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Charter for a "No Assholes" Project Team

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Why is building a great team so hard? We know and value the need, and there are so many courses, tips and tricks, consultants, and so forth.
Teams form through the exercise of discipline and maturity, and by following a some basic principles. These principles overcome or remove the threats to team-building that prevent people from bonding and exploring team benefits as they would in an unmanaged state.
One of the main threats to team-building is the “Project Asshole”: an individual who breaks or undermines these principles by their attitudes, behaviour or emotions.
Here we outline nine Teaming Principles that can nudge a team towards excellence, and a Team Charter that helps set up agreement and understanding of those principles, especially designed to weed out those “Project Assholes” from your teams.

Published in: Leadership & Management

Charter for a "No Assholes" Project Team

  1. 1. Nine Principles for a “No Assholes” Project Team PLUS A TEAM CHARTER THAT LOCKS IN AGREEMENT, UNDERSTANDING AND CO-OPERATION adamonprojects.com – Nine Principles 23rd May, 2016
  2. 2. CREDITS Cartoons are © adamonprojects.com, drawn by Maignan “Kadran” Stéphane Thanks to Bob Sutton (@work_matters) for not objecting to me co-opting the “Asshole Rule” concept / theme.
  3. 3. ✴ Have you ever worked in a high-performance team? One that really “clicked”? A team that was harmonious, complementary, and truly greater than the sum of its parts? ✴ Have you ever worked in a real “self-organizing team”? A team that could quickly and respectfully work out solutions for itself? A self- organizing team that wasn’t managed to death? ✴ If you have, you never cease wanting to work in another one. If you haven’t, you’ve never really experienced positive work. Building a Great Team adamonprojects.com – Nine Principles 23rd May, 2016
  4. 4. ✴ Why is building a great team so hard? We know and value the need, and there are so many courses, tips and tricks, consultants, and so forth. ✴ Teams form through the exercise of discipline and maturity, and by following a some basic principles. These principles overcome or remove the threats to team-building that prevent people from bonding and exploring team benefits as they would in an unmanaged state. ✴ One of the main threats to team-building is the “Project Asshole”: an individual who breaks or undermines these principles by their attitudes, behaviour or emotions. ✴ Here we outline nine Teaming Principles that can nudge a team towards excellence, and a Team Charter that helps set up agreement and understanding of those principles, especially designed to weed out those “Project Assholes” from your teams. Building a Great Team adamonprojects.com – Nine Principles 23rd May, 2016
  5. 5. AND THEIR BEHAVIOURS The Project Asshole adamonprojects.com – Nine Principles 23rd May, 2016
  6. 6. A “Project Asshole” is someone on or around your Project team who exhibits behaviours that are acts, words, or attitudes that create tension or frustration. “Project Asshole” behaviours (examples of which are listed in the next slide), if left unchecked, relentlessly undermine the trust, common work ethic, and interpersonal bonding required to form a high-performance team. They generate negative emotions and friction. On the next 2 slides we summarise some examples of Project Asshole behaviours. Unfortunately it’s a long list. The Project Asshole adamonprojects.com – Nine Principles 23rd May, 2016
  7. 7. Project Asshole Behaviours (1) • Showing little respect for individuals or teams in the context of group discussions: interrupting speakers before they have finished, or responding to propositions with ridicule or sarcasm. • Agreeing to something at a meeting, and then doing whatever they originally planned, or something else entirely • Regularly intimating that they are not happy about the project or their role; treating the project team as merely a very short-term activity. • Always taking advantage of opportunities to be absent: sick on Fridays or Mondays, or taking a holiday “sandwich day”; “special assignments” from boss etc. Not advising of upcoming holidays. • Assigning an action to someone else just before a review meeting so they can say “I’m waiting on so-and-so”. Saying “I’m trying to contact so-and- so” when they’ve only sent 1 email, or stopped by the desk at lunchtime. • Insisting on a particular process, document, or technique regardless of whether it’s appropriate or actually adds value to the project. • Keeping religiously to a fixed work schedule even stopping mid-task to go home at the designated time, rather than complete the job at hand, especially when other team members are working long and irregular hours. adamonprojects.com – Nine Principles 23rd May, 2016
  8. 8. Project Asshole Behaviours (2) • Giving feedback on documents at signoff meetings instead of providing it in advance so that it can be incorporated into the final document, because “I’m so busy”. • Treating project or other meetings as the “quality time” for the project, by reading the material to be discussed or workshopped, or by catching up on reading or emails. • Not reading or responding to actions assigned in meetings until the next meeting. Claiming that they didn’t know they had been given a task. • Bringing past disputes with other teams into the current project, perhaps by making negative comments or proposing pathways that circumvent or undermine a particular system or team. • Not reviewing and approving key documents without numerous follow-ups. • Not executing actions or tasks unless repeatedly prompted to. • Artificially prioritizing the needs of existing systems or organizations over project needs. adamonprojects.com – Nine Principles 23rd May, 2016
  9. 9. IN VARIOUS FORMS The Principles and the Charter adamonprojects.com – Nine Principles 23rd May, 2016
  10. 10. Principles & Charter The Principle-based Charter The full charter is outlined as a set of 9 pairs of slides First, each of the nine principles is summarised on a slide, with a link back to the principle’s page on the adamonprojects.com website. Second, is a slide that provides the full charter clause relevant to that principle. All the clauses appended together make up the Charter. The Pocket Charter The Pocket Charter simply lists an abbreviated text of the charter clause that is related to the equivalent of the nine principles. There are also two bonus Charter clauses (#10 and #11) at the end, which can be optionally used in either version of the Charter. adamonprojects.com – Nine Principles 23rd May, 2016
  11. 11. The Principle-based Charter adamonprojects.com – Nine Principles 23rd May, 2016
  12. 12. The most fundamental element of putting together a great project team is the unambiguous and explicit commitment to the team. Individuals can be in a team without putting aside their individuality. Once bonded to a team, individuals prioritise the team over almost anything. #1: There’s No “I” in team adamonprojects.com – Nine Principles 23rd May, 2016
  13. 13. CLAUSE #1 I commit to this team: “I join this team willingly and freely. I may have been assigned to this team or volunteered, but I now independently and explicitly commit myself to the team. I am now part of the future success or failure of the project. I trust and expect that it is the same with all members of the team. I recognize that I can achieve my own personal goals, such as skills improvement, reward or recognition, only by ensuring the team’s success; I cannot ethically succeed if the team fails. Teams are strong because they are mutually supportive and complementary, and can achieve goals that cannot be achieved by one person alone. My skills, knowledge, experience, and judgment will be amplified by those of my teammates. My emotional and personal capabilities are just as important as my technical or domain expertise, and I can express my personal style within the framework of a mutually supportive group.” adamonprojects.com – Nine Principles 23rd May, 2016
  14. 14. The project must move forward at the required rate and delivers real value to its customers. The “required” rate is the rate at which you will beat all the existing milestones. It is as fast as the team can go without creating uncertainty and doubt, and then push just a little harder. Speed is more important at the start of the project than the end. This needs to be a clear expectation for every team member. #2: Deliver Value: Fast & Furious adamonprojects.com – Nine Principles 23rd May, 2016
  15. 15. CLAUSE #2 My contribution is value, speed, and passion: “My primary responsibility is to ensure that the project delivers real value to its customer and moves forward at real speed. This team uses speed to push alignment and efficiency; the team does not subscribe to reckless speed for its own sake. I acknowledge our team’s obligation to get our project done as quickly as practicable, and as inexpensively as we can manage, without inadvertent reduction in quality. I understand that the biggest contributor to net time to delivery is to develop a direct and deep understanding of this customer value. I will encourage a passion within the whole team to understand and empathize with that value in the way that our customer sees it. We cannot know too much about our customer and how our customer derives value from our project’s deliverables. I define the value of my work in terms of how the output from this work satisfies this customer’s needs.” adamonprojects.com – Nine Principles 23rd May, 2016
  16. 16. A common mental model for success will help form a team, guide its efforts, and even in the absence of a plan, keep it on track as problems and gaps emerge between the expected/committed and the delivered. Mental models are the “fuel” to the team’s “engine” that drives team identity, efficiency and harmony/ #3: Share the Dream adamonprojects.com – Nine Principles 23rd May, 2016
  17. 17. CLAUSE #3 I will embrace and nurture the dream.: “Our team must have a mutually compatible and shared idea of its end goal, which is our “shared vision of success” and a critical enabler of the team’s effectiveness. I understand that developing, validating, and maintaining a “shared vision of success” requires nontrivial effort, and I will help establish, protect, and nurture this shared vision so that it is actionable and tangible in the minds my teammates. I will help my teammates validate that their understanding and mine are the same, by looking for evidence each and every day that the shared vision is in use and that it drives all of our activities on the project. A valid and shared vision of success literally puts the team “on the same page,” and sets the team up for rapid progress toward this success.” adamonprojects.com – Nine Principles 23rd May, 2016
  18. 18. One powerful way to destroy or hinder a team is to add constraints that aren’t really part of the solution to the problem you are trying to solve. Acting on the basis of your job title, your department, or your profession over the team’s needs will threaten the team’s existence. Bringing in fixed ideas about who you represent, how you do things, or what you deliver causes friction and gaps in the team structure. #4: Do Your Job, But Don’t Get in the Way adamonprojects.com – Nine Principles 23rd May, 2016
  19. 19. CLAUSE #4 I am not a job title, a deliverable, or a process: “I will exercise my specialist skills and domain expertise as required to achieve the team’s goals, and not as an end in themselves. My title, profession, or departmental origins do not dictate how I contribute to the team. My organization or department may have specific deliverables or processes that it values or even mandates, but executing these deliverables and processes are not my primary purpose in the team. The team will mutually work out what role each person will focus on for the project (my “position”) in order to maximize the chances of success. I will contribute ideas and suggestions based on my experience, and that of my department or professional vocation, to define the role. But once the role is agreed upon, I will “play my position” within the team as required. At all times I will be ready and flexible to support the team in different roles as the need may arise.” adamonprojects.com – Nine Principles 23rd May, 2016
  20. 20. Projects move forward by the accumulation of outcomes: decisions, completed tasks, successful milestones, and so forth. Each outcome is achieved because someone accepted accountability for its completion. A team must enthusiastically embrace accountability, first at the individual level, then at the team level. Teams without a “cult of accountability” will never reach their potential. #5: Demand Accountability adamonprojects.com – Nine Principles 23rd May, 2016
  21. 21. CLAUSE #5 I embrace a cult of accountability: “Personal accountability for team outcomes, fulfilled fully and generously, is the foundation of team success. I accept and will fulfil my accountabilities in conjunction with my teammates. My accountability cannot be replaced or subverted by prescriptive methodology, process document, job description, isolated conversation, or any other mechanism other than an explicit agreement with my teammates. The team as a whole owns all the project outcomes and the means to achieve them, including administrative or office environmental tasks. I will proactively help to identify work or deliverables that have no owner so that the full scope of the project is fully accounted for in our plans. Not all situations can be determined in advance, so I will be flexible in terms of what work I do, and what accountabilities I might be asked to hand off or take on, to ensure the team’s success. I will help my teammates by helping to keep them accountable for their tasks, at all times in a respectful and supportive manner.” adamonprojects.com – Nine Principles 23rd May, 2016
  22. 22. Every team needs to leave a “footprints” that can be tracked backwards to decisions, data, actions or instructions. Anyone who doesn’t document their work in a project, or actively participates in helping create a persistent record of the project, is a Project Asshole. Yet the entire concept of project documentation seems to generate a lot of angst for many people. #6: Leave Footprints adamonprojects.com – Nine Principles 23rd May, 2016
  23. 23. CLAUSE #6 I will leave footprints: “I understand that the team has an obligation to create a persistent record of project outcomes and to communicate to key stakeholders; this is often called “documentation.” Such documentation includes project progress, status, and outlook reports, summaries of decisions, and deliverables-related information. After the project is over these records must enable future teams identify project successes and/or failures to help with future project planning. I will work with my teammates to identify and provide the optimal set of “documentation” to meet our team obligations, and I will not debate or avoid this necessity, only participate in discussion regarding what is optimal for this particular project. “Optimal” means that the effort expended in the project documentation will be reasonable with respect to the size, scope, and complexity of the project. Creating this persistent record is not the responsibility of a single role or individual (e.g., the project manager or project administrator), and I will participate in this task to ensure minimal impact on any one team member, done as completely, quickly, accurately, and efficiently as possible.” adamonprojects.com – Nine Principles 23rd May, 2016
  24. 24. Doing things the same way or allowing habits to constrain the team’s creativity or impact will lead to disaster, and allowing complacency or personal problems to evolve disrupts harmony and builds contempt and mistrust. Anytime someone says “the process won’t allow me to ...” you know you have a blockage that requires a rethink. But often the signals are more subtle. You must disrupt the team to improve the team, but don’t be rude or negative. #7: Disrupt Respectfully adamonprojects.com – Nine Principles 23rd May, 2016
  25. 25. CLAUSE #7 When beneficial, I will respectfully and appropriately disrupt: “From time to time, members of the team will not have the same opinion about a situation, direction, decision, or outcome. Often these differences are not raised within the team for fear of conflict and remain unresolved. I acknowledge that as a team member it is important that these differences be surfaced and resolved as rapidly as possible. This applies in particular to dissonance over the “shared vision of success.” I will voice and work to resolve these differences of opinion with my teammates in a constructive and respectful way that creates lasting harmony among the team. I will be vigilant and have particular sensitivity to call attention to harmful or unprofessional behavior or other major items of dissonance. But I also may need to disrupt emerging bad habits or trends in a creative and amusing way. Above all, I will ensure that no matter how well the team is performing, how many successes the team achieves, or how much praise the team is getting, we will never fall victim to ‘believing our own bull crap’.” adamonprojects.com – Nine Principles 23rd May, 2016
  26. 26. All organizations develop their own ways of doing business. Their internal systems, processes, rules, and management style can evolve organically or under the direction of company strategy. But every organization will eventually end up with a certain number of processes that don’t provide value. Recognise and undermine value-less process, lest it undermine the team. #8: Undermine Bureaucracy adamonprojects.com – Nine Principles 23rd May, 2016
  27. 27. CLAUSE #8 I will undermine bureaucracy when I can, and cooperate efficiently when I have to: “During the project I may be asked to perform processes that don’t make sense to me, are boring, or that slow down my work. These processes may originate from within the team, or be imposed by other parts of the organization or even externally. I may propose my own processes to the project based on habit, preference, or past professional training. I will look carefully at any process that is followed or proposed and objectively determine whether it adds value when measured against our team’s project goals. If the team has a choice, I will work with the team to ensure that processes that do not add value, even my own, are eliminated without ruthlessly and without emotion. If the team does not have a choice, then the process will be performed to the necessary minimum, without emotion, ridicule, or bitterness. I will make it my goal to ensure that such processes do not interfere with or distract my teammates from the execution of their required tasks.” adamonprojects.com – Nine Principles 23rd May, 2016
  28. 28. Teams that are open to being excellent will often surprise you with what they can achieve. Allow teams to become too comfortable and they will start an inward spiral to mediocrity, corner-cutting and, ultimately, failure. When was the last time you a project thrilled you? When was the last time the hairs on the back of your neck stood up because what you had produced was so cool and awesome? It’s a great feeling and generates much positivity, confidence and de-stresses everytong. #9: Practice Awesomization adamonprojects.com – Nine Principles 23rd May, 2016
  29. 29. CLAUSE #9 I will strive to be awesome: “I will strive to infuse a sense of “awesomeness” into every aspect of my team’s work, and I will support my teammates in being awesome. “Awesome” in this context is top-line quality and standards consistent with project goals and team behavior. It means preferably world or country-level “best in class.” It means the highest possible quality within project constraints. It means that if I’ve done this type of project or role before, then I want to do it much better this time, no matter how good I was the last time. I want this project to become a case study for other teams in the future. I want our team to be awesome. It is not my goal to do as little as possible, to just “get by” or do the minimum that is needed. I understand that “just showing up” to do my own job in a project context is not being a team member. I will challenge comfort and boundaries: if the customer doesn’t expect best-in-class quality, I will ask ‘how close can we come?’ If the customer wants this in five months with a budget of $100k, I will ask, ‘Why can’t we do it in three months and for $50k?’” adamonprojects.com – Nine Principles 23rd May, 2016
  30. 30. CHARTER POCKET VERSION adamonprojects.com – Nine Principles 23rd May, 2016
  31. 31. I commit to the team. “Whether I was assigned to this team or volunteered, I explicitly commit myself to the team. I recognize that I can achieve my own personal goals by ensuring the team’s success. I gain from the power of individuals working together and cannot succeed ethically if the team fails.” #1: There’s No “I” in team adamonprojects.com – Nine Principles 23rd May, 2016
  32. 32. My contribution is value, speed, and passion: “Our obligation is to complete our project as quickly and as inexpensively as practicable, without inadvertent reduction in expected customer value. The right speed is its own risk management function. I define the value of my work in terms of its outcomes satisfies this customer’s needs.” #2: Deliver Value: Fast & Furious adamonprojects.com – Nine Principles 23rd May, 2016
  33. 33. I will embrace and nurture the dream. “Our team must have a mutually compatible and shared idea of its end goal, which is our ‘shared vision of success’. I undertake the non-trivial effort to help establish, protect, and nurture this shared vision that is actionable and tangible, and to continuously validate their understanding with mine. I will help set the team up for success to put the team literally ‘on the same page’.” #3: Share the Dream adamonprojects.com – Nine Principles 23rd May, 2016
  34. 34. I am not a job title, a deliverable, or a process. “My title or departmentally mandated deliverables do not dictate how I contribute to the team. At all times I will be ready and flexible to support the team in different roles as the need may arise.” #4: Do Your Job, But Don’t Get in the Way adamonprojects.com – Nine Principles 23rd May, 2016
  35. 35. I embrace a cult of accountability. “I will fulfill my accountabilities in conjunction with my teammates. I will proactively help to identify deliverables that have no owner. I will be flexible in terms of what I might be asked to hand off or take on as situations change.” #5: Demand Accountability adamonprojects.com – Nine Principles 23rd May, 2016
  36. 36. I will leave footprints. “Our team must create a persistent record of project outcomes that includes project reports, decisions, and deliverables. I will perform this necessary work as accurately and efficiently as possible.” #6: Leave Footprints adamonprojects.com – Nine Principles 23rd May, 2016
  37. 37. When beneficial, I will respectfully and appropriately disrupt. “I will surface and help resolve disagreements within the team about a situation, direction, decision or outcome as rapidly as possible, and in a constructive and respectful way that creates lasting harmony. “ #7: Disrupt Respectfully adamonprojects.com – Nine Principles 23rd May, 2016
  38. 38. I will undermine bureaucracy when I can, and cooperate when I have to. “If a process does not add value, I will eliminate if I can and perform it without complaint if I can’t. I will work to ensure that such processes don’t interfere with the execution of my teammates’ tasks.” #8: Undermine Bureaucracy adamonprojects.com – Nine Principles 23rd May, 2016
  39. 39. I will strive to be awesome. “I will strive to infuse a sense of ‘awesomeness’ into every aspect of my team’s work and to help my teammates to be awesome, meaning achieving the highest possible quality within project constraints.” #9: Practice Awesomization adamonprojects.com – Nine Principles 23rd May, 2016
  40. 40. Bonus Slides adamonprojects.com – Nine Principles 23rd May, 2016
  41. 41. Bonus #1: Additional Principles #10: I will build and reinforce the team as personnel changes. “As a member of a team that is valuable I have a moral obligation to keep the team healthy and to maintain its value over time. When we make changes to the team’s membership, I will actively participate in discussing the role or “position” within the team, reviewing resumes, or and engaging in interviews and orientation.” #11: I will support every effort to improve the team’s environment. “I recognize that the team’s working environment has a significant impact on the awesomeness of team performance. I will surface environmental concerns in a solution-oriented way and will not ‘suffer in silence’.” adamonprojects.com – Nine Principles 23rd May, 2016

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