Arabian nights, a desert experience

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Posted by APM on 18th Sep 2013

This well attended event was kindly hosted by corporate member Airbus, at their facilities in Filton, Bristol. We were very pleased to welcome back Nick Fewings, Director of Colour Works, to talk about his experience of helping a multinational team in Saudi Arabia improve their performance.

Nick introduced the presentation with data from the NAO and OCG which shows that 70% of business change projects fail to achieve the desired goals. Two big factors are a lack of strong leadership - which is about knowing yourself, warts and all, and a lack of team skills and a proven approach to change – which is about knowing your team and having a plan.

Nick explained the background to the case study, which was a dysfunctional ‘team’ of 30, from the UK, France and Germany who were working on a project for the Saudi Government. None of the nationalities trusted each other, there was no clear leadership, poor understanding of common goals and vision, silo mentality and poor communication in the team and with the client, and poor morale with poor work life balance. He had been given the task to turn the team round in two days, whilst based in a bedouin tent in the Saudi desert in July with temperatures of 40 degrees, broken air conditioning, armed guards and sand vipers and scorpions! Nick very neatly described the interesting conditions and experiences that they all endured throughout the 2 days, the cultural challenges with the Saudi’s and the basic living conditions.

Day 1 was internally focussed on the individuals and the team, to help them all understand themselves and each other and may be why they had not been communicating effectively. Nick uses a series of questions based on Carl Jung’s 3 pairs of human preferences: introversion vs extraversion: how we react to inner and outer experiences, thinking vs feeling: how we make decisions, and sensing vs. intuition: how we take in and process information. Humans are all different, and each of us will have different preferences from each other. This is important to understand as out preferences will influence how we deal with others. We all recognise that some people we find difficult to deal with. Understanding our preferences can help us understand why, and how we may try to improve relationships with others.

Nick’s approach allows our personal preferences to be described in terms of colours: red, yellow, green and blue. Each has strengths and weaknesses. Reds are about ‘listen to me’, pointing hands. Yellows are gregarious, enjoy networking, and want to be involved. Greens are about show me you care, people centric, focussed on customer needs. Blues are about give me the detail, efficiency, effectiveness.

To be effective, any team needs a good mix of personality types which complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. But opposites can irritate each other: reds and greens, and blues and yellows, can find it hard to get along, especially on a bad day, when stress can bring out the worst traits.

The audience had a bit of fun considering what their own type was and sharing it. As would be expected, there was a good cross section across the audience. The Saudi team were each given their own profile and this was discussed with them individually and also shared. It was obvious from the results that the team had too many Reds: too many chiefs who wanted to get things done, but who were not focussed on the customer. There were too few greens on the team, and this was holding them back, as they were not customer focussed. The team found that understanding themselves and each other really helped to break down the barriers between individuals.

Day 2 was externally focussed, looking at how to improve customer relationships. One of the issues for change programmes is that people usually welcome change, but only when they want to do it, not when it is done to them.

Nick explained that to lead successful change you need 5 key elements: vision, skills, incentives, feedback, and an action plan. If any are missing or inadequate, this will increase resistance to change. It is essential to: clarify the change, communicate, involve staff, manage resistance, and track progress. Communication plans need to account for the needs of different personality types. Reds want goal focussed, what, when, how. Yellows want face to face presentations, to have it made visible, what does it mean for people. Greens want to know what is expected of you, and like small focus groups. Blues want detail, in writing and measures or success.

Nick explained that the team had regular audits to check progress, and that they had made significant and sustained improvement. The relationship with the Saudi customers was much improved. The cultural barriers between the nationalities had been broken down. A string leader had been identified and agreed. The silo mentality had been removed and communications much improved. The team had established an agreed vision and goals. Social events and weekend activities had helped improve work life balance and morale and self esteem.

A really lively Q&A session followed the event, which helped explore the issues in more depth. At the end of the event, the Chairman was invited to make a draw for a prize of a free personal assessment by Colour Works. The successful winner was Colin Pascoe.

In conclusion, successful project management is about getting things done with people. Effective communication is essential, which needs people to have a good understanding of themselves and others, not only in the team, but also customers and stakeholders. Techniques such as described at this event can help with that understanding and really improve project performance.

Martin Gosden

Branch Chairman

 

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