacles they needed to address before they could move forward with their goal. Others saw issues within the team itself that blocked them from achieving their goal. Others saw no problems at all, and were therefore becoming frustrated by the lack of movement. Once we were able to show each member of the team that they had differing views and they discussed their perception of the current situation, they were able to agree on the current situation, understand the various issues and how to address them, and move forward. Within three months they had six new ideas ready for implementation.

In order to asses the current situation accurately, you need to engage all team members. I know this sounds obvious, but how often does it actually happen? A discussion or survey should be conducted to evaluate how each member views the pressures, problems, and constraints that are present internally – within the team – and externally that are related to their project. The members should then discuss their different viewpoints and the facts that support each view (read more on the importance of facts in an earlier post, “I Think . . .”). Team members often find that when they hear the reasoning behind another member’s view, their own viewpoint begins to change. This moves the team closer to alignment. Once the team is aligned about the current situation, there is buy in and agreement on what to do to move forward in a concerted way to achieve the goals.

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