Public Displays of Perfection

By publicly airing your schedules, you can reap great business benefits.

Stever Robbins
4-minute read
Episode #297

My mythological coaching client Sam called, desperate to find out how to get their project team working more efficiently. I shared my most powerful teamwork secret: One of teamwork's most powerful forces is one of the least appreciated. It dates back to your teenage years. Yes, I'm talking about peer pressure..

Some peer pressure can be bad. My mother would ask, "If all your friends jumped off a building, would you?" Well, duh! I was a teenage boy and they were my friends. Of course I'd jump.

Peer pressure can also be good. I packed a parachute and took out life insurance policies on my friends before jumping. I was a *smart* teenager. 

When it comes to teamwork, everyone in a team unconsciously follows everyone else to decide acceptable levels of performance. Then teams look to other teams to decide what is and isn't possible.

Use External Benchmarks

I ran a business simulation at Harvard Business School where teams students ran pretend companies. I was CEO of one "universe" of 6 teams. Coincidentally, after the first round of the simulation, every team had dramatically underproduced what teams usually did during the first round. For the rest of the two-day simulation, all 6 companies delivered extraordinarily poor results. They used each other to decide what was possible, and because of the lower initial scores, all six teams were performing at a fraction of the level teams usually performed.

I had Sam go out, gather external benchmarks, and share them with the team. Everyone would know up front how much time and money other teams needed to did similar tasks. If Sam's team is budgeting $100 million to build a spaceship and they find out Richard Branson just built one for $1 million, that knowledge might spur them to a completely different approach.

If You've Got It, Flaunt It

You know what else spurs people on? Public disclosure. When the NSA is secretly tracking your clandestine affairs, you don't care. But when the NSA publishes that knowledge, suddenly you care a great deal.

The same is true of project management. Sam understood how to use a visual timeline to plan a project and created a simple GANNT chart for the team. The chart listed all the team's major milestones. But rather than circulating the chart just within the team, they posted a big ole copy of it outside the team's cluster of cubicles. Every week when reporting status, the team would note on the chart whether or not the schedule was on time or slipping. Schedule slips were marked out with big red lines.

Thanks to years of childhood training in schools, the moment we see a red mark, we feel shame, guilt, and worthlessness. And so it went with Sam's team. The pressure of publicly announcing their schedule slips inspired them to examine delays carefully, learn, and work smarter in the coming weeks.

Public Schedules Encourage Coordination

Publicly posting the timeline accomplished a lot more than public shaming. Other teams and areas of the company could see what was being planned. A customer support team member noticed Sam's chart one day and casually asked, "I notice there's no entry in your schedule for training the phone reps on your new product. Is that handled elsewhere?"


The team realized they'd completely overlooked support issues. Fortunately, the public timeline raised the issue and support training was put in place with plenty of time to spare.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.