Lateral Leadership - Achieving Goals Together

Estelle Klemp
Leadership skills

What is lateral leadership?

It is becoming increasingly common to find flat hierarchies in companies - but this also requires new styles of leadership, such as lateral leadership. Implementing this leadership style is not always easy and involves some difficulties, but with the right knowledge, it can be extremely effective. Lateral leadership is mostly used in inter-departmental projects to find solutions to complex issues. Here, the competencies of one department are no longer sufficient, but require more comprehensive knowledge. Derived from Latin, lateral leadership means "leadership from the side", in contrast to classical leadership "from above". In this context, the lateral leader does not hold a disciplinary superior position.

But please keep in mind:

Lateral leadership is not a hidden leadership, nor is it an informal leadership of colleagues! In fact, it is an official leadership style.

As in classical leadership, the leader has a mission to achieve a certain result. Hence, where are the differences between the two leadership styles?

Lateral vs. disciplinary leadership

The two leadership styles have both similarities and differences. The similarities include, for example:

Technical tasks (target agreement, budget planning, project management).

Leadership tasks (communication, motivation, delegation)

The differences lie mainly in the labour law tasks and the role of the manager. In disciplinary leadership, the manager has the authority to issue directives and is responsible for hiring as well as dismissing employees and negotiating salaries. In lateral leadership, the manager has no authority for these tasks. Furthermore, in classical leadership the leadership role is defined by the position, whereas in lateral leadership the leadership role is assigned on a project-oriented basis.

Effective use of leadership tools

To effectively implement the lateral leadership style, there are some key leadership tools:

  • Develop a project vision

  • Clarify expectations with the principals and then agree on concrete goals with the team.

  • Together with the team, set rules for your cooperation.

  • Plan regular meetings and always clearly define the purpose of each meeting.

  • Create an overview of all tasks - e.g. with the help of a Kanban board.

  • Use virtual platforms that make sense for the project.

  • Plan presentations for different stakeholders

  • Finding a constructive way to deal with conflict

As a lateral manager you work with a complex environment - people from different departments with different subcultures. This is a breeding ground for conflict.

Challenge #1 The team member's supervisor is blocking!

In this situation, it is advisable to talk to the member's supervisor to examine his or her interests and behaviour. If the interests are clear, a solution can be found together.

Challenge #2 One team member does not cooperate!

If there is a team member whose behaviour repeatedly creates conflicts within the team or even jeopardises the project, then it is time to take the initiative. Do not ignore or accept the behaviour. Proceed as follows:

Address the problem openly in order to get to the roots of the behaviour and try to find solutions together with the counterpart.

Make your own experience clear: What impact does the behaviour have on you, the team and the success of the project?

Make clear agreements and ensure that these agreements are adhered to.

Challenge #3 Two team members have a conflict

When a conflict between two team members affects the team's mood and success, it is imperative to resolve the conflict constructively. We recommend these two approaches:

Arrange individual meetings with the team members - this way you can motivate them to find a solution on their own.

Joint meeting with both parties involved - here you mediate between the parties and work out a concrete problem-solving plan. Arrange follow-up meetings as well. You can learn more about conflict-management here.

In a nutshell

Lateral leadership is used to motivate employees to achieve a common goal under the guidance of the manager - without any disciplinary management responsibility.

At the beginning of the project, the lateral leader must clearly define his/her role and responsibilities and communicate them to the team.

Defining responsibilities makes it easier to resolve conflicts within the team.

You are interested in the topic of leadership and different leadership styles? Click here to learn more about agile leadership.

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