“We Did Not Spend Time Arguing About the Writing”

I was listening to a podcast of this week’s broadcast of “Wait Wait, don’t Tell Me” this morning at the gym.  (OK, you got me, I am a fan of weekend NPR broadcasting.)  They were interviewing Liev Schreiber who seems to bounce between playing Shakespeare and big-armed scifi roles such as Sabretooth in the latest X Men film.  He had some informative things to say about why the scifi work is harder.

But the one thing that got my attention was what he had to say about why Hamlet was simpler.  “We did not spend time arguing about the writing.” was his main explanation.  Comedy aside (and value judgments about the writing) there is a lesson in this for leaders.  What can your teams accomplish if they are clear about what they are creating?  How much time gets wasted on unnecessary redesign of program outcomes because they were either not clear or not compelling to begin with?

Conquering Organizational Change by Pierre Mourier & Martin Smith is still one of the best grounded research pieces on change.  One of the interesting things they discovered is that projects fail because despite months of work and millions of dollars, the team is not clear on what they are to accomplish or agreed on their plan.

No project goes end to end without rethinking and adjustment.  No two productions of Hamlet look exactly the same either and anyone I have ever talked to in the theater laughs at the idea that everything goes of smoothly every time.  But how much of the scrambling, argument, rethinking and debate about the project outcome and plans is engendered only because we rush to be in action when more thinking and talking is needed first?  No one argues about the writing because everyone agrees that they are performing Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  Project teams should argue and debate.  But there is a big difference between debating the best way forward and continuing to argue about what the project is about.

So- what is your team debating?