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Why project managers need to embrace the 'joy of being wrong' for successful decision-making

A project manager and his team in a discussion

Successful project managers bring to the table stellar technical expertise and team-handling competence. These attributes together with other beneficial behaviors help them in strategic decision-making whenever needed. A frequently-overlooked aspect for this kind of decision is its authenticity. A decision derives its authenticity from the decision-makers' awareness of their own limitations and willingness to admit to them. As employees are the drivers of an organization's success, it also becomes critical to verify if the managerial decisions of a team result from truthful employee interactions.

In this article, we'll look at why project managers should sincerely accept their shortcomings while making decisions and how this feat can positively influence a project's success.

Encourages a culture of truth-telling

 Although honesty is hailed as the best of virtues in the workplace, employees tend to weigh the consequences of being truthful before presenting their ideas in the open. The truth, when not well-received by self-focused managers, drives honesty out of team discussions. Meetings led by leaders who self-identify as "infallible" might run smoothly, eliciting agreeable responses, but end up creating an air of mistrust in the team, which can result in dire consequences to the project in the long run.

On the contrary, when a manager plainly admits their uncertainty or wrongdoing, employees are encouraged to speak up. By cultivating a culture of truth-telling, managers can improve conversation quality and ultimately the team's performance.

Makes space for diverse opinions

 Projects are elaborate. Running them is even more complex. In an attempt to simplify the process, managers tend to avoid information that contradict their ideas, thus eliminating the prospect of multiple voices and perspectives in a project. When managers say, "I don't know. I might be wrong," they are debunking the age-old myth that experts know everything. What follows is a dynamic exchange of ideas bouncing off of their not-so-expert peers. Employees in such environments actively seek out answers, raise the right questions, and engage in out-of-the-box thinking, which can pave the way to solve issues and meet project requirements in novel ways.

Eliminates intellectual laziness 

 Managers who stubbornly insist that they are right despite conflicting evidence are engaging in small-scale deception. The repercussions being the team mistaking their loud, confident words for the right and assuming their decisions are always informed. Over time, their subordinates get laid-back and begin waiting for their leader to make an informed judgement. When they say, "Yes, great idea! I agree," it should be noted that their conformity does not come out of active analysis but laziness. The absence of active thinking in a group might spell doom to the individuals and the project ultimately.

Leaders who easily sway their peers offer the group no provision to prove or disprove claims, whereas ideal managers aim at encouraging their teams to evaluate evidence for themselves.

Avoids groupthink consequences

 On the morning of space shuttle Challenger's scheduled launch in January 1986, the launchpad recorded 36°F—which was 15 degrees lesser than that required for the optimal performance of the shuttle's "O-ring seal." In his Union address on that night, President Ronald Reagan was to announce the ambitious launch in the context of the space race. Together with it, the ground team at NASA also faced major social pressure to chase publicity among the countrymen. Giving in to them, the team went ahead with the launch despite concerns from engineers about the "O-ring". Just 73 seconds into its flight, the Challenger exploded, killing seven astronauts with it. The post-accident investigation by Rogers Commission found 'groupthink' as one of the reasons for the fateful event.

Groupthink is when a group makes a flawed decision in order to reach a consensus amidst strong internal and external pressure. Managers who get charged at every divergent idea from their subordinates, create an internal pressure due to which employees become mellow. More interested in maintaining the group harmony, the team nods at everything the manager proposes. As is evident, only when the members of a team are not apprehensive of the manager's reaction to their inputs, will they be able to think composedly and suggest effective solutions.

The point of any team discussion is not to prove superiority, instead to collaborate for a common objective. It is the manager's responsibility to create an environment where everyone at the table understands, considers and speaks about the issue at hand honestly. By being genuinely receptive of feedback, managers should model themselves as safe resources who are accepting of the distinct ways a team thinks. Gradually, this will build trust and help create pleasant working conditions for teams which will reflect in the quality of the work they deliver. When all is said and done, it would do more good than bad if managers say, "I don't have all the answers; let's find them together."

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