Aligning and Adapting to Partner Perspectives


Quick Summary
This guideline helps project managers and program managers on complex projects facilitate productive discussions about the assumptions and perceptions different organizations have about each other. Identifying similarities and common ground, as well as differences that could cause confusion or misunderstandings, helps the teams build trust and move forward successfully.


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What this is

This guideline helps project managers and program managers on complex projects facilitate productive discussions about the assumptions and perceptions different organizations have about each other. The goal of these discussions is to better understand these perceptions and how they affect the organizations' work, and to correct any misperceptions. The guideline explains when to use the process, what to discuss, and ways to keep the conversation positive and constructive.


Why it's useful

We'd like to assume everyone comes to our projects with a "clean slate," but in reality we all bring our perceptions and assumptions along with us. This is especially true in programs involving multiple partner companies, complex vendor/supplier arrangements, or mergers and acquisitions. But these issues can also affect internal departments and functional groups struggling with the challenges of matrix organizations and cross-functional teams.

Naturally, some of the preconceived ideas we bring to our projects are based on incomplete or inaccurate information. Others may be based on past experiences that didn't involve the people currently at the organization. Our initial perceptions -- accurate or not, justified or not -- can dramatically impact attitudes, behaviors, and eventually the various groups' success in the project environment.

Although it's a challenging discussion, helping multi-organization teams identify, discuss, and deal with these differing perspectives will build trust between team members. Clearing the air and correcting false assumptions supports collaborative decision making and allows teams to work together successfully.


How to use it

These meetings are best held early in the project -- perhaps as part of a series of kick-off meetings. But they should also be considered any time a drastic change in the project environment may affect team success: when one or more groups are joining the project, when scope changes prompt a significant shift in responsibilities, when ongoing disagreements indicate that the team may be dealing with underlying issues. Discussions can also be important when news circulates that could negatively impact the project team's work: legal or ethical scandals, product recalls, mergers, acquisitions, competition on unrelated projects, and so on.

  1. Start by talking to the project leads from the different organizations. Before having a big group meeting, especially if it might be contentious, get their perspectives on how team members might react, and possible issues that could be challenging to discuss.
  2. Use an outside facilitator, if necessary. If there's a possibility that the conversation could be heated or the atmosphere charged, a skilled facilitator from outside the project team is absolutely necessary to success. An objective viewpoint and impartial observer can keep discussions from getting out of hand, as well as helping the team find common ground and similarities in their perspectives.
  3. Publicize the discussion as part of your meeting agenda. Include a brief explanation of why the discussion is part of the agenda, its importance, and the expected results. Most people appreciate having some time in advance to think over a topic like this before discussing it in a group format.
  4. Hold the meeting, using the guidelines in this document. Keep the group focused on positive, constructive conversation and bridge-building. Avoid blame-shifting, finger-pointing, and similar negativity.
  5. When new team members join later in the project, share the meeting summary with them. This helps people understand the project environment, and reminds them to "leave any baggage at the door."
About the Author

Jeff Richardson has over 16 years of experience working with cross-cultural project teams and leaders at Global 1000 companies, high-tech startups, and universities in the US and Japan. Jeff wrote the book on project team startup at a Fortune 50 company while facilitating 34 internal startup programs and supporting M&A process integration efforts. He relocated to Silicon Valley to start his own consulting company specializing in leading cross-cultural project teams.

Jeff's engineering and OD background and his skill at designing high-impact teambuilding activities allows him to create engaging and relevant workshops and webinars. He has worked in the US and across Asia with globally diverse companies like GE, Cisco, Hitachi, Toshiba, and many others. Jeff was one of the lead designers for Stanford's Advanced Project Management Program, in addition to designing and teaching project leadership programs at San Jose State and UC Santa Cruz – Extension. More recently, Jeff has been designing and facilitating Global Leadership and Team Effectiveness workshops at some of the most prestigious universities in Japan. Jeff has a BS in Mechanical Engineering and a MS in OD & Change Management, in addition to a CQ Certification from the Center for Cultural Intelligence.


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