How-to Lead Teams (getting things done) when you are not the boss



How do you lead people when you are not the boss?

How can you get things done when you are a project manager but not the line manager and you are working in a matrix organisation? How can you demand from people to change their behaviour, e.g.: deliver better results when you don’t have the formal authority to do so?

In any consulting firm, you will face situations where you need to work with others and request others to deliver their tasks without being their boss. In most cases, I have experienced that this is not an issue, as the team you are working with has a common goal: a client project or an internal project. Delivering to the client´s satisfaction is not only part of your job, but you get rewarded as part of your bonus. And you need good feedback both from your client and your colleagues to get this bonus. So, in principle, everyone should be motivated intrinsically to do their best.

However, priorities may change, and your colleague might work on a more important project or you colleague may always be below the quality that you expect.

Lateral leadership (getting things done, when you are not the boss) is about crystal clear communication, feedback and negotiation.

Crystal Clear Communication

  • Crystal clear communication means, your colleagues know exactly what your expectations are AND what the consequences are, when they are not met. E.g.: delay in the project, overtime, running out of budget. The most important element here is, that you DONT assume, they know, or everyone knows that (assumption is the mother of all fu_ _ups). If you assume, that your colleagues know or understand what your expectations are, you have the chance of minimum 50% that you are wrong. They may know something, but not, what you exactly wanted or meant, if you haven’t told them clearly.

Crystal clear communication is direct and respectful - and does not use phrases like „I am sorry to bother you, … sorry, sorry, … please do you think you might be able to do…). Better „I would like you to do …: please prepare xyz by tomorrow lunch time, else we need to communicate the client the delay…

Can we agree on a common working understanding? You could also create a project charter, where the team describes how they want to work/deliver and deal with conflicts…. - and everybody signs “. That would be a great element you then can refer to.

Giving Feedback

  • Giving constructive feedback when things don’t work as planned is absolutely crucial. You can create a respectful atmosphere and setting to allow your colleague to save his/her face. It is again important to be respectful and clear on what you want your colleague to change. Addressing clearly what went wrong and giving constructive ideas on how to improve is essential. It is also essential the everyone understand the consequences that the event/result had or is going to have if nothing changes. It helps everyone to understand „why” the change needs to happen.

Negotiating Your Way

  • Negotiating your way to your result is essential: you do this, I do that. How can I help you to do xyz. In the end, consulting is about teamwork and supporting each other in different phases provides a lot of opportunities to do favours and to request favours. Sometimes it needs the courage to as for a favour/help/support. Negotiation is about finding a good solution for everyone and sometimes it may be that you are taking a step back in one area, but also get a step forward in another.

I concluded that a lot of mistakes are based on everyone assuming things and not explaining clearly what the expectations are and what the consequences are, when these expectations are not met. People want to make a good job and want to grow and develop, in consulting. And being a good leader or a servant leader does not mean, that everything must be full of roses. Leadership is about supporting and demanding and ideally both are in balance.


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