Project Management

Give Up Power to Lead the Team

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As project managers, we are entrusted with power. We assume three types of powers as soon as we become a project manager—legitimate power, the power to penalize and the power to reward. Also called powers of position. We often use these powers to get the job done, resolve conflicts among team members, pressure the team to fast-track, quickly make a decision, etc.

Yet the powers we use can come with a hefty price that we often ignore. In fact, that price can even outweigh the benefits we receive. Which raises the question: Why make this loss-making transaction?

One reason is that we pay the price either at a later date or we pay it gradually or indirectly. Therefore we don’t realize we are paying it at all, or we are just more interested in the short term.

For example, if a team member resigns, he may not give you the real reason behind his departure. We only realize there is a problem when several people quit! By then, too much damage may have been done to the organization or project.

Another reason we make this loss-making transaction has to with perception. Most managers think the power to penalize is bad. They believe using legitimate power is fine and using the power to reward is preferable. However, if you analyze carefully, you will find both of these powers have serious limitations.

Power Problems

You may find the only benefit of using these powers is saving time. What we sacrifice for quick results, then, are harmony, mutual understanding, unanimity, openness, fairness and justification.

By wielding power, we force decisions. If we penalize team members, we create fear. That makes people agree to what we want while putting their reservations aside. Openness is lost and communication breaks down.

When we use legitimate power, we tell people to do something because we are the project manager. Indirectly, we convey that we don’t have time to explain to you or convince you or respond to your reservations. The harmony and mutual understanding are lost.

The power to reward could be better than the other two, but it has several limitations and should be used very carefully. Rewards motivate people, but only if they are implemented with true honesty and transparency, which is not easy or common.

The risk is that people may agree with you in expectation of a reward, putting their legitimate doubts or questions aside. In addition, there may be more people who feel they are eligible for reward, but only one gets it, making others unhappy.

Our tendency to give rewards to excellent people does not allow us to recognize and reward average team members. They are not even getting motivated because they know they will not reach that league of excellence.

Or, people may be productive until they get what they are expecting. Then you have to continuously give something to everyone if you want them to be productive. It’s like keeping a carrot in front of a horse all the time—not as productive as it appears.

So what is to be done? The answer is simple: Give your powers to team members. In the end, this approach will be much more productive. It creates a healthy environment—healthier than what follows from deploying power in the traditional top-down ways.

In my next post, I‘ll discuss how we can give these powers to team members and how this will help create a productive atmosphere. Meanwhile, please share your experience and views on using powers below! 

Posted by Vivek Prakash on: July 04, 2016 02:50 AM | Permalink

Comments (9)

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If One gives up power to team members, then team could be more democratic leading to more discussion and conformance rather than productive outcome. Further, order can be maintained with RACI, documenting the process/procedure, implementing/using such processes with measurable metrics can take the project/program to its desired outcome.
Further, there will be dissonance/disagreements in the project/program and someone has to take the lead and do the bitter part of the pill. Project/program exists because, organization exists. There is no one specific way of doing and this changes based on the need of the situation.

Thanks Balaji for your comments. I do agree with you. What I am proposing is to reduce usages of these powers and lead more with persuasion and collaboration. We are still project manager and despite delegating power, we are still accountable for our team members' acts.

I agree to use collaboration and team ownership is the way to go forward. As the project manager, we are the responsible person for delivering and we are also responsible for developing the team. The team should feel that they own something which many a times motivates towards goal. We should also do everything that helps in building trust within team members. Personally, I would give more importance to five core values of SCRUM in any project management - FOCUS, COURAGE, OPENNESS, TRANSPARENCY and RESPECT.

Having said that, as we all live in a world of release deadlines and pressures of work, we may have to use our legitimate power to guide the course of action when things are not aligned with project goals. The use of this power or penalty power has to be used only in cases of importance when we don't have an option.

I believe in holding the "power card" and using it as appropriate, only when needed. I try to treat my project team on an equal playing field and to provide a safe place for them to voice anything they feel they need to. It's worked well and has them more engaged in the project because they feel like they have more ownership in to it and how it performs. I've even learned more from them relating to the product design and implementation because they feel they can communicate more with me.

I have used reward systems and have others feel like they too should have received rewards when other members did. Having it clearly defined as to what was rewarded tends to help (I keep a record). You just have to be fair and equal, and stick to the guidelines you've created on what you'll reward.

Stephanie, Great to hear your experience...When we give up power to our team members, they become more responsible and take more ownership. Thanks.

Ashok, I agree with you, we show our power some times to some people but I think we should look for the ways to reduce its usage day by day and aspire to reach a height where we need not to use them at all.

Giving power to team members as well reduces the time of the PM dedicated to follow up.

It is importanto to rememeber that power is an individual choice. Give your powers to team members will only be successful these team members are willing to take on the responsibilities that empowerment brings.

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