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Managing the Matrix

David and I started a series on the future of leadership some months ago. Since then, we have both continued to consult and coach in global organizations that are experiencing significant transformation. The rapid rate of change continues to amaze us. As we continue our look at the future, many organizations have transitioned or will transition to more matrix-oriented organizations. Why? The purpose is to break down silos, promote innovation and be more efficient. Some examples include outsourcing major processes and functions, cross-functional global work teams and close partnerships with external organizations. Leading effectively in this environment takes different skills. Many people you depend on will not be in your direct chain of command and many won’t work directly for your organization.   Many questions rapidly emerge for leaders:

  • How can do you motivate and hold people accountable who do not report directly to you?
  • How can you lead with vision and passion, when your project has external companies participating and each associated partnership may have different goals and values?
  • How do you lead people and teams you have never met in person and might never meet in that fashion?

In order to manage others who are not in your direct chain of command, you will need increased use of interpersonal resourcefulness and emotional intelligence. It becomes even more important to be able to engage others through listening, engaging and inspiring action.

Clear expectations on purpose, outcomes and each person’s role is critical. It must be discussed, agreed upon and circulated across work partners. This will help to align and focus the team in the beginning but also to get back on track when issues and conflicts occur. Further, a clear purpose helps to align people and keep them moving forward toward a shared goal. I can’t tell you how many times my current global, cross-functional, multi-organization team has had to come back to team purpose and personal purpose to get through a tough issue.

Issues, conflicts and miscommunication will likely occur. An effective leader must have the courage and authenticity to have powerful conversations that directly address the issue at hand. Many of these conversations may be remote. The use of video connection on tools such as Skype, Lync, FaceTime and others are critical to establishing the authentic connection necessary to understand each other and reach agreement. Avoid email for these crucial and necessary conversations.

What skills and behaviors do you need to adopt to lead more effectively in a remote and matrixed environment?

About David Mitchell, Ph.D. David has a diverse and highly successfully career history, including University Professor of Psychology and CEO of two technology companies and 35 years in leadership development consultation. David has combined his training as a psychologist, business leadership and consulting to offer inspiration and guidance to others to passionately pursue success and meaning through their work. He has worked with a variety of organizations, ranging in size from 10 to 20,000 employees. As an efficacious entrepreneur, David founded two successful companies and participated as a team member in two others. David holds the belief that work and career are the legacy we offer to our family, our community and the planet. David leads by inspiring leaders to find the greatness inside themselves.

“Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

– Morpheus