Monday, June 20, 2011

Is it 'us vs. them' or 'all together now'?

Great article by Paul Glen for Computerworld.

Over the years, I've noticed the power that a few simple words have to determine how project teams relate to their sponsors: "client," "customer," "we," "us," "them" and "partner." It's odd how little attention is paid to these words, given the critical role that the relationships they describe play in the success or failure of projects.

As a consultant helping to launch new projects or turn around troubled ones, I listen carefully for these words, because they tell me all I need to know about the relationship between project team and sponsor. When I hear "client," "customer," "us" or "them," I know that the team is working in a transaction mode. "Partner" and "we" indicate that they are in a relationship.

Relationship mode has only team members, not opponents. The team members represent different functional areas, but they are ultimately part of a collective. They jointly define common goals and expected standards of behavior. Together, the team members work to balance the common goals they commit to and the goals of each functional area that the members represent. The balancing act is more collaborative. Information is handled more transparently, and problem-solving is a joint effort. Together, the team places a higher priority on maintaining the long-term relationship, since they expect to continue working together after the completion of the project.

While each mode has advantages and disadvantages, relationship mode tends to yield better results and lead to a better work environment for everyone involved. Teams in relationship mode find motivation in their commitment to one another. When the dynamic is transactional, the participants find motivation outside the team. Teams committed to their buddies are more steadfast than ones devoted to a concept or a distant client.

So before you automatically start calling your sponsor your "client," give the relationship some serious thought. One little word at the beginning of the project can make a huge difference.

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