According to 'Linchpin' by Seth Godin: "Optimism is the most important human trait, because it allows us to evolve our ideas, to improve our situation and to hope for a better tomorrow."
During the life of a project, many things happen: team members join and leave, budget cycles ebb and flow, internal conflicts and constraints arise, and stakeholders throw curveballs.
For the average person, these events are enough to throw them off and turn them away from the project. This is a high risk in non-project environments and can lead to sudden loss of key people.
In environments that are used to running projects, the risk is more likely to show up as battle wariness. This is when people stop showing up at project meetings, switch priority to other things and need a lot of chasing to do anything for the project.
Either way, when people lose hope for the project they will naturally turn away, switch off and disengage. This is partly to preserve energy and save time, but also to protect themselves against disappointment and to not be on a 'sinking ship'.
We've talk about vision in an earlier post and this explains the reason why the project exists. The path to reach the project goal is defined in detail in the project plan, though I find it useful to have a project strategy to explain how the project team will succeed despite the many challenges along the way. This strategy is key to manage hope.
When it comes to dealing with rumours and negative talk, I insist on openness and transparency within the team so that questions and concerns are addressed early and not left to fester into ill assumptions and hearsay.
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