In my new book, Lessons Learned:  Taking Project Management to a New Level in a Continuous Process Improvement Framework, I talk at great length about the role that organizational dynamics plays in driving the behaviors and ultimately the performance of groups like PMOs or Project Offices.ford-mondeo-05

Some people have asked me to elaborate more on this subject, so I want to provide a real life example that vividly shows the relationship between mental models in groups/individual behavior.

When I worked for Ford Motor Company many years ago, I was a Product Planner in a non-automotive Product Planning group.  The automotive Product Planning Group was a group within Ford that drove product strategy and ultimately new product offerings for the Company.  Everyone considered automotive Product Planning to be the pinnacle of personal achievement and success within Ford.  So, naturally, many people sought positions in automotive Product Planning because of the “stature” of the Group.

One of my colleagues in the non-automotive Product Planning group decided he wanted to reach for that pinnacle himself.  So, about six months after joining our Product Planning group, he was able to transition to the automotive Product Planning group.  Everything seemed rosy for awhile.  But then he noticed that the automotive Product Planning Group had an unwritten rule that no one left the building until early morning….meaning that most of the group worked almost around the clock each day.

My friend began to think about how he could make a change in his own behavior.  So he began to go into work earlier in the morning, thinking that arriving early meant that he could complete his days work and leave for home before midnight each day.

Unfortunately, he found that the peer pressure and mental model that existed for the group members to be at work together, working diligently, until way past midnight every night, was too ingrained to make a dent in.

What was happening here?  Organizational dynamics teaches us that Vision, Mental Models, Systems Archetypes, Patterns of Behavior, and ultimately Events are the sequence of leveraging actions for scenarios like this one.

Events in this case were the daily schedules of the individual group members.

Patterns of behavior were what the group exhibited by being at work almost 24 hours every day.

The Systems Archetype from this example can best be summarized by the title:  “I Can’t Leave Work Until….”

But the Mental Model and the Vision were really at play here.

Everyone in the Company had a Vision that the automotive Product Planning Group was the “be all and end all” of elite Groups.  To be part of this group meant an identity within the Company that was unsurpassed by even the President and CEO of Ford.  The Mental Model that developed from this Vision was one of personal diligence to uphold an image that “no one ever goes home.”

How powerful can Mental Models be in an organization?  Powerful enough to turn the most loyal employee into a slave of the “structure” that induced the behavior.  It is the same “structure” that the organization puts in place to drive results and outcomes and performance.  But it also drives behaviors that are sometimes detrimental to overall performance.

In you Project organization, are there mental models that need to be challenged and put to rest?  Think about it!!!!

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