This blog won’t be talking about the spin-off of AMC’s hit TV show The Walking Dead. Rather, it speaks to how our projects suffer when we have team members who seem to wander aimlessly about our projects, barely communicating (outside of occasional groans) and who generally suck the brains, I mean life, out those around them.
Just like “real” zombies don’t immediately become the stuff of nightmares that make us flee in terror, it takes time for us to recognize that “team” zombies are beginning to roam our projects. This is not a result of neurotoxins or a widespread virus, but rather, can be attributed to one or more of the following catalysts:
- No Clear Roles & Responsibilities
- Conflict Getting in the way of Progress
- Lack of Shared Purpose / Shared Vision
Assign Clear Roles
People asked to perform job functions without clear roles and responsibilities is akin to zombie apocalypse survivors roaming the wild, never knowing what they are supposed to do next or when or where the next risk will come from. To combat uncertainty, project teams should use a RACI Matrix to clearly spell out who is (R)esponsible, (A)ccountable, (C)onsulted, or (I)nformed on project activities. Utilizing a project glossary to help explain key terms, TLAs (“three-letter-acronyms”), document repository locations and research websites will help ensure that our employees are properly armed to be successful.
The conflict shown on zombie shows is almost always bad (and usually violent) and while we certainly don’t expect it to escalate to that level within our project teams, conflicts can nonetheless cause friction within the group. A person who feels they are constantly being attacked or disrespected will pollute team cohesiveness as much as a zombie stuck in a well pollutes the drinking water. This negative outcome doesn’t have to be the case though. As long as conflict is understood to mean having differing opinions and we use that to begin a respectful dialogue, we can take pieces of the different views and turn it into a better-combined idea. This allows us to leverage healthy conflict to the benefit of our team while keeping the individual engaged and not out for blood.
What creates the foundation for us to have a respectful dialogue is the presence of a shared purpose or shared vision amongst the team. This is the background or reasoning that creates the bond or unity needed when things get tough. No one likes to be told to “Shut up and color”. In the zombie world, no one likes to be told to go into the dark warehouse and look for stuff – at least not without understanding the purpose and contribution to the greater good.
You can learn a lot from a zombie. Take early and repetitive steps to vaccinate your team members from becoming one.