Managing a Multi-Team Matrix

Global TeamsAs the scope of your projects expands, you’ll need to engage teams, not just individuals, from around the world to accomplish your goals. Last weekend I was reminded about the challenging role that leaders who play an interface function between the global leadership team and their organizations. Two consultants from the Organization for Applied Research in the Netherlands described scenarios involving projects involving UN Peace Keeping forces as well as Dutch rail consortium that highlighted the need for a unique skill set from project managers around the world.

Do you want to play a bigger role on the global stage? Great, then let’s explore some of the challenges and related key skills sets that you’ll need before taking on this “project interface management” role.This role is an evolution of the team lead position that all of us are familiar with. The challenge is in the added complexity factors associated with cultural and organizational differences. Since we focused on the cultural piece earlier in the week (ref The Project Culture Conundrum), let’s look at the organizational challenges today.

Multi-company collaborations is a rapidly expanding trend that enables us to focus on core competencies, but puts a heavy premium on a team’s ability to integrate components/services. My past experiences with Raytheon involved uniting project leaders representing 2 to 20 companies together to accomplish an overarching goal. At the time, I didn’t appreciate the difficult role that the component project leads from company X, Y & Z had in working across organizational and cultural boundaries.

The key challenges associated with project interface management that I see and related skill sets for thriving in this role are outlined below.

Challenge 1: Managing the tradeoff decisions between your departments/company’s goals and the project’s overarching goals. Organizational goals and their underlying assumptions can be very diverse and complicated, making the traditional scope/schedule/cost tradeoff look simple in comparison.

  • Skill sets to develop or strengthen:
  • Establish and manage goal clarity with all stakeholder
  • Build solid sponsorship agreements to govern decision making
  • Facilitate predefined decision making processes

Challenge 2: Influencing up (at the global project team level) and down (implementing agreements made back in your department/company). Tradeoffs mean that you won’t always get your way, so working towards win-win agreements and getting buy-in from company stakeholders is essential.

  • Skill sets to develop or strengthen:
  • sharpen win-win negotiating strategies and tactics
  • relationship building with executives & influencers as well as with the global team members
  • communication skills to articulate goal alignment

The one cultural piece that I’ll add here is in regards to the selection process that each company uses to determine who will fill this critical project interface role. Their is a veil of mystery that shrouds the hiring process despite organizational initiatives to quantify the process. Just read the book “Blink” by Malcomn Gladwell and you’ll have a new appreciation for the human thought processes that interfere with logic to create phenomenons like why the average CEO is 6 inches taller than the general population.

You can start by getting a better understanding about your own company’s culture to increase your chance of getting these global project roles. At the same time, realize that your counterparts from other companies may be in their role for very different reasons, so seek out opportunities to learn about their strengths, backgrounds and cultural beliefs. Because succeeding in the role of project interface manager will lead to bigger and better global projects.

Jefferson (aka Jeff Richardson)


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