Everyone has a Boss…I have Four

Depending on the structure of your organization, team members may be assigned directly to a Project Manager or to their discipline leaders and are only on loan to the project team. For the purposes of this post, we will discuss a loose matrix management structure that I am most familiar with; one where the project manager has little to no actual authority over the individual team members. How do you motivate and discourage in this environment and how do you keep competing interests from tearing at the teams’ resources?

First, I would like to discuss the reality that in this example, the PM can feel reduced to a series of asking “pretty please” and offering “glances of disappointment” to encourage and discourage behavior. With little to no formalized authority, you can be left feeling a little impotent as the team leader. Furthermore, the members of the team may feel conflicted and frustrated by the contrary direction they may be receiving from yourself as the PM and their discipline supervisor and/or other PM’s for additional teams they may be on. To reconcile this I will suggest first and foremost that you appeal to the true desire to succeed and please within each of your team members. One could postulate that this requires careful assembly of an excellent team in the first place, but let’s just stipulate to that for now. Everyone wants to do a good job for the team. Why then, doesn’t everyone do a good job for the team?

–          Opportunity for Input: Your team members will be more likely to take ownership and respond to assignments and deadlines if they feel like they had an opportunity to provide input into creating that goal. Even if you have to negotiate with your team members to some degree to get them to accomplish what is needed, the PM should let them have their say.

–          Gain their Endorsement: After offering the opportunity for input, the PM may formally request their endorsement on that goal. This formal endorsement can vary from their signature on a PMP to a restatement in a summary email confirming your understanding to meeting minutes. This will trigger the team members’ desire to succeed and please just that much more strongly and will reduce misunderstandings.

–          Communicate the Direction: While being careful to not make your team members feel like they are being disrespected, make sure you keep their boss(es) included on major developments. If the team is utilizing a resource which is technically “on loan” from the discipline lead for something other than what was originally requested, that needs to be conveyed to all.

Finally, be empathetic to your teammates and their serfdom. They are being pulled in various directions and so are you. The problem may well be above your and your team members’ heads, but for the purposes of this blog and likely the purposes of your reality as a PM, let’s focus on what you can, if not control, at least influence: your project team. While affording your team members’ opportunity for input, lay the goals and milestones out for them in black and white, gain their endorsement on that plan, schedule, or action item and hold them accountable in the most impactful means you have at your disposal. That goes for celebration of successes as well!

How many bosses do you have?


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