IC TIG Week: Stepping Outside the SOW to Help a Project Succeed by Lisa Kaczmarczyk

I’m Lisa Kaczmarczyk, owner of Lisa Kaczmarczyk PhD Consulting, LLC. My company works with academic STEM researchers on large federally funded projects. My clients often expect me to gather data that provides them insight into what other people think about their project. Although not in my SOWs, sometimes the success of the project depends upon my ability to provide this insight to the team members about each other.

Case in point: Several years ago, one of my projects involved many researchers spread across several universities. The team had a detailed plan to acquire and process vast amounts of data from all of their institutions. For a while it seemed everything was peachy: the IRB was taken care of, protocols were in place, research instruments validated, schedules agreed upon.

But all was not well. At each institutional site visit people were telling me privately that they didn’t understand why so and so was behaving certain ways. This person was mysteriously dragging their feet; that person was acting out of character. Everyone seemed to feel that others were following the plan they had all agreed to. On the surface it didn’t add up: they liked each other, they loved the project. But progress was stalled.

I soon realized that the project was at risk.  What to do? I could just write up my observations in my annual report and leave it at that. Or, I could take advantage of my unique position to try and do something about the situation. I could take skills that I had and repurpose them. Because I view my role as an Evaluator is to help a project succeed, I decided to take action.

I conducted an in-person intervention; key personnel traveled to one of their universities for a two day meeting. I created an immersive agenda using a combination of focus group and conflict resolution techniques. By the end of the two days, the researchers realized that institutional cultural differences and taken for granted assumptions were behind the brewing conflict. Spending dedicated time together in person, focusing on understanding each other’s POV rather than trying to “get things done,” they were able to walk in the other’s shoes for a while and agree upon a way forward together.

Just to make sure they didn’t lose their way later when things got busy, they also decided to draw up and sign a document reflecting their new understanding. They purposely did not call it an MOU to avoid potential legal implications. It worked – the project continued successfully for another 4 years. Phew.

Since then, I have often found opportunities to replicate this process on a smaller scale. So might you. Thus I want to share with you these:

Rad Resources:

Written for lawyers who want to address conflict from a non-litigious perspective, I found  Alvarez’ “Discovering Agreement – Contracts that turn conflict into creativity” not only very readable but full of practical suggestions as I developed the agenda for my intervention.

Dinkin, Filner and Maxwell’s “The Exchange – A Bold and Proven Approach to Resolving Workplace Conflict” is one of my go-to resources when I need to design activities that target conflict, especially among people of unequal status.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating IC TIG Week with our colleagues in the Independent Consulting Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our IC TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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