ICU For Projects

By Sheila Roberts

At the recent Agile Business Consortium conference a speaker was discussing leading transformation projects which have particular challenges for the staff involved. In any transformation major changes are required which, in turn, create major uncertainty for individuals. Everyone responds differently to change and uncertainty and a leader needs to manage the responses so that the transformation is successful.

In this situation the speaker’s reference to ICU was helpful, and particularly resonated with my background as an ICU Nursing Sister! If spoken as ‘I see you’ it’s what individuals need when they are uncertain. Every one of us want to be seen and our issues taken into account, whether personal, technical, procedural or logistical. How the leader approaches seeing others can make a difference to the success of the transformation. The ICU approach can help resilience through change.

Initiate – conversations which provide relentless acknowledgement of the great qualities of individuals and the team plus their concerns.

Connect – with individuals by sharing some of your person and being willing to expose some of your weaknesses and failures as well as successes.

Unleash – unwavering trust as a result of being human with others. This unlocks discretionary effort where individuals go beyond compliance.

This seems to be a really simple idea which we cannot encourage too much.  Conversations and communication are usually a cornerstone of any transformation, but how many times do they have a focus on how great the changes will make the organisation / division / department? The ICU approach acknowledges that this will only happen if each individual is facilitated to provide their capabilities and strengths with their concerns taken into account.

Connection on a human level goes a long way. This is not about turning into a ‘softie’ or crying on demand. This is simply being strong enough as a leader to admit that the journey has not always been smooth and some errors have been made along the way. The old adage of ‘the person who never made a mistake never made anything’ should be the basis of this. It is not to encourage being slapdash but to learn from what has happened to improve the future.

Unwavering trust may sound trite but, if your team trust you, they will go the extra mile even while they are feeling vulnerable. If we are on the journey together rather than doing the transformation to them we will deliver successful outcomes.


This requires leaders to be inside the transformation environment and to be part of a purposeful network to get things done. If you use the project or programme environment this can be built by implementing the project structure with the right people in roles and encouraging the right behaviours to build strong networks