Leading Your Team

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From the Editor: Expecting the Unexpected in Project Management

If there’s one thing that’s certain about undertaking complex projects, it’s that not everything will work out exactly the way you planned. The Spring 2015 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review highlights project management, in “Reducing Unwelcome Surprises in Project Management,” “How Executive Sponsors Influence Project Success,” “What Successful Project Managers Do” and “Accelerating Projects by Encouraging Help.” In a nutshell, managers must expect the unexpected in projects.

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How Executive Sponsors Influence Project Success

In each stage of a project's life cycle, two or three behaviors have significant impact on the project's likelihood for success. These behaviors, by the executive who is sponsoring the project, ensure effective partnerships with project managers and require a great deal of informal dialogue. They include setting performance goals, establishing priorities, ensuring quality and capturing lessons learned.

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Assembling Your Personal Board of Advisors

The notion that one mentor can meet all of an individual’s developmental needs is increasingly outdated. Instead, many people now draw from a "personal board of advisors," which can encompass a range of individuals, from friends or family who provide emotional support to role models the person may not personally know. The authors identify six types of personal advisors who, together, provide a broad combination of psychosocial support and career support.

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The New World of Work

Advanced digital technologies are swiftly changing the kinds of skills that jobs require. Researchers Frank MacCrory, George Westerman and Erik Brynjolfsson from the MIT Sloan School of Management and Yousef Alhammadi of the Masdar Institute studied the changes in skill requirements over the 2006-2014 time period. While demand has clearly grown for computer skills, it has grown for interpersonal skills, too. The authors advise people in all lines of work to be flexible about acquiring new talents.

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When Consensus Hurts the Company

How do managers “decide how to decide”? Boards and management teams often try to gain consensus, but that’s not always the best course. Research offers insights into when consensus building is the right way to go and when it isn’t — and how leaders can determine the best form of decision making for a given situation. “By prompting a rule on how the decision will be made — by unanimity, majority or delegation — you can significantly influence what will be decided,” note the authors.

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Image courtesy of Flickr user chris riebschlager. https://www.flickr.com/photos/riebschlager/343600611
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Beware the Winning Streak

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How well do people factor past performance into their expectations for the future? Not very. In one study, for instance, students playing darts who did well in the first round bet that they would beat the improvement goals of those who did worse. They generally were wrong: the better the participants’ score in the first round, the less likely they were to improve as much as other participants in the second.

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Teamwork Plus Creativity Equals Engagement

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Employees can be inspired to perform better if their creativity is challenged through teamwork. At four Deloitte LLP offices in India, an experiment in team-based contests to come up with smart, challenging and practical solutions to real-life business problems unleashed out-of-the-box, original thinking that challenged traditional wisdom.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Keoni Cabral. https://www.flickr.com/photos/keoni101/7221666136
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Does Deciding to Seek Advice Signal Weakness?

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It’s common for people to worry that reaching out for advice will make them appear less competent, according to research from Harvard Business School and the Wharton School. But if the task is seen as difficult, the advice-seeker is actually viewed as more competent. In addition to establishing a connection between people’s willingness to ask for advice and others’ perceptions of their competence, the authors found that whom people ask for advice makes a difference in how they are viewed.

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Accelerating Projects by Encouraging Help

How can companies get employees to pull together to meet project deadlines? It turns out that establishing psychological safety and promoting cooperative behavior can be just as important as good planning. This case study of management innovation at Roto Frank, a German company that produces hardware for industrial and residential windows and doors, highlights the difficulties of project planning and execution — and the benefits of building a positive feedback cycle.

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For Many Decisions, Just Go With the Flow

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For many decisions, letting your mind wander to a choice that you feel drawn to — rather than laboriously weighing all the options — is more than ample. Researchers Colleen E. Giblin (Tepper School of Business, Carnegie Mellon University), Carey K. Morewedge (Boston University School of Management) and Michael I. Norton (Harvard Business School) say that while mind wandering is probably not suited for making weighty decisions, it is a less onerous way to sort through options for many decisions.

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Revamping Your Business Through Digital Transformation

Large companies in traditional industries might think that digital transformation can wait — that a follower strategy is a safer route than trying to be a pioneer. "That kind of thinking, while tempting, is wrong," write George Westerman and Didier Bonnet. "In every industry we studied, companies are doing exciting things with digital technology and getting impressive business benefits."

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The Other Talent War: Competing Through Alumni

Companies increasingly recognize the value of maintaining good relationships with former employees. Recent research, however, reveals a new insight: It’s also wise to pay attention to what your competitors’ former employees are up to. "Many managers don’t typically think of previous employees in competitive terms (if at all), and have virtually no tools or frameworks to help them wage this talent war," write the authors.

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From the Editor: In Praise of Humility

The Winter 2015 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review highlights decision making, in “The Power of Asking Pivotal Questions” and “Using Simulated Experience to Make Sense of Big Data.” It also celebrates acknowledging when you don’t have all the answers, in “Embrace Your Ignorance.” Other articles look at “technostress,” why product category labels matter and why "benevolent" mobile apps may be best at brand-building.

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Why You Decide the Way You Do

Curiosity about the decision-making process has heated up, attracting academics from neuroscience, management, behavioral economics and psychology. Researchers have found, for instance, that a willingness to ask for advice on difficult problems can increase a person’s perceived competence, and that too many choices can cause people to make less-than-optimal choices. Here, we highlight six scholarly articles that have intriguing insights into the factors that can affect decision-making.

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Using Simulated Experience to Make Sense of Big Data

As data analyses get more complex, how can companies best communicate results to ensure that decision makers have a proper grasp of the data’s implications? Research has found that letting decision makers gain experience on the outcomes of different possible actions by interacting with simulations helps those executives make better decisions. Simulations narrow the often a large gap between what analysts want to share and what decision makers understand, and more clearly illustrate complex statistical information.

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The Dark Side of Information Technology

All of our wonderful mobile devices don’t always make us good at managing what we do with them. Handling information flows can take a toll on employee well-being, with some employees experiencing “technostress” from the pressure to multitask and to respond to Emails quickly. But there are steps executives can take to counter the negative effects of IT use. These steps encourage employees to step back and examine their personal relationships with IT.

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Why Sleep Is a Strategic Resource

Simple as it sounds, regular sleep is the best antidote for a fatigued or stressed-out workforce. But many modern workplaces condone practices that are not conducive to healthy sleep schedules, with leaders setting the expectation that others need to be at the office at all hours of the day and night. The authors argue that managers should “allow employees to separate from work when the workday is finished” and think of sleep as a strategic resource that is a key to human sustainability.

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Embrace Your Ignorance

The overconfidence of presumed expertise is counterproductive. Instead, data trumps intuition. Serious innovators take data seriously, argues Michael Schrage: “Organizations may be confident they know their customers, but they’re very likely to be overconfident. Most executives aren’t nearly as smart, perceptive or customer-centric as they believe." Successful innovators, he writes, “have the courage of their curiosity” and run experiments that challenge their assumptions.

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The Sustainability Insurgency: Missives from the Front Lines, Part 2

In part two of two, Gregory Unruh talks to Emma Stewart, Autodesk’s head of sustainability, about how social intelligence helps CSR advocates in the company to win colleagues’ buy-in. The use of such intelligence supports CSR managers’ ability to create a sustainability business case.

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