How to Manage an Overly Optimistic Team

“All too often, executives are caught by surprise when projects — particularly complex IT projects — run into trouble. Project participants can be overconfident, always put a positive spin on anything they report or even have a cultural propensity to be silent in the face of bad news,” according to the MIT Sloan Management Review.

The researchers write that “after reviewing 14 studies that one or more of them was involved in over the past 15 years — studies that look at the ways in which individuals report (and misreport) the status of information technology or software projects — they identified specific ways for leaders to avoid being caught by surprise when a project launch ends up in trouble.”

The five truths leaders need to recognize:

  1. Executives can’t rely on project staff and other employees to accurately report project status information and to speak up when they see problems.
  2. A variety of reasons can cause people to misreport about project status; individual personality traits, work climate and cultural norms can all play a role.
  3. An aggressive audit team can’t counter the effects of project status misreporting and withholding of information by project staff.
  4. Putting a senior executive in charge of a project may increase misreporting.
  5. Executives often ignore bad news if they receive it.

The article also includes a useful self-diagnostic tool — the “Are You At Risk?” survey — for executives to evaluate their own vulnerability to these important realities of status reporting.