How to lead when the team does not report to you

In product management, leading a team becomes implicit ask though we are accountable only to product success. However, one of the main components for building a successful product is dedication from team.  Therefore, it becomes crucial for product managers to lead the team and drive them towards a set goal, even though the team members may have different reporting managers.

Leading without authority is more difficult for new product managers when the team is more experienced or when the team is allocated only for the short project. Here are some of the things that I learned and read in the last few years, and found them effective in leading different types of teams.

#. It is much easier to drive the team if you can articulate the goal well in advance, make them understand the WHY, seek solutions and explain the decision.

#. You must personally know all members of the team. One the spectrum of what they ate last night like their spouse and where they live like some acquaintance, you must know something specific that you can remember even after 10 years.

It starts with small talk and ends when you talk with them alone. It is always good to know what kind of work they enjoy and their aspirations, which helps with outcome predictability and making the team more efficient.

#. “Always bring the donuts”.

It is classic advice from Ken Norton. He advises bringing the donuts when leading cross-functional teams. For Product Owners or Managers who are new in the trade, it is a good practice to order pizza or donuts in Retrospective meetings or to celebrate any occasion. A product manager who regularly treats its team is a happy product manager. And if you make the practice unpredictable, then you can surely keep others happy. 

#. Specify stretch goals and give challenges

I found that having stretch goals at various times helps decrease monotony and non-routine challenges keeps the team motivation high. Of course, you will have to celebrate extra when these are met.

#. Follow this simple format for retrospective meetings – recognize, recommend and reconcile.

Recognize the effort team has made, recommend improvements and reconcile for the bigger vision.

#. Work harder than the team, be dedicated and open to help and talk about the success state with the larger picture. The team will appreciate your efforts and will work in tandem. 

#. Lastly, take the blame (buck stops with product manager) and pass the praises (always in public).

Talent develops features, but teamwork makes product successful.

Photo by Patrick Fore.

August 15, 2019

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