Influencing Across Teams & Distances
A recent survey by the Corporate Executive Board Council identified “influence” as one of the main skills necessary for leaders with multi-country responsibilities to be identified as “great leaders” (27% reported a change in the probability of being perceived as a great leader, 2012). However, in today’s organizational structures, leaders often find themselves directing multiple teams across different locations and cultures without any direct authority over the team members. Given the reality of today’s matrix organizations, influence assumes an even greater importance to effective leadership.
Matrix organizations are characterized by networks of teams consisting of individuals with multiple reporting lines. The focus lies in the interactive process to foster collaboration and innovation across functions, potentially resulting in a rather tangled web of changing priorities and responsibilities. At the same time, McKinsey’s Organizational Health Index shows that clear and accountable roles are among the most important drivers of organizational health. To perform well as an organization, all employees need to be clear on what is expected of them in order to build an engaged workplace (Gallup, 2015). How is that possible with an estimated 84% of employees being at least slightly matrixed (U.S. specific data, Gallup 2015)? Research shows that matrix organizations tend to stifle productivity, slow communication, and decision-making processes, and hinder agility (Nordmeyer, 2011). Challenges like these are amplified when the team members are located all around the world.
Global teams are dependent on technology to fulfill their job expectations. With minimal interaction via media like email or chat, it can be daunting for a leader to establish trust and a working team culture, let alone influence and include all team members. Other (local) teams often take priority over those team members who are several time zones away.
Additionally, a geographically dispersed team comes with diverse backgrounds, different perspectives and values, and different communication preferences that need to be recognized and managed accordingly. That poses the question:
How do you successfully lead a matrixed team across distances?
- Confirm common priorities, create clearly shared values and objectives.
- Address role ambiguity by establishing clear accountability and targets.
- Eliminate unnecessary options in order to focus on key objectives.
- Question your assumptions, keep an open mind and invite other perspectives.
- Be a solid role model for the behaviors you want to see in others.
- Establish and continue a transparent and ongoing communication process.
- Give regular, actionable feedback.
- Highlight the skills and strengths of remote colleagues so that others are aware of them.
- Establish knowledge sharing processes and systems that work across distances.
- Cater to the preferences of the team.
While it certainly takes more than four guidelines to lead and influence in a matrix organization, these ground rules are the first steps on your path to leading an innovative, collaborative, and at the same time, productive and effective global team.
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Additional Suggested Reading:
Suzanne Heywood and Julian Birkinshaw, “Putting organizational complexity in its place,” McKinsey Quarterly, May 2010.
Billie Nordmeyer, “Disadvantages of organizations with the matrix approach,” Houston Chronicle, chron.com
James K. Harter et al., The relationship between engagement at work and organizational outcomes, Gallup, February 2013, gallup.com
Bazigos, Michael, and Harter, Jim, “Revisiting the matrix organization,” McKinsey Quarterly, January 2016.
CLC Human Resources, Boundary Spanning Leadership”, Corporate Executive Board, White Paper Series, 2011