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Root cause of conflict is often ambiguity

We may blame others when the problem isn’t people at all. It’s the vagueness, the uncertainty, the ambiguity in projects. In the haste to do a project, we jump to suggesting end products without a clear understanding of what we’re trying to accomplish—the goals. We don’t establish who is responsible for what—the roles.

Build and communicate clear goals and roles

80% of your time determining the goals and roles and
20% of your time on procedures.
The process should be really easy to map if you have clear goals and roles.

Everyone working on a project needs to understand why these are the goals. I think sometimes the project leader understands the goals and their basis but he or she doesn’t communicate them clearly and maybe not at all. Often times we who work on the project don't ask the right questions to get to the goals and their basis.

The role part is treacherous. I’ve seen project outlines that list just about everyone in the office. If my role is not clear, if I can’t define my role, I have no desire to work on that project because I foresee dissention and confusion. Either I’ll be blamed for taking on too much or I’ll be blamed for not doing enough.

Ask questions, lots of questions
Seek first to understand before you seek to be understood. Act as a facilitator to clarify and understand the roles and goals. In addition to the goals of the project, we need to understand the real goals of others working on the project. Good responses and questions are ‘Oh, aha, I see’ to keep someone talking. ‘What are your goals in this project? What should we do differently? How’s it going? What do we need to do to fix that?’

In ‘Simplicity: The New Competitive Advantage in a World of More, Better, Faster’ author Bill Jensen charts the reasons for complexity uncovered by the study, Search for a Simpler Way. The question is What makes work so complex? Sixteen of Fortune’s 25 Most Admired Companies were polled; they did not have ‘unclear goals and objectives’ in their top 10 reasons for work being complex. 32 companies surveyed out of Business Week’s Top 75 S&P Performers had ‘unclear goals and objectives’ as number 8 on their list. The total universe for the study had ‘unclear goals and objectives’ as the number 2 reason for complex work.

Keep the goals and the roles at the forefront

I find even with established goals and roles, when projects stretch out over time, in between other projects…we forget what the goals and roles are. We’re distracted and venture out on some branch that isn’t relevant. It wastes time. Frustration sets in. Not to say we shouldn’t rethink goals and roles at times, but the changes should be conscious decisions. Keep the goals and roles at the front of that folder, put them at the top of documents, include them in e-mails to others about the project.

It comes down to this

Determine the goals and roles.
Do a stellar (outstanding) job of communicating them.

“Work complexity is the result of our worst intellectual habits. We’re not structuring goals, communication, information, and knowledge so that a diverse workforce can use them to make decisions.” --Bill Jensen, author of ‘Simplicity: the New Competitive Advantage in a World of More, Better, Faster’

This post is based on notes from a presentation at the March 30, 2004 Professional Development Day, the notes I wished for (and now belatedly found) when I wrote Roles and Responsibilities, http://www.extension.iastate.edu/mt/civility/2007/02/roles_and_responsibilities_1.html