Stress is inevitable, so put it to work for good!

National Practice Lead Ulysses De Vincentis says good leaders harness stress by building resilience into their teams.

©iStock.com/flyparade

©iStock.com/flyparade

I was reflecting the other day that, when I began working on enterprise projects back in the 1990s, engagements were simpler, as were ICT environments. And clients were less demanding.

Today there are infinitely more ‘moving parts’, businesses are more demanding of technology, and there’s less room for time slippage or additional cost – despite projects and programs being ever larger and more difficult to deliver.

But at what point does too much urgency tip over into unacceptable levels of stress that, unless managed, will inevitably result in dysfunction?

An example, in my view, is the concept of ‘migrating to the cloud’. Cloud is nuanced, offering too many possibilities; executives want to embrace it without understanding it, while IT teams are not ready to go there yet. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking and the costs of managing complex physical environments accrue.

All this creates a greater sense of urgency within program management teams. But at what point does too much urgency tip over into unacceptable levels of stress that, unless managed, will inevitably result in dysfunction?

Manage stress to get value

Of course, stress endured to breaking point is certainly not the exclusive domain of enterprise ICT programs! In many industries, changes due to globalisation are causing stress. Police, surgeons, call centre staff, traffic wardens – even politicians – all endure different types of stress that few of us could function under and certainly wouldn’t choose to.

Any worker not coping appropriately with stress is not delivering their maximum value to their organisation. In fact, a Worksafe Australia study estimated that lost productivity due to absenteeism as a result of mental health issues cost the Australia economy $10 million per annum. Worse, many stressed workers turn up to work but are working below their optimum capacity – which has been dubbed ‘presenteeism’. With ABS estimating the combined total cost of absenteeism and presenteeism at $20 billion per annum, or 1.7% of our national GDP.

Performance and stress

My reason for reflecting on the changed dynamics of program management was that I was writing a white paper on the topic, Resilient Teams are Higher Performing Team (download below). Briefly, it examines the nature of stress and its interrelationship with performance.

Research tells us that some stress is good, as it creates a sense of urgency and actually stimulates us to perform. The right level of stress motivates us to perform and innovate at higher levels, engenders a sense of purpose and, ultimately, a sense of achievement.

However, there’s a point at which stress becomes ‘distress’, fatigue results and performance falls off sharply. Conversely, tolerance of stress can be extended – and thus performance increased – when people and teams are more resilient.

In my experience, leadership plays as much of a role as management in increasing the resilience of program management teams. That involves keeping everyone focussed on what’s really important, monitoring stress levels and –most important – fostering a sense of team connectedness.

That, in a nutshell, is what my new paper is about. I hope it offers insights for those leading teams in any sphere of human activity.

Download the white paper Resilient Teams are Higher Performing Teams

Further Reading

About the Author

Ulysses De Vincentis is the National Practice Leader for the Program & Project Management at CSC Consulting.

He has considerable experience gained from delivering a wide variety of program and projects over the last 20 years, as well as the establishment and management of IT and Business Portfolios.

Since joining CSC Consulting he has been heavily involved in project health checks, and the recovery of projects for our clients.




Ulysses De Vincentis

Ulysses De Vincentis is the National Practice Leader for the Program & Project Management at UXC Consulting.

He has considerable experience gained from delivering a wide variety of program and projects over the last 20 years, as well as the establishment and management of IT and Business Portfolios.

Since joining UXC Consulting he has been heavily involved in project health checks, and the recovery of projects for our clients.