Knowing the Informal Leader in Your Project Team

smileyProject managers are typically assigned project teams that consist of individuals from the Business, HR, Finance, Real Estate, and Technologies (if not a tech led project). These individuals either volunteered or were volunteered to work on the team.

Six sigma, PMP, Prince 2, and other project methodologies touch upon change management but don’t focus on important aspects of group dynamics and leadership.

Did you know that teams go through the Tuckman’s Model of Group Development?

You may recognize it as the Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing, and Adjourning of groups. It’s important to be aware of these stages of group evolution because I’ve found that within these stages an informal leader can emerge.

Why does it matter if there’s an informal leader in your group?

Before answering the question, I would like to explain the difference between a formal and informal leader.

A formal leader is an individual whose job is to be the leader of the group (e.g., the Project Manager is automatically the team leader). Organization authorizes role.

An informal leader is an individual who does not have official authority over the team but is being followed by the group members. (e.g., when one finds that the team is following one particular team-member instead of you). Team authorizes role.

It’s important to identify the existence of an informal leader because that individual has the informal power and authority to either support your efforts or completely undermine them.

Informal leaders emerge when the team does not support/believe in your leadership. Below are some tips that have helped me as I progressed from Project Manager to Portfolio level Manager.

Tips to help minimize the power shift to an informal leader:

  • Ensure you know your leadership style and adopt according to group needs
  • Prior to kick-off meeting, meet with each individual team-member (even if virtual) and understand the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) factor
  • Become familiar with Tuckman’s Model of Group Development
  • Leverage Myers-Briggs to understand how the team will work together (I recommend this be done as a team and part of kick-off meeting or early stages of team formation)
  • When hosting meetings listen and observe group for signs of power shift within team

Tips on working with an existing informal leader

  • Build a strong relationship with individual and understand motivation/outcome from project experience
  • Obtain feedback from team regarding your leadership style (e.g., Start, Stop, Continue). Leverage data to make adjustments
  • Conduct a team building exercise where you’re able to instill loyalty and trust in team members
  • Meet with team members one on one regularly to form a stronger individual relationship, particularly the individuals that are closer to informal leader

Hope this helps. Let me know your thoughts.