Successfully Managing a Project Team in a Matrix Environment

Toni Bowers

In many ways, project managers have a tougher role than department or team managers. Even though the project manager’s ultimate goal—a tech rollout, an equipment upgrade—is focused and finite, he or she doesn’t have the luxury (at least in small and medium companies) of a dedicated team.

Matrix Team Management

Project managers have little or no authority over their team members in a matrix environment. A matrix organization is one that crosses organizational boundaries. Thus, team members may come from various departments. If managing the rollout of a new CMS, for example, the project manager will have to depend on input and help from end users, the dev group, sales and marketing, and any other group that has a stake in the outcome. Since a project result may not be formally tied to each team member’s performance evaluation, the project manager has to use persuasion, encouragement and suggestions toward people who do not formally report to him in order to move the line on a project. Team management is a big part of a project's success.

So, as a project manager, how do you get a team to commit to your project’s goals so you get the best results--project management success? Use these tips for effective team management strategies.

Make use of the project champion. Chris Miles, writing for The Project Champion: A Management Best Practice, suggests that an authoritative champion for your project can help avert failure.  It’s unfortunate, but people won’t always respond to requests from a project manager that they see as a company peer, but they usually will if they know their performance is being watched by someone higher up the corporate ladder. This champion has the organizational position and influence to help the project manager communicate effectively with involved parties and move the project forward to successful completion.

Acknowledge support from team members’ functional managers. If you’ve gotten the OK from functional managers for their team members to help with a project, then you should acknowledge it by thanking those managers. And when a team member has assisted with an issue or helped you reach a project milestone, pass that information on to the functional manager. In their book, Project Management Leadership: Building Creative Teams, Rory Burke and Steve Barron refer to this concept as “Reward power":

“Reward power is the project leader’s ability to encourage the team to perform based on the distribution of rewards that the team members view as valuable.”

This will look good for the employee, but will also serve to make managers more willing to provide similar support on future projects. However, try to refrain from reporting the times when a team member has dropped the ball during the project unless it becomes a real impediment to the project’s success and you’re unable to resolve an issue yourself. It is, after all, your project to manage.

Encourage the creation of an oversight committee. This tactic is a recommendation from The Complete Project Management Office Handbook, Third Edition. The committee should be made up of functional managers who have a stake in the project. This gives each functional manager a focus on the goals for their respective areas of responsibility and helps the project move along. This committee will also give those managers an insight into any conflicting demands on people’s time and effort.

Provide team members with details. Define project work and each person’s responsibilities as clearly and concisely as you can through checklists, shared apps and project deliverables. According to Kevin Eikenberry with Leadership & Learning, “Whether you set the goals or involve them in setting them, no team can succeed without them. Goals alone aren’t enough however. We must help people connect their personal work to the goals of the team and the vision of the organization. Our role as leaders is to help make that happen.”

Encourage communication among team members. Openly discussing team issues, especially conflicts, brings those issues to light and puts each team member on the hook for resolution. Identify and address problems as soon as they arise. If that tactic doesn’t work, call in the sponsor. Bruce Harpham, PMP, and the founder of, says “Professionals know when to ask for help. And successful project management professionals are no different. If you truly feel the conflict is beyond your capability to solve, ask your project sponsor for help. Before any meeting, brief your sponsor on the situation and come prepared with at least two solutions of your own.”

It’s not easy to manage a process when the participants don’t formally report to you. But that’s what project management is.

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