Team Building

What is shared leadership, and what influence can it have on project team success?

Global competition, technological advances, and environmental circumstances are driving organizations to stay competitive. Project team members are collaborating more than ever before: they are collaborating virtually, across nationalities and cultures, and are utilizing different languages to share ideas and form teams. The formulation of new types of leadership structures in project teams is one way companies are managing complex and innovative work as they strive to remain competitive in the marketplace.

Shared Leadership

Increasingly, the ability of the single Project Manager to provide all the different leadership functions in a complex project is being questioned in today’s organizations. One type of leadership that can be used in project teams is known as “shared leadership.” Different from a more vertical style of leadership, shared leadership is a team property that results from leadership influence across multiple members of the team. Some team researchers have found that a project culture supportive of shared leadership over time, and the willingness of project team members to offer influence as well as to receive it, are necessary for shared leadership to emerge in a project team.

How can Project Managers help teams benefit from shared leadership?

Some limited research studies have shown that shared leadership may have a positive influence on project team outcomes. In fact, several modern companies are already benefiting from establishment of shared leadership at the CEO and executive levels. Executives at Fluor, Britannia Industries Limited, and Catelent Pharma Solutions are managing complex organizations by sharing decision-making and accountability. Google’s success as a company may in part be attributed to the creation of a “bi-generational” and “bi-leadership” model in which a team of CEOs led the company during a critical growth decade, rather than a single, traditional leader being in the lead.

How can we, as Project Managers, increase the use of and benefit from shared leadership in our project teams? Below are three very helpful suggestions:

Begin early to understand the leadership strengths and weaknesses of project team members. Project work gives project team members excellent opportunities to lead a team in their areas of expertise. Have one-on-one meetings with project team members early in the team initiation process, to assess not only their technical capabilities, but also to identify what motivates them in their daily jobs and work tasks. Ask the team members if they prefer to work on solutions alone, or if they prefer to collaborate with others and have a voice in decisions and outcomes.

Promote a project culture of consensus, knowledge sharing, and accountability. There are several ways this can be done. One way is to ensure that all project team members have access to all project team information. Another way is to promote inclusion and sharing in decision-making. It is also important to clearly and publicly establish the goals that all project team members are working toward.
Provide your company or organization with awareness and education on the principles of shared leadership and how this type of leadership structure positively influences project outcomes.

A project is successful when it is completed on time and within budget and has achieved its goals with quality outcomes. Participative decision-making, empowerment to make decisions, accountability, and collaboration can all be implemented to increase the likelihood of project success!

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