Questions for project team leaders

March 21, 2014

A list of questions have been collected from students attending assorted courses on leadership and project management. Each question offers possibilities for personal reflection or team discussion. There are no simple answers, and different views in a discussion represent different experiences and beliefs.

The students who produced the questions were encouraged to study Chapter three of their text book Dilemmas of Leadership, and to support their answers with reference to dilemmas inherent in their study of project management, and through drawing on personal experiences.

1 Dealing with a crisis
We are in deep trouble as a project team. What do we do if the team believes there is no way to reach its project objectives?

2 Dealing with personal problems
What to do when the group becomes overwhelmed by internal disputes and conflicts? what basic assumptions mat be contributing to the team’s problems?

3 Using Psychological profiles sensibly
How might we use knowledge of psychological profiles to support team effectiveness?

4 Search widely, choose wisely
How can we go beyond the obvious and first ideas in our team discussions?

5 Working to a difficult brief
What can you do if you are given a difficult or unreasonable project brief?

6 Multi-tasking (independent versus inter-dependence)
How can you divide up the work among team members?

7 Conflict resolution
Are you dealing with conflict in the project as effectively as you could?

8 On team leadership
What sort of leader (or leaders) should your team have?

9 What can be done if your team members are poor at listening to each other?

Bezos Buys the Washington Post: A brave new world for newspapers

October 9, 2013

by Evette Alexander

Serial innovator Jeff Bezos is known for reinventing industries around customer needs, pioneering such concepts as online retail and tablet readers. Now, his curious purchase of the Washington Post has the world wondering if, how and to what end he will transform the daily news

Extra, Extra!

On August 5th, Washington Post staff gathered to hear shocking headlines from owner Donald Graham. He had sold the paper that had been in his family for 80 years to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos for $250 million

Graham wrote that he arrived at the decision to sell after seven years of declining revenues in a troubled industry that raised “questions to which we have no answers.” According to Bercovici writing in Forbes attempts at online innovation failed to compensate for the mass diversion of advertising revenues to Internet giants, of which Amazon alone captured $610 million last year (Bercovici, 2013). With Bezos, he sees a chance for the company to succeed.

In a letter to employees, Jeff Bezos was quick to reassure that the company’s core values “do not need changing;” however, the business must and will change. He communicated a vague desire to “invent” and “experiment” in order to understand and provide what readers want – leaving everyone to guess what that could mean.

Old media savior or category killer?

Without a clear road map, some cast Bezos as an “old media savior”, a philanthropist who bought the paper as a public service to “re-invest in the infrastructure of our public intelligence” Bob Woodward, (of the infamous Post duo that broke Watergate) envisions Bezos using his “deep pockets” to “hyper invest” in investigative journalism However, Bezos – not his family trust – bought the paper.

Others fear him as the Fourth Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The “category killer” often accredited with single handedly destroying the traditional book industry now has his sights on news print. Will he retire the presses to cut costs and drive content to Kindle?

Bezos once indicated a key “problem” for newspapers was offering print and digital at the same time, suggesting print would be obsolete within 20 years . Bezos may also see his “duty to readers” differently than journalists). What if the all-powerful reader prefers celebrity boob job stories over political coverage? How far change could extend when faced with a tradeoff between market share and the values he pledged to uphold?

A friend in Washington (DC)

Bezos is quick to remind us of his “day job,” lest we forget his primary interest is Amazon. Would he use the paper’s influence to protect his brainchild in a political battle? The Washington Post still has a powerful voice in the capital where politicians are starting to turn a sheriff’s eye to online quasi-monopolies like Google, Apple iTunes and Facebook. Although Bezos lobbies for Amazon’s regulatory interests in Washington, the Post is not to serve owner interests But, as one of its former editors points out, “mixing commerce and journalism is always fraught with its own perils on the ethics side” [Hagey, K. and G. Bensinger (2013) “For Bezos: A new puzzle,” The Wall Street Journal. 7 August 2013]

Experienced trailblazer meets new frontier

The Post paints a rosy future for itself under Bezos, expecting he will “marry quality journalism with commercial success in the digital era.” Bezos’ track record is impressive to be sure. He started in his garage in 1995, which now includes devices, cloud computing, and is emerging as an online media platform. He successfully replicated the online retail model across Europe, Asia and South America. If the Post’s new model proves successful, we may see him do the same abroad.

Clues into Bezos’ strategic philosophies lie in his annual letter to Amazon shareholders. He remains focused on creating long-term value over short term returns, so we should see him making significant upfront investments and enduring low revenue streams for future payoffs He will seek actively to delight customers by over-delivering, lowering prices and anticipating their needs before competition demands it (, 2013). He sees failure as necessary for invention, yet is demanding and attentive to detail. He pushes for innovation, with a regular reminder that “it’s still Day 1” for the Internet.

Perhaps now, it’s Day 1 for the newspaper.

The author

Evette Treewater Alexander is Manager of Strategy & Market Intelligence at ADT, the leading provider of home security and automation services in North America. She is pursuing a Global MBA at the Manchester Business School and looks forward to her next workshop in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where she previously lived and worked as a strategic marketing consultant. The blog post was developed from an assignment she carried out for the Global Events & Leadership course.

The news stream flickers by as Papandreou grapples with his greatest leadership dilemma

November 4, 2011

As the day progressed, news of Papandreou’s struggles with his greatest leadership dilemma seemed to change by the hour…

Thursday November 3rd 2011. The Coffee Shop, Manchester Business School West.

A small group of business academics were holding a meeting, ironically enough, on leadership. Above them, the most critical leadership story of the day, and maybe the year, was being played out silently on a TV screen. Images of Prime Minister George Papandreou of Greece, and of the other political leaders meeting at Cannes, were accompanied by a news stream, which was informing us of the rapidly-changing sequence of events

The looming debt crisis

The previous days had seen the tortuous effort of the European leaders seeking steps to reassure world markets they were dealing in a coordinated fashion with a looming debt crisis. This had become focussed on the plight of the Greek economy, and in domino-like fashion, the other weakest States of the EU and their banks.

As agreement appeared to have been reached, Then Papandreou had seemed to catch everyone by surprise, even his own colleagues, by an announcement that he intended to call for a referendum in Greece to ‘let the people decide’ on the matter.

He’s resigned. Or has he?

As the MBS coffee-shop meeting got underway, we learned that the Greek Prime Minister had resigned. Less than an hour later, the news reported that he had not resigned but was preparing to meet the country’s President, to confirm plans for the referendum.

By the time we broke for lunch, Papandreou, facing opposition from his own colleagues, also faced the possibility of being forced to resign. Early afternoon, the news stream reported that the referendum was not now going to take place.

Small potatoes

It made our agenda of reviewing progress on our marking responsibilities feel pretty small potatoes. We ended the meeting with the fate of George Papandreou, and maybe the fate of the European Community still in the balance.

His greatest dilemma

The news from Cannes and Athens continued to change rapidly throughout the day. In the evening, Papandreou was quoted [Sky News] as saying he had been struggling with ‘the biggest dilemma of his life… It was either obtaining complete unity [among his government colleagues], or a referendum’.

With a little help from our friends

Other reports were emphasising the influence being brought to bear by the other leaders, and particularly by Germany’s Angela Merkel, and her closest political ally Nicolas Sarcozy of France:

The linkage between a possible No vote and continuing membership of the union proved too much for many of Mr Papandreou’s supporters, including his Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos, who this morning [as we watched he news unfold at MBS] withdrew his support from the referendum plan.

Many Greeks still feel they should be at the heart of Europe, and the sharp response to Mr Papandreou’s referendum plan – particularly from France and Germany – put that role in jeopardy.
Speaking to his party in parliament [that evening], the Greek leader said he had been told during those Cannes talks that not only would a “no” in the referendum mean leaving the euro, but that the question of rejoining would be off the agenda for at least a decade.

Even bigger than Steve Jobs

During the day at our tutors’ meeting, we had discovered that our business students around the world had selected one news item above all others to write about recently. That was the sad death of Steve Jobs. At least, one of us commented, the EU crisis would have given them an option with even richer possibilities for studying leadership and its dilemmas.

Willful blindness?

See the comments below for a discussion on leadership and wullful blindness

From the Theatre of Dreams to Brazil on a Magic Red Carpet

October 10, 2010

Brazil Miami Sept 2010 016

Originally uploaded by t.rickards

As the Manchester Business School brochure put it

“Brazil was chosen by Manchester Business School as the base for its South American operations. Sao Paulo, where the majority of South American workshops will be held, is the largest financial centre in Brazil, and is the 10th richest city in the world.”

It was fitting that for the very first MBS workshop in Sao Paulo in September 2010, the topic was Global Events and Leadership. This is the front-end of the Global MBA from MBS. The tutors arrived with a Case Study on Manchester United Football Club, and its so-called Theatre of Dreams. They even arrived on a plane with the evocative name of The Magic Red Carpet.

Election fever?

It is an exaggeration to say that Sao Paulo was gripped with election fever when we arrived [September 10th, 2010]. Paulistas have a lot of other things besides politics to occupy them. But as everywhere else around the world, a relatively small number of student activists can make a lot of noise. And in Brazil you can add 100% to the decibels per student. The national election had its own regional flavour. I particularly liked the marginal candidates, a few with distinct chance of getting elected as a result of TV exposure and the voting system.

Our partners in Brazil are the Fundacao Getulio Vargas (FGV), one of the leading and largest distance learning institutions of Latin America. Their well-equipped campus and staff provided great help in the inevitable start-up challenges facing any new venture. FGV classrooms are equipped with state of the art communications technology. But it was comforting to note that there is still scope for ‘chalk and talk’ alongside wireless and web-access facilities.

Brazil Miami Sept 2010 002

Originally uploaded by t.rickards

My personal view is that students who sign up for a new programme are likely to be particularly willing to try out new ideas and be entrepreneurial. That was certainly the case in Sao Paulo (and as a matter of fact also in Miami, our next global post of call). There were business people who had founded and were already running successful businesses of international reach. There were also senior executives from private and public organizations. While the temptation to revert to Portuguese for project-work was understandable, the presentations confirmed that the levels of English were more than those required.

The Global Events and Leadership (GEL) module starts the new Global MBA with a two-day workshop. Teams work on different cases each dealing with an issue of global interest. The MBS tutors provide an experience of the Manchester Method. The process essentially is one which holds to the principle that some learning can only be obtained through experience. This means that explaining the method without that experience is very difficult. So I won’t try to give a complete account of it. Let’s just say that the approach falls under the wider umbrella of experiential learning. Students become personally involved in a case so as to revise their own deeper understanding and beliefs.

The project teams all successfully passed this first assessed part of their MBA. As part of the course, information was collected on the team dynamics, leadership and performance of each team. A data-base is being set up to examine similarities and differences of teams from the eight centres around the world offering the MBS MBA programmes.

A Magical experience

For the tutors. the journey ended on the magical red carpet bound for Miami and then back to Manchester. It could hardly have been a more fitting mode of transport.

Cadbury Kraft takeover: More than meets the eye

January 20, 2010

Global Issue analysed by Susan Moger and Tudor Rickards

Updated: The integration of Cadbury into the Kraft Empire continues. Vince Cable, the highly respected financial figure imported from the Liberal Democrats, had made this one of his first interventions since the election to the Coalition Government, calling for a review of takeover practices.

Irene Rosenfeld made her first visit to her newly-acquired asset in October 2010.

The visit of Kraft CEO to Cadbury’s main Bournville cite in Birmingham, England continued the integration of Cadbury into the Kraft empire. The chief executive of Kraft Foods has not ruled out further Cadbury plant closures beyond the two years the firm is already committed to. Irene Rosenfeld said she was unable to offer further commitments after a visit to Birmingham’s Bournville factory. But she said it would remain “the heart and soul” of its chocolate business. Ms Rosenfeld had recently come second in Forbes magazine’s annual rankings of the world’s most powerful women, beaten only by US first lady Michelle Obama.

Asked what she was expecting with the merging of the companies, a net loss or gain in jobs, Ms Rosenfeld said: “I think it’s hard to say. It will vary area to area… We certainly understand that Bournville will remain at the heart and soul of our chocolate business and we are delighted about that. I think the key for us, though, this is a global business. We need to ensure that we are competitive on a global basis. As we bring together the combined company and we can share best practices we have the opportunity then to take the business to a new place.”

When it was suggested she was not able to make more of a commitment than at least two years, she said: “That’s correct.”

According to the Telegraph at the time of the takeover ,

The issues the review will look at include the “50pc plus one” minimum voting requirement for takeovers to go ahead; whether voting rights should be withheld from shares bought during an offer period; whether the 1pc disclosure threshold for dealings and positions in target companies should be reduced; and whether inducement fees and other deal protection arrangements should be restricted.

The review was launched by Business Secretary Vince Cable who said: “We welcome foreign investors but we want all shareholders to be empowered.” Last week [May 2010] the Panel took the rare step of publicly criticising Kraft over its acquisition of Cadbury. Its objections focused on assurances from Kraft that it would reverse Cadbury’s planned closure of its Somerdale factory. A week after winning the battle to buy Cadbury, Kraft reversed its position on Somerdale. The Takeover Panel concluded the US company should never have made its assurances on the Somerdale plant. It also criticised Lazard, Kraft’s adviser on the deal, saying the investment bank had “failed to discharge fully its responsibilities”. The Takeover Panel said it would take comments on the review of the code up to July 27.

An ealier post noted:

So the mighty Kraft finally hunted down its prey and swallowed up poor little Cadburys. Howls of protest from the UK. Nostalgia and affection for the taste of Diary Milk swept the land. One caller to a (BBC Five Live) phone-in said Cadburys was her favourite chocolate but that she would never buy any again.

In the wake of the takeover, LWD sought out an expert on Corporate Reputation for his views. Professor Gary Davies of Manchester Business School came up with several points that had been overlooked by other commentators in assessing the likely winners and losers of the takeover. He also added a more surprising comment based on his research into Corporate Reputation …

Students of Leadership

There are lessons to be learned from the Cadburys Kraft story from several perspectives. With the benefits of hindsight we might wish to consider what might have been done differently by the main parties involved. For the politically-minded, what ideas might be worth submitting to the Takeover Panel? How well do you think Irene and Vince Cable are operating?