In a matrix organization, project leaders lead teams with members who report to someone else. To be successful, these leaders must be able to lead without authority.
The Challenge of Leading Projects in a Matrix
Leading without authority means building team member buy-in and commitment, and that requires a collaborative approach to leading projects. Standard project management training does not address the key elements needed to lead without authority.
Let’s explore five key elements you should look for when evaluating project leadership training for matrix organizations.
1. Standard Tools and Techniques That Are Collaborative in Nature
Many project leaders believe they are leading collaboratively when they request input from the team, transfer it into a project management software system, and then send it out for review. But that’s not collaboration.
Leading a project collaboratively means engaging everyone on the team in the process of producing a well thought-out and vetted plan. Collaborative tools and techniques engage team members in the planning and monitoring activities of the project, and this is what creates buy-in and ownership of the project deliverables by team members.
When you standardize these tools across the organization, your team members can easily move from one team to another, allowing projects to move quickly into the real work of the project — producing deliverables.
2. Emphasis on Facilitation Skills
Facilitation is the act of guiding and leading teams so that the whole is more than the sum of its parts — decisions made by the team are better than decisions made by just one person.
Project leaders can’t know everything. They can’t know all the answers. They do, however, need to be able to facilitate the experts through processes designed to help them make the best possible decisions, solve problems, create a plan, and produce project deliverables.
3. Focus on Negotiating Commitments That Are Doable
Teams are more productive when the commitments they make are achievable. When team members feel pressured, or the organization’s culture disapproves of people saying “no,” team members often commit to things they can’t deliver.
Negotiating commitments means asking team members to commit to what is possible instead of simply saying “yes” to whatever is requested. When the project leader does the planning, tasks are just “assigned” to team members, and these are often unrealistic based on the team member’s other commitments—to their regular job, and to any other projects they are working on.
When negotiating is built into the collaborative approach, team members are able to help build a project plan that’s not only doable but one they understand and can get excited about. They make real commitments — ones they are accountable for keeping. When team members feel committed, they work harder to reach deadlines.
4. A Proactive Versus Reactive Accountability System
Buy-in and commitment are also created when the project leadership approach that’s used defines accountability before any action is taken. We call this proactive accountability. It replaces the reactive accountability system used by most leaders in which accountability is something that happens after the results are in.
Using proactive accountability, project leaders can avoid hearing “that wasn’t my job”, or listening to the “blame game” when things go wrong. Your project leadership system should have clear accountability built into the plan. Everyone needs to understand who is accountable for what, and what it means to be proactively accountable.
Proactive accountability helps project leaders build more productive teams.
5. A Process for Creating High-Performing Teams
In a matrix, teams are forming all the time. Creating high-performing teams is every leader’s accountability.
Projects are temporary endeavors. Each time a new team comes together, it needs to go through the stages of team development. Project leaders need to understand how to lead the team through the stages of team development, while they’re getting the work of planning and executing the work accomplished. A collaborative project leadership approach does just that.
Developing high performing teams results in bringing in your project within scope, on time, and on budget.
Collaborative Project Leadership Skills for Everyone
Collaborative project leadership skills aren’t just for professional project leaders. Most projects are led by people who aren’t considering certification in project leadership and haven’t received formal training on leading collaboratively.
If your organization is ready to invest the time and resources to develop people with the knowledge and skills to lead projects, make sure the collaborative project leadership training program you choose includes these five essential keys. If it does, you will be on your way to building the capability to lead effectively in a matrix—to lead without authority.