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Overcoming Organizational Obstacles to
Unlock the Value of Project Management
Part 2: Mowing Down Turf Protection

by Vicki Wrona, PMP

In the previous post, Putting Out Fires and Reducing the Drama, we examined the first of five cultural barriers. We’ll now explore the second obstacle faced by project managers and project team members: turf protection.

Within organizations, individuals may associate most strongly with their work group or functional unit. Leaders often set the tone for their business units, and they may do so with good intentions and to unify their group. While this feeling of esprit de corps can be motivational and drive performance results, when taken too far it can lead to over-protection of team interests, or turf wars. Organizations or managers that exhibit turf protection foster teams that value department structures over cross-functional cooperation. In this post we’ll examine the characteristics of turf protection and how to overcome this cultural hurdle.

Turf Protection 

You may have seen the symptoms of turf protection in your own organization; a mentality of “trust no one” that results in bad communication and organizational silos. In an effort to “remain valuable” there is an intentional lack of communication and minimal sharing of information between departments and groups. Those seen as outsiders will not receive the information they need or may be cut out altogether.

If this type of behavior exists in individuals and not the entire business function or organization, it can be addressed as a performance issue. For our purposes, though, we’re addressing situations where turf protection impacts departments and groups and is, therefore, a cultural obstacle.

Overcoming Turf Protection 

During the Initiating and Planning phases of a project, or as soon as this obstacle is identified, project managers must strive to understand the root cause driving the lack of trust. Is it a resistance to change, whether it is change in general or a specific change? Could it be a fear of losing power or looking bad? Has there been a “tried it before and it didn’t work” experience?

Through stakeholder analysis, project managers can identify the cause of the resistance and adjust their actions accordingly. They should involve folks early and give them the opportunity to participate in defining the new environment. Educate the team on the changes and give them time to get used to it. Project managers must create a safe environment and be very clear about approval procedures by setting ground rules, establishing clear roles and demonstrating broad inclusion, along with defining and communicating the escalation process. Lastly, they must strive to build relationships by being clear about goals and demonstrating integrity and desire for everyone’s success.

During the Executing phase, project managers may need to determine if it is possible to go above or around those who are not participating. They will step up stakeholder management efforts and ensure that they are meeting expectations and delivering on promises. They’ll continue to maintain a safe environment and will reward and reinforce positive involvement throughout the project.

During Monitoring and Controlling, the project manager involves everyone, as much as possible, in changes and decisions; continuing to build trust. They close the feedback loop, reach out to the team and stakeholders often and they have those difficult conversations even when dreading them.

During Closing, the project manager will document successes and lessons learned, stimulating ongoing learning and transparency. They will recognize and reward positive involvement which, again, they have been doing throughout the project.

By taking simple steps, project managers can successfully overcome cultural obstacles and maximize their effectiveness.

Have you experienced your own turf wars? What was the cause(s) and how did you handle the situation? What lessons did you learn?

In our next post we will look a third cultural obstacle: the expectation that project managers are miracle workers.