Join Bob McGannon for an in-depth discussion in this video Distributing leadership, part of Managing International Projects.
- Sometimes being a kid, can be hard work. If you want an ice cream, you might go and ask your mother, and if she isn't sure, she may tell you to go and ask your father. But when you ask him, and he's also unsure, he may tell you to go ask your mother. No wonder our kids get confused. Team members on international projects can sometimes feel a little like these kids, caught in the middle of decision-makers. In a traditional team environment, decisions can more than likely be made as a team, because everybody is accessible.
However, teams cannot do that as easily when people are dispersed across country borders, and time zones. It could be difficult to reach somebody in charge, so that a decision can be made when it matters. Also, it could be even more difficult to achieve buy-in and ownership of team decisions. By distributing leadership, you can ensure easier access to decision-makers, enabling international team members to be a greater part of the decision-making process. Here's how.
First, be clear about the decision-making process. Your team members need to be aware of the way decisions will be made, in a distributed leadership model. Create a process for the escalation, acceptance, and validation of decisions that is clear, inclusive, and well defined. You can have a Decision counsel. When something is escalated, a person from each country or region is involved in the discussion to come up with a clear, and well defined decision. That decision is then evaluated, and shared with the greater team.
Second, be clear on the roles and responsibilities of leaders. Ensure that team members and leaders, are aware of their roles and responsibilities in decision-making. Not all decisions need to be made by leaders however. It is important that the team is clear about which ones must be made by the global project leadership team, and which ones can be made by local managers, which are then ratified by you, as the project manager. Lastly, adapt and manage the risks of distributed leadership.
There are risks inherent in a Distributed Leadership model. These include inefficiency, lack of clarity, and conflict. It's important to be aware of the risks so that you can put strategies in place to deal with them when they arise. These strategies might include, adding contingencies for time delays and decision ratification, allowing for some additional review time, or time to ensure your management team has the right information to make an informed decision. Offering question asking opportunities, and time for consideration instead of making on the spot decisions.
As a parent, I once had to facilitate a parent meeting at my children's school that worked in this way. An initial meeting was held in order to capture the ideas of all parents. However, we agreed to make no decisions until everyone had the opportunity to ponder the ideas, and we'd reconvene at a future meeting. One word of warning here, local business leaders whose decisions are overturned, by the central project management team, can become disengaged. This is a delicate balance for the global project management team.
if the team lacks visible leadership, it is likely that team members will feel like nobody's in charge. They will quickly opt out of being part of the decision-making process. To return to my ice cream story, if dad always contradicts mom, the kid will always go to dad or end up working in isolation and just helping themselves. Your team members can do the same thing, so try to consistently reinforce the position of your distributed leaders.
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- Communicating across borders
- Bridging time zones and language gaps
- Finding and nurturing management "champions"
- Evaluating your communication style
- Keeping international projects on track