by Paula K. Martin and Karen Tate, PMP, Contributing Editors
MOST PEOPLE SAY that to be accountable you must have control—control over the decisions that are made and control over the people who will do the work. Control over decisions usually means making the decisions yourself, doing the planning, delegating tasks to team members, monitoring the project, and following up on assignments that are behind or over budget. These are all ways in which we maintain an illusion of control over decisions and people. It's called the directive approach to management. You decide—the others do as you say … or not, since you can't actually control another human being. He or she may or may not do as you say. He may not understand what you want done or may resent being told what to do. Or, she may be getting direction from her boss that conflicts with your direction. That's not uncommon, especially in dual reporting structures, which were originally devised to solve the problem of the project manager not having any authority.
How can you have more fun and get the job done while creating greater team accountability and fulfilling your project manager accountability?
Has it worked? Not very well, because it was an attempt to solve the wrong problem. The problem isn't lack of authority; it's lack of management alignment and the need we feel as managers to be in control, because that's the only way, we think, we can fulfill accountability. Now directive management isn't always bad, but it rarely generates enthusiasm or ownership or accountability. When project managers use directive management, they are not tapping into the collective wisdom and experience of the group, and they are not tapping into their desire to be of service.
Paula Martin and Karen Tate, co-founders of project management training and consulting firm MartinTate, specialize in team-based project management. They are also the authors of the Project Management Memory Jogger [available through the PMI Bookstore]. Paula can be reached at +888-806-3974 and Karen at +513-984-8150. Send comments on this column to [email protected].
Team members own what they participate in creating, and when they own something, they feel accountable for it. We know this already, right? So why don't we use it? Because it requires us to learn new skills, to change our roles, and to let go of the comfort of thinking we're in control. It's hard to switch roles—to move from making the decisions ourselves to leading the team through a decision-making process. It's hard to give up the illusion of control, but changing to a more participative approach creates more team accountability and more team accountability produces better project results. And who's accountable for the overall project? The project manager.
The next thing the project manager needs to do to generate more team accountability is to remove all conditions of his or her own accountability. He or she needs to accept accountability whether or not he or she has control or the authority. Why in the world would the project manager want to accept this kind of accountability? Because it liberates him or her to focus on what really matters—getting the job done through people, and as we said, people cannot be controlled. The project manager can focus on team empowerment that comes from providing the team with a project management process to follow, the resources needed to get the job done (which means negotiating with the sponsor for the necessary resources), removing obstacles, making sure the people they have are properly trained, providing support and coaching, and so forth. That's the path to a more active and involved team and more team accountability. It also takes the burden of the project's success off the shoulders of the project manager and allows the team members to share. That makes project management more fun and less stressful.
SO, IF YOU WANT to be more successful and have less stress in your life, think about sharing accountability with your team. Of course, that means you'll need to share decision-making as well, which is easier said than done, but whoever said being a project manager was easy? You don't get paid those big bucks for nothing!
PM Network December 1999