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Perception - Your Reality May Not Be The Key To Project Success

Last Friday, I had the pleasure of receiving the top UK award on behalf of my company, The Colour Works at a prestigeous event in London. Our success was even sweeter having beaten 200 other learning and development organisations to take the top spot for the 3rd consecutive year.

At the conference, I was asked about some of the keys to our success and one of the things I shared related to perception and how it is a vital differentiator in terms of the success of a team.

So, what is perception, well put simply, it is your view of a situation or people and the interpretation you put on that situation and therefore the conclusion you draw from it and the subsequent action you take. Our perception is unique to us and is based on our experiences throughout our lives and influenced by our education, family life, work experiences, religeous beliefs. It makes us who we are and what we do and brings about differences of opinion between individuals. Perception gets us into discussions like 'Why don't you like Elvis Presley?', 'What's your view of Barack Obama?', 'Why Do You Like Jazz?'. Our experiences will shape our perception and hence our agreement or disagreement with another depending on what their perception is. When you meet a person for the first time, perception and past experience will influence whether you warm to that person or not. Do you prefer a firm handshake or not?, do you struggle with people who have very direct eye-contact? What does someone's accent make you think about them?

Now in project management teams, different perception is extremely healthy as it can lead to a team member coming up with a solution that you wouldn't have thought about in a million years. When faced with a situation, my preference is to come up with creative solutions or concepts, not thinking about the problem in detail or indeed drawing on past epxerience, whereas my colleagues prefer to think of solutions from a practical, methodical approach, no right or wrong just difference. The biggest challenge we face is therefore being open-minded enough to consider the perception and views of others without the knee-jerk reaction of judging them or their idea without giving them the opportunity to explain themselves.

The analogy I make when discussing perception is that our life experience can be considered as our mountain of perception which we are stood upon. Others in our team will have their mountains of perception as well, some of them will have similar mountains to us and others completely different. Imagine the chain of mountains surrounding a valley. Some people based on their perception would be able to look down onto the valley and see maybe the river and the church and school-yard, others would maybe see the houses and shops however our perception of the valley would not be complete without the perception of everyone. They key to success is therefore taking into account the perception of everyone to give you the big picture.

Recently when working with a project team, i asked everyone to stare at a point in the room. Each one of us had a different perception of the room based on where we were looking. I proved to the group that my perception of the room was vital and invaluable to them as I was the only one who was staring at the fire exit and if a fire had occured I would have been the person with the vital piece of information and perception of the room to help us escape.

In summary therefore, if you want greater project success, consider the different perceptions of all your colleagues, as whilst some of them will be wildly different to yours, you may find that one of your team has the gem of an idea or perception that can mean the difference between success and failure.

Wishing you all the project success in the world.

Nick Fewings

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Comment by Nick Fewings on June 15, 2009 at 3:14am
Hi Joanne,

Firstly apologies for not replying sooner, as you will see on my recent blog I have been uncontactable in the desert. Thank you for your comment and the clarification that you will no doubt have given to others who have read this blog. I agree entirely with your comments about having a clear vision provided by the PM and the importance of team members adding their perception to shape tactical plans. I think that message from my original blog may have got 'Lost In Translation' so apologies but thanks for clarifying for others.
Comment by Joanne Aaronson on April 28, 2009 at 2:03pm
I agree with your view on the importance of a variety of perspectives to make a project successful. However, when you bring in reality, I have to comment. One's reality is also their vision and from where I sit, one's vision is what creates their world. When we focus on the future to format a project plan, a schedule, to determine risks or their impacts, we are not only being strategic, we are forming our reality with that vision. It's proven that the vision the project manager holds permeates to his/her team. If the PM is a positive person, then the team feels reassured in the potential of the project or vice versa. The vision of the project is what holds the team together. I've personally been called into troubled projects that merely needed to re-evaluate their strategic view. After a couple hours of drawing pictures on a board, asking about the mission, even after considerable periods of existence, the team came out of the session with a renewed concept of the project and even renamed it! An additional benefit was team spirit from a common sense of direction. All from the vision of the project. To me, this is the reality. It has to be a common vision not a mixed sense of perspectives.
In my over twenty years of experience, the PM provides the vision and the team may add their views on the tactical as the plan unfolds.

I just thought I'd make that distinction. take care. All the best. Joanne.

(I'm an intutitive life coach with my company Life Transformations, LLC in Reston, VA)

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