Why Culture Makes All the Difference in Project Success

  • 10 August, 2022

Organizational culture is a chief aspect of running a business, and it has become a hot topic of conversation over the last five to ten years. In the early 2000s, company culture wasn't at the forefront of conversation when discussing how to run a successful business. As a stark difference, over 70% of employees said that organizational culture is one of the top things they look for in a company last year. Despite this dramatic shift in employee values, only 31% of leaders believe that their organizations have gotten culture "right" in their organization. This disparity affects all aspects of a company, and it ultimately has an effect on projects and their likelihood to succeed. In this article, we will take a closer look at how a strong organizational culture can increase the success rate of your projects.

We know that an organization's culture has a significant impact on its long-term success. A project, as we know, is not a long-term endeavor - the very definition of a project is that it has a defined end date. Why should it matter so much that an organization has a strong culture when it comes to running individual projects?

Project management is never done in a silo. Your project is likely to have a ripple effect on your organization as a whole. It is extremely rare that a project will not impact an overall portfolio plan, a department, or interactions between departments. Your project team is also likely to develop ways of working with each other that are in line with company culture. Therefore, culture can have a major impact on the way that projects are managed and executed. Culture can also influence how smoothly a project is run from beginning to end.

Why Culture Makes All the Difference in Project Success

1. Increased Employee Engagement and Morale

Strong organizational culture is driven by purpose. Project teams who have instilled in them a strong sense of the "why" behind their work are more likely to come to work feeling engaged and motivated. They will follow through on commitments and see that the project achieves success. You may also find that engaged employees will spend more time interacting with teammates. This creates an environment of positivity that will carry the team through even the most challenging aspects of the project.

2. Culture Sets Common Expectations Amongst all Stakeholders

When driving project work, one of the most fundamental aspects of initiating a project is setting expectations. Everyone involved in the project - sponsors, stakeholders, and team members - must know what the common goal of the project is. When an organization's culture is not well established, this task can be more difficult than meets the eye. When there are disparate views amongst stakeholders about what the most important aspects of a project are, even agreeing on high-level goals can become an unnecessarily arduous task. Organizations with well-defined expectations will find it easier to align on the goals of projects.

3. Strong Organizations Have Rewards & Recognition (R&R) Systems Built In

In an organization of increasing maturity, it is to be expected that the company will have Rewards & Recognition (R&R) systems built into its Human Resources or Talent programs. Often, it is expected that the project manager rewards team members for a job well done. This task is made much easier if there is already a structure in place to help award team members for their hard work. This can be done through many avenues - public recognition forums, planned happy hours, or even gift cards are some ways that organizations have built rewards into their organization's budget.

4. Strong Brand Identity Creates a Sense of Responsibility

If a company's culture is truly strong, its employees will identify with the company values and feel personally connected to the success of their project endeavors. A company's brand represents its public reputation. A strong identity with the project's outcome and how it reflects on the company will create a sense of personal responsibility and investment amongst the project team. This also increases the tendency for more clients to want to do business with the company in the future, paving the way for future projects!

5. Organizations with Strong Leaders Have Productive Employees

Not all leaders have the power to transform ordinary individuals into company advocates. However, those who are strong leaders are also able to inspire their employees. These employees are more likely not only to get project work done on schedule, but also to advocate for the meaningful work they do.

6. Having a Vision Drives Teams to be More Innovative

A company, and a project, with a strong vision does more than create a sense of responsibility. Employees who are fully invested in the outcome of the project are less likely to think of that project in a linear manner. They will come up with creative solutions to problems and will be less afraid to try a new approach. This helps with conflict resolution, risk mitigation, and problem solving on projects. Resolving issues amongst a team that is not afraid to voice individual creative ideas is a refreshing breath of air.

7. Team Members Are Open and Honest with Each Other

A strong organizational culture breeds a healthy work environment. Team members who are working closely together on a project day in and day out are more likely to bring up issues before they become issues. Conflicts can often be resolved before they become more serious threats when lines of communication are open and honest. It is likely that your project team will communicate in line with the values of your company as a whole - therefore, a culture that fosters open communication without fear of retaliation can only be a benefit for project work.

8. What If My Company Does Not Have a Strong Culture?

Companies that talk about their values without demonstrating them consistently will quickly breed apathetic employees. Unless you are part of a lucky lottery group, I imagine that you have worked for at least one company in your lifetime whose values didn't quite live up to expectations (hopefully, you didn't stay long!). Many companies boast strong values, but when it comes down to actually performing work, they fall flat. This type of environment can quickly become toxic, as it breeds a sense of distrust among employees. Project teams can quickly become apathetic when faced with a project that is not delivering on its promises or if the team is not doing work for the "right" reasons.

Projects may be short-term endeavors, but they can have lasting impacts on an organization. Your project may be a short-term endeavor - but the impact on the end user will hopefully be long-lasting. Projects often pave the way for future endeavors, and they often connect many parts of an organization that would normally not work together. When a project is completed successfully, deliverables, documentation, and best practices from that project will carry over into the project portfolio, and perhaps even the organization as a whole. You can expect that an organization's culture will dictate how employees interact, both with each other and with the project work. A strong culture helps instill confidence in you as the project manager as well because you can begin the project with the confidence that you already have the right team for the job.

Building a strong organizational culture takes a lot of time and effort. While creating a micro-culture amongst a project team and making team members feel welcome can be done in a short amount of time, the culture of an entire organization is built in a much more foundational manner. Integrating a company's vision with the employees it hires and creating a sense of comradery is not something that is done overnight; building culture can take years of work. The reason that it is so difficult is because there is no one "right" way to build an organization's culture. Building culture requires a strong mission statement, thoughtful values, and consistent demonstration of those values over time. If you are interested in improving the culture within your project (or even just your team), start with the basics:

  • Communicate early and often. Do not leave team members in the dark about the status of the project.
  • Be open to feedback. Employees should feel as though they can speak freely about their work and progress.
  • Create a judgement-free zone for team members to voice their concerns and ideas. Employees should not face fear of retaliation. Giving employees the opportunity to speak their minds with anonymity and confidence can do wonders for morale.

Culture amongst a project team, and especially amongst an organization, is a complex topic. You as a project manager should now feel equipped with the basic knowledge you need to begin gathering important information on your team's culture and drive your project to success. Remember that culture is something that takes consistent effort to build and should be revisited often.
About the Author: Madison Florian

Madison Florian is a content writer for EduMind, certified PMP and PMI-ACP. She received her BA in Economics from the University of Colorado and has experience as a project manager for a wide range of corporations, ranging from start-ups to Fortune 100 companies. In her spare time, she enjoys reading novels by the fire, baking for her family and friends, and traveling to new places in her converted van.

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