Carl Pritchard: The Sensitivities Of Sensitivity
Two students were involved in a heated discussion about the idea that one student was being too sensitive. The other student replied by accusing him of “privilege.” This heated discussion did not end peacefully.
It made me think about my own sensitivities as well as the perceptions of others. To that end, I set out to discover how this affects our project environments.
Stanimir Sotorov, Visrez Operations Director, has more than seven years of experience in managing cross-functional team members. “The presence of so many people, from different cultures, countries, and religions can sometimes lead to conflict between the teams. This was an example of gender sensitivity.
He stated that the situation reached the point of creating serious organizational problems.
“One male team member refuses to work for a female supervisor. This was one side of a clear violation in company rules, but it could lead to conflict between male team members.
I couldn’t afford not to fire this employee as it would cause more dissatisfaction, and more complaints. I decided to have a face-to-face conversation with the employee to hear his points. After a brief conversation, I decided that he should be transferred to another team with a male supervisor and gave him a warning about violating an internal rule.
He said he also shared his concern with other members of the team to ensure that only one male employee was concerned.
Sotorov believes that it was a wise decision over the long-term. The project was successfully completed. The woman in charge received a bonus for her efforts as well as the top-performing team members. Four months later, the employee who was transferred to a different team left, causing additional problems that were not related to sensitivity, and despite our efforts to get him [aligned] with the company’s objectives.
Chad Bruttomesso, a senior account manager at EPAM, is Chad. He claims that he has encountered more conflict in his 25-year career (including 16 in Japan). “Historically-rooted cultural conflict can lead to bias and create opportunities for difficult situations. Bruttomesso states that when one culture has pre-conceived biases that are often generations old, it can be difficult to find common ground to work towards a common goal.
He continues, “The effect was that people were unable to listen to one another at times, were quick discrediting opinions, and even got into verbal fights.” It was sometimes difficult to agree on the direction and solutions needed to meet the project’s cost, schedule, and budget. These situations often resulted in budget and schedule impact. As arguments prevented agreement on risk management plans or scope/de-scoping exercises, these milestones would be missed.
He believes that planning is key to success in these situations. “I have learned over the years to plan ahead for team formation/storming, to acknowledge differences in the group before kick-off and to negotiate ways to manage conflict when it arises.
Jim Hannon, Agile Coach, says that while project managers seem to be more aware of the increased sensitivities of their projects, it is still important to remind them of our responsibility in managing them. I always encourage new PMs to get to know the cultures of their teams and make sure they can communicate on how they can work together.
“I have found that also if you spend some dedicated time before a planning session for a project and do what I call a get-to-know-each-others-culture [session], it pays large dividends. This is when the team doesn’t do any work, but simply gets to know each other via video or in person. It also helps to break down barriers.
“I had an issue wherein I tripped over a cultural issue that was thousands years old. I h