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John P. Reiling: Do You have an Honor Code for Your Project Team?

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Have you ever encountered an Honor Code, as exist at many colleges? Honor Codes codify and enforce certain behavior and can have a great application on project teams.

Here are five imperatives for how you, as a Project Manager, can leverage the concept to control project team dynamics:

  1. Explicitly state in writing the desired behavior of team members. This becomes the “code of behavior”.
  2. Require agreement from each individual team member to follow the code while on the team, and even to honor it once they leave.
  3. Also require each individual to commit to enforcing the code, first by agreeing to confront other team members they might suspect of violating the code, and second by accepting the possibility that they may be confronted by other team members.
  4. Formalize a system of “public” discourse regarding this code. This can easily be a formal part of regular meetings.
  5. Create an authoritative structure to remedy issues that are not handled at the individual level, even though the “code” is otherwise self-enforcing.

Students at colleges with strong Honor Codes report that such a code provides them with a tremendous degree of freedom and actually reduces stress. It takes a plethora of issues off the table.

Applied to behavior on your project teams, it can create a more democratic solution to many personnel issues, and take a lot of stress off your shoulders, and off the shoulder of all team members. I think there are some lessons here that the project management world can borrow from the university community.

John Reiling, PMP

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