Posters are not an effective management action

Johanna Rothman points to demotivators — a take off on those vapid posters that extol the virtues of TEAMWORK & QUALITY.

I suspect that some people actually believe that putting up posters that say “Teamwork” will engender teamwork.

It’s true that posters can shift the culture… think of the posters from WWII “Loose Lips Sink Ships” and “She can do it!” with a picture of a woman riveter.

These posters worked to convey a message, create awareness and build comfort with new ideas. They worked, though, because the poster was consistent with a concerted program of action. (All on the part of the government, which is a whole ‘nother story, one I won’t go into).

Posters that tout the virtue of teamwork while managers reward individuals, play favorites or spew directives create cynicism. Actions need to match the message.

I have seen some posters work at work: posters that teams make during interim or project retrospectives provide reminders of what worked well and what the team wants to work on doing differently for the next iteration. The big difference is that the posters come from the team and reflect their values and priorities.

Neil Pittman comments via email:

The “teamwork” posters are not the problem. The non-teamwork behaviour is the problem. That behaviour is always a problem, but such posters simply compound it with hypocracy and condescention. “Rosie the Riveter” has neither of these so she contributes positively.

If management would really like to keep those posters then they should consider pairing it with some real-life graphs plotting improvements in quality or significant awards, milestones demonstrating quality. Not only does this demonstrate that the poster is not simply hollow wishes, but it personallizes the issue. Each individual becomes a part of the issue and the team’s success.

On the otherhand, it’s a lot quicker and easier to buy a bunch of laminated posters.

Indeed. People notice when the words don’t match the music.