The passion dilemma

Nature's Passion (c)Patricia Lane 2016Passion drives engagement.

Passion makes me get up in the morning and not feel work as “work”. It transforms me from an introvert, who’ll likely spend most of the time at a party hugging the drapes, to an extrovert whose curiosity and creative juices start to flow, already in project mode, when exchanging with a client or prospect.

Passion is the key ingredient in creativity and vision.

Usually, passion is an asset

In The Future of Management, author Gary Hamel measured the relative contribution of various human capabilities to value creation. The top 3 were passion (35%), creativity (25%) and initiative (20%).

If a project resonates with me, the passion gene kicks in. I find it easy to respond to questions about what I can do for a client and the expected results in a compelling and relevant way. Energy and creativity are contagious; discussions about project X quickly “go deep” and when prospect and consultant start getting into the meat of the subject, most often the contract is as good as signed.

Sometimes, passion can be a tripwire

I learned recently passion sometimes can be a tripwire depending on the stage of the project and the phase in which the team one might be joining is. It takes time for a group to become a team.

American psychologist Bruce Tuckman is best known for his 1965 publication on four stages of  small group development, to which he added a fifth stage in 1977:

  • Forming – interpersonal and task behaviors, development of dependency relationships
  • Storming – polarization, conflicts and adjustments (aka getting the kinks out)
  • Norming – in-group feeling and team cohesiveness
  • Performing – “the interpersonal structure becomes the tool of task activities.” (Mark Smith, 2005)
  • Adjourning – project completion, termination of roles, team dissolution
(Source: Donelson R. Forsyth, The Psychology of Groups on www.nobaproject.com)

 

When teams reach stage 3 or 4, changing circumstances, such as a new player, may make them “revert to storming as the new people challenge the existing norms and dynamics of the team.”

The closer a team gets to the fifth phase, project completion and adjourning, the greater the concern about preserving group cohesion to complete the project.

Cohesion — a hallmark of high performance teams

Yet as Edgar Pierce Professor of Social and Organizational Psychology at Harvard University J. Richard Hackman points out, sometimes teams can benefit from new participants to remain fresh and creative, but that needs to happen slowly so they have the chance to settle in lest newness be a liability.

Every team needs a deviant…. Deviants are the ones who stand back and say, “Well, wait a minute, why are we even doing this at all? What if we looked at the thing backwards or turned it inside out?” … The deviant opens up more ideas, and that gets you a lot more originality. In our research, we’ve looked carefully at both teams that produced something original and those that were merely average, where nothing really sparkled. It turned out that the teams with deviants outperformed teams without them. In many cases, deviant thinking is a source of great innovation….[M]any team leaders crack down on deviants and try to get them to stop asking difficult questions, maybe even knock them off the team.

Where I erred, lessons learned

In my first conversations with this prospective client, I assumed the project was in its infancy. My wish to provide the client with the best I could offer led to a detailed discussion about the project, its SWAT and paths to a winning result.

I had failed to ask two essential questions:

1) When did this project kick-off?
2) How long has this team been working together?

Two-thirds of the way through a working session with the full team, I discovered the answers to the two questions above. And sensed, despite the quality of the exchanges and the creative energy in the room, that I’d probably blown it. Preserving team cohesion and the familiarity inherent to a nearly year-long collaboration would weigh more than the benefits a new person could bring so late in the game.

And that’s exactly what the email received later said.

Had I asked those 2 questions at the start, would the outcome have been different? Perhaps. I might have asked fewer questions, been more reserved in responding to others, and refrained (uh… with difficulty!) from offering insights and suggestions.

But then I’d have had an ethical dilemma. When a client seeks out my expertise, they are paying for what I can bring them; they are not coughing up fees for someone who won’t bring new spices and ingredients to the menu. If I serve up bland fare or just go with the flow, what am I being paid for? Is the client getting his/her money’s worth?

Team dynamics would have changed in any event — the butterfly effect.

The client made the right decision. Newness would have been a liability, notwithstanding the creative benefits to be gained.

As one of my favorite authors, Seth Godin, put it:

If you’re passionate, be passionate enough to fail.

 

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