Project Management (Part 4.1): Creating a Positive Work Climate

Norb Slowikowski / December 2015

In Part 4 of our Project Management Series, we present the key factors required for establishing a positive work climate. The atmosphere we work in is a topic that is often overlooked. We need to remember to pay careful attention to the conditions we set up for our daily workplace.
Establishing a positive work climate requires the ability to develop relationships with all of the players in the construction process. In short, it’s really about leadership, and leadership is the ability to establish a work climate that allows people to want to come to work and do their best work, day in and day out. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the key components of setting up the right work climate.

1. Persuasion, Not Coercion
Persuasion requires doing your homework about the people you work with. It also requires a healthy dose of “active listening.”
First and foremost, effective persuasion means you know what you’re talking about. When you give directions to people, it has to be the most effective way of doing something. In other words, you need to set people up to succeed, not fail. If they follow through on your instructions, success needs to be the result. This is the way of positive persuasion.
Also, if they have an idea that is as good or better than yours, go with their idea. Let people persuade you. There is no need to force someone to do what they don’t want to do. This is where the active listening component comes in hand—it should be a collaborative effort.

2. Gain Cooperation
Obtaining cooperation and buy-in requires working with another person to achieve a common goal. It’s also about displaying a willingness to help another person succeed so that it eventually results in a win/win for both parties.
The shortest way to gain someone’s cooperation is to help them succeed. So we must have the foundational ability to listen and understand the other person’s point of view before moving on to achieving our own goals.
Meet people halfway, and you’ll have yourself a partner.

3. Build Positive Relationships
Constructing personal relationships is really about finding a way to communicate, even (and especially) when you may not like the other person, for whatever reason. The trick to this is to focus on what’s being said, not the person who is saying it. Separate the person from what he is communicating and it will go a long way in eliminating bias from the equation. Keep an open mind and maintain emotional control with people you have a tough time communicating with. Be respectful, because most often, when you treat people with respect, you can expect it in return. It’s easy to build positive relationships with people you already like, so focus on getting results with the more difficult relationships in your workplace.
Since establishing a positive work climate is first and foremost an issue of leadership, let’s take a moment to go over three leadership styles and how they are displayed in the work environment. Knowing Theory X, Theory Y and Theory Z leadership styles will help you understand how to fix your style and behavior for your particular situation.
Theory X shows a dominant, overbearing style with a posture of, “my way or the highway.” This theory is often uninterested in the other person’s input or feedback. It requires little to no listening and communicates an “I don’t care” attitude about other people’s thoughts. This style generally produces anger and resentment while also leading to inaction or substandard performance.
Theory Y is typically called “the nice guy approach.” This style approaches people in a positive way but is typically “hands off” when it comes to finding a solution. It’s the type of leader who says all the right things to establish an initial positive relationship. The downside is no action, little follow-through and, at worst, abandonment. So, problems are acknowledged but little is actually done to solve them. This too results in anger, resentment and ultimately a loss of respect.
Theory Z is a style that is all about building teamwork and positive relationships. It’s a “we need each other” approach that puts real value to people and their ideas. The motto is, “Everyone is important, and we’re all connected.” But when tough decisions need to be made, the Theory Z leader is there to take swift action in a way that incorporates the ideas of others. Basically, it splits the difference between being too hot or too cold. This style shows “backbone” without trampling over others. In short, it’s about teambuilding.
So that’s a look at how leadership style can effect the workplace environment. In the second half of our series we will look at establishing a positive work climate, we’ll cover value systems and the 10 behaviors of leaders.

Norb Slowikowski is president of Slowikowski & Associates, Inc., Darien, Ill.