Change the Chemistry

Most organisational change comes from the top. A senior executive notices a gap or opportunity. She decides to initiate a project and form a team, because the change will require effort that is beyond the norm. If she is wise, she creates a group drawn from different departments because of the diverse skills or perspectives she hopes they will bring. If she is well-organised, she writes a project brief that ‘starts with the end in mind’. This helps her team to visualise the desired result, even if they don’t yet know how to get there. Finally, she sets a framework of deadlines and milestones so she can track progress. Then she moves on to another aspect of her busy working life.

And it’s at this point that inertia begins to set in. When the door closes, and the project team finds itself on its own with a big task to tackle.  This has a significant impact globally, with as few as 2.5% of companies claiming to be able to complete projects to 100% satisfaction.

One reason for this is that while people may bring new skills and perspectives to a project team, they also bring established ways of working. To overcome this, I always coach that there are two kinds of innovation required in any change project. The first is the project itself and its deliverables. The second is using the project to change the way we work. And that is the first question any team should ask itself when the door closes and the project management clock starts ticking.

Projects offer colleagues the chance to throw off behaviours that create boredom and inertia. If meeting every Thursday doesn’t work for you, change it. If your Gantt chart becomes an end, rather than a means to an end, abandon it.

Project collaboration should feel exciting and fun. Something that causes a chemical reaction in the participants. So here are three brain chemicals you should know about.

Dopamine creates that small happy feeling you get when someone tells you you made a good point.  It doesn’t last long, but if the team is getting lots of little Dopamine hits, it makes work go smoothly. Oxytocin is called the hugging drug, released when you embrace a colleague. Not popular in pandemic times, but we’ll need to find an alternative.

And feeling a sense of accomplishment means we’re experiencing the effects of Serotonin. It motivates leaders to excel and encourages followers to contribute fully.

I’m sure you can see the link. Reward and recognition, in small but regular doses, can create the right chemistry for project success.