Often leaders in a matrix organization are working with people from very different parts of the organization to focus on a common initiative. A group of talented colleagues may have the requisite collection of skills, but likely also bring competing projects and deadlines from various leaders within the organization.
Individuals on the team are hearing different functional operating strategies. They may even be hearing different strategic messages about where to focus resources. Team members may have different metrics and timelines which diminish engagement in the cross-functional project.
How does the leader of such a team enlist individuals' time and attention, provide motivation, or hold team members accountable with no formal reporting structure in place? Unable to rely on formal authority, leaders must cultivate the soft skills of leadership to influence and inspire team members to ensure the project's success.
Leadership qualities for a cross-functional team
1. Acknowledge the elephant in the room. Individual team members may need to honor different operating strategies in their work. For example, a product manager working with an IT resource on the team can respect that the IT team member is focused on efficiency and standardization while the product manager is focused on innovation.
2. Connect the work of the specific project to the overall corporate strategy. Clearly communicate how the team members' day-to-day work on this project will support the overall direction and goals of the organization. Reference this connection frequently. Helping individuals connect their project work to the bigger picture will improve their engagement and the project's outcomes.
3. Encourage learning from each other. There certainly can be divergence in how strategic direction is expressed across different parts of an organization. Seeing the larger strategy in its varied expressions and implementations can deepen understanding of the overall strategic direction. New perspectives can open up ways for individuals to execute the broad strategy.
4. Build trust. Be honest about differing agendas and support team members in their attempts to balance competing priorities. Ensure that you acknowledge each person's contribution and let their successful performance be known.
Matrix reporting and cross-functional teams are part of today's reality. We hope these tips help leaders leverage their potential and minimize the challenges.
Pamela Roller is Director of Client Operations at Insight Experience, a Boston-based firm delivering contextually rich, immersive business simulations and learning experiences to accelerate and integrate leadership, business acumen and strategy execution.