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7 Tips for Leading Projects in a Matrix

Facilitate Team Participation

People who lead projects in a matrix understand the challenges of building buy-in and commitment. Some project leaders fear losing control of the project if the team participates.


Actually, the opposite is true — the project is under more control when teams collaborate because teams make better decisions, and are more committed to carrying them out. Here are seven tips to help you build a team committed to delivering project outcomes.

Tip #1: Collaborate

Collaboration means including the team in the process of creating team outputs. Practice has shown that people own what they participate in creating.

Try This:

  • Bring the team together to create the project plan using a collaborative approach that engages the team
  • Use collaborative decision making — a process in which the team defines decisions, identifies requirements and ideas for solutions, and analyzes them to make a choice — to build buy-in and commitment
  • Use collaborative methods to monitor and control the project

Tip #2: Inspire

Inspiring people is about connecting them to something that is meaningful to them.

Try This:

  • Connect the project to the strategic goals of the organization
  • Help the team understand the project—why it’s being done, what they are supposed to do, and how what they do affects others
  • Clarify the big picture

Tip #3: Visualize

Visualize the project

Showing a team how the parts of the project fit together enables them to understand the project and become more committed to making it successful.

Try This:

  • Create the schedule with the team using sticky notes on banner paper
  • Add names to the sticky notes to show accountability
  • Show how each piece is essential to the whole project
7 Keys to Project Portfolio Success

Tip #4: Share

Sharing information ensures that everyone on the team is working from the same plan, with the same assumptions, and towards the same goals.

Try This:

  • Use visual, team-based tools to guide the project leadership process so that everyone sees the same information
  • Provide a structured method for everyone on the team to contribute and reach consensus
  • Record ideas and decisions on flipchart paper

Tip #5: Appreciate

Showing your appreciation for the contributions of each individual on the team and for the team as a whole keeps the team feeling good about their efforts and more committed to keep working.

Try This:

  • Take time at each team meeting to recognize accomplishments and thank people for their contributions
  • Periodically solicit their feedback on how you can improve
  • Take time for a small celebration when significant accomplishments are achieved

Tip #6: Trust

It’s the project leader’s role to build and maintain an environment of mutual trust and respect so everyone can work together successfully.

Try This:

  • Honor diversity of thinking, learning and other individual differences
  • Value each person’s inputs and ideas
  • Keep your commitments

Tip #7: Empower

Empower the team by creating opportunities for each individual to act as an empowered adult.

Try This:

  • Ensure people have the resources they need to get the job done
  • Make sure people have the skills to do the work assigned to them
  • Set up an oversight process so you have early warning signs if the project is off track

Whether you’ve been leading projects for decades or are new to the role, leading projects in a matrix requires a new set of collaborative team-based skills and tools. By applying these seven tips, you can meet the challenge of building team buy-in and commitment to your projects.

Want More?

Matrix Management 2.0™ is the most up-to-date operating system for leading and managing a matrix organization. If your organization is interested in developing MM 2.0™ leadership, explore our Collaborative Project Leadership training program or other matrix leadership programs.

Cathy Cassidy

As the Managing Director of the International Matrix Management Institute, Cathy helps organizations and practitioners adopt the skills and methods they need to succeed in today’s complex, dynamic environment. She is a Matrix Management 2.0™ Master Consultant and the author of several books on matrix management, including her most recent publication, Managing Projects in a Matrix. She is a key contributor to the Matrix Management 2.0™ Body of Knowledge, co-developer of the Matrix Management 2.0™ organizational operating system, and a lead developer for the company.