Ever wondered what could turn around your struggling project, or shape a project that it tells a story and convinces others just be hearing about the project?  Well, there could be a simple remedy.  And that is to link happiness to your project.  – Ok, let’s start slow.

This week I conducted a seminar on project leadership.  In one of the central exercises smaller groups worked on fictitious projects.  Seminar attendants could pick whatever topic, issue or question they cared about.  One group chose to ponder how to improve time management for students obtaining a graduate degree while having to work full-time and nourishing a family.  Another group analyzed ways and means to improve a business partnership with suppliers.  And yet another decided to talk about the need of drones for the German military.  At the end of each exercise session teams presented their results.  They shared their views what motivated them to work on their particular project, what they envisioned and what specific goals they were pursuing.  Not too surprisingly the project with the military drone got rather passive looks and no real feedback when they presented their project.  This changed when I asked the teams to address a simple question with respect to their project.  “How does your project contribute to happiness?”  That’s it; just this simple question.

HappinessI was curious what the teams would come up with.  Especially the drone project.  After all, linking a military weapon, defensive as it may be intentioned, with happiness?!  That would be a tough sell.  Well, things did not quite work out as assumed.  When it was their turn everybody expected them to talk about the various functionalities of a military drone, its specifications and how to use it in combat.  But instead the group talked about peace enforcement, conflict prevention and support for human rights.  And they talked about it in an appealing way that reached people and caused their emotional reaction.  All of a sudden, nobody was thinking of the weapon any more but how to help achieve world peace.  What happened?  Addressing the question “How does your project contribute to happiness?” project members checked for their inner motivation – not warefare but peace and stability – and they shared it openly and honestly.  This touched people, they could relate to the team’s motivation, even identify with it.  Instead of being doubtful and deprecating, not only did they appreciated the project presentation but even asked how they could help the team.

A project which moments earlier was dull, cold and tiring became lively, meaningful and attractive.  A simple question “How does your project contribute to happiness?” triggered the change of the nature of the project, its momentum and the attitude of team members and observers.  So, next time you face a troubling project, ask the team this question, “how does your project contribute to happiness?, and see what happens.