Small projects and organizations usually have one strong leader who is an authority and drives things forward. However, when we look at the bigger undertakings we notice that they usually have at least several official and not official leaders, supervisors and bosses. It is not a rare case that their structure is flexible and there are no clear boundaries of responsibilities. It often leads to situations when a few staff members or even teams are led simultaneously by several people.
While such flexibility has several advantages and facilitates management for high level managers, it also introduces many challenges both for teams and leaders. A lot of frustration can be generated, especially within team members due to:
- leaders assign many tasks to particular developers and as a result overload their inboxes,
- leaders prioritizes tasks differently, which leads to not always fulfilling some issues on time,
- what’s worse, often different ways of solution are required,
- leaders make contradictory requests, which highly increases frustration and demotivates.
While it might sound like a really chaotic organization and lack of synchronization, it is not always the case. Usually it is almost impossible to track all ongoing projects in every detail, and it is almost impossible to agree about them in advance. While projects evolve and several leaders are handling sometimes intersecting areas it is almost impossible to ensure that they will make the same decisions.
However, something can still be done about it. Team leaders can take several steps and implement a few practices to lower their subordinates stress and frustration caused by inconsistent leading:
- defining current short term and major goals of a project to accomplish – being on the same page about the overall aims helps a lot – even if the decisions will differ they will still push towards the same direction,
- briefly defining paths to accomplish major project goals – such awareness will further decrease decision variation,
- defining common principles about project management, development methods, contact with client – another activity that narrows the decision scope and possibilities,
- define overall cooperation plan – depending on the specific project it might give you some benefits. Unfortunately, in highly dynamic environments such definitions must be very flexible to be up to date with reality and as a result might lead again to inconsistent leading,
- regular status synchronization – great way to provide consistent decisions for a team. However, you have to find the right balance as too frequent and too detailed status synchronization will be a waste of time (each leader does not need to know exactly in detail what the other leaders are taking care of). I personally find that 10 minutes daily is the maximum,
- do not critique other leaders, their decisions and personalities – this is the simplest way to divide team, introduce a lot of negative emotions, demotivate and decrease the overall performance drastically. Even if you overwrite someone else’s decision, do not judge it – just simply state that your one is different,
- do not overwrite others decisions as often as possible – until it could lead to catastrophic results, do not change other leaders decisions. You can clarify it later with them and after reaching a consensus let them announce changes. It will allow them to save face and let them team know that they are in good hands,
- acknowledge differences with other leaders – do not accept fake agreements. No matter how much good everybody would put into it, such situations will sooner or later kick everybody in their asses in the most inappropriate moment. Look at the first three points on this list. Always have a clear and honest agreement about them,
- fight and argue with other leaders far away from your teams – it is a normal thing, especially when new teams are forming and storming. Unfortunately, most of the people do not see that this way. Leader fights might introduce a lot of not needed, negative emotions which will be hard to cure in the future.
Whatever you are doing, think about how it will affect your team members. Give yourself a moment to consider how you would feel about what you are going to do if someone did it to you. Think how team members might perceive your current project leadership and what might be their problems. Ask them genuinely for feedback. Ask other leaders for the same and then brainstorm what you can do about it.
Being a member or leading a project with several leaders is not an easy time. However, we can do a lot to improve the situation and make our everyday work much more positive. Putting a little effort in this direction can help a lot. So do not hesitate and talk out with other leaders what you can together do about it!