Navigating Matrix Management – 5 Ways to Avoid Failing and Find Success

If you’ve read “EQ Is Giving IQ a Run for Its Money: Why Being Emotionally Intelligent May Be More Important Than Being Smart,” then you understand why great leaders excel in emotional intelligence. But EQ is equally important for those beyond the C-suite. Managers need strong EQ skills in order to inspire, coach, and engage their teams. The following article helps managers find success in today’s virtual, global, and cross-functional workplace – where the use of both EQ and IQ is as important as ever.

It’s been said before and it will surely be said again: managers are invaluable. They have their fingers on the pulse of the organization – working with the C-suite one minute and the front line the next. In fact, they’re often the very glue keeping these two groups connected. But there’s a managerial challenge that isn’t as widely discussed… yet it’s a very common dilemma:

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How can I be sure I’m getting the most out of people who don’t have a direct reporting relationship to me?

Today’s managers often find themselves leading projects with key people outside their core team. This type of managing scenario – often called Cross-Functional or Matrix Management – is challenging because reporting lines are blurred, but you still need to guide the performance of these people or fuel a collaborative effort. You need them to deliver because success – the team’s, yours, and ultimately the organization’s – depends on it.

Matrix Management comes into play during a short-term project or an initiative that lasts years. Adding to the complexity is when team members play key roles on other projects too. When some relationships are completely virtual. When people are operating in different time zones. And when people have differing native languages, business practices, or cultural norms.

In 2015, this type of scenario plays out regularly. With it comes a unique set of challenges, challenges that can be overcome with the right mindset that includes using both your head and your heart. Leveraging emotional and intellectual intelligence is the best way to create the connections that will motivate your diverse team to work hard for you, for themselves, and for the business. Here are five tips to guide you.

TIP 1: Establish credibility and context from Day 1. You’re managing people who don’t typically report to you, who never worked with you, who are in remote locations, and who are likely working on another (or several other) projects. To get results, you have to start things off the right way – and establishing yourself as a credible leader with expertise is a must from the get-go.

How to do it: To accomplish these two goals, communicate with your people and do it in a way that resonates with individual cultures. Help them connect their roles to the project and see how they each can meaningfully contribute.

Demonstrate your credibility as a leader by speaking about your experience leading similar projects. Highlight your skills that pertain to this project. It seems obvious, but be sure to invite questions and concerns and discuss challenges together. This helps foster a team culture that is open and honest and demonstrates your willingness to support them throughout the project.

TIP 2: Create trusting relationships. Matrix Management allows for the best talent to work on a project together – regardless of location. This means you’ll be managing people who don’t know each other – or you – to work as a cohesive team. You’ll never achieve the success you’re aiming for unless you establish trust and connect the team to a common goal and purpose (see tip #3) and create an atmosphere of trust and loyalty.

How to do it: Build relationships with each individual. This is the best way to create trust and prove you have their best interests in mind. When you can establish these types of emotional connections, you’ll forge strong and long-lasting working relationships. This might mean scheduling a time to talk – in person if they’re local or over the phone or via a video conference – at the start of the project. Use this time to discuss the project and ask for input on how each individual can bring his or her best work to the table. Take the time to discover how each person prefers working and communicating. If you can figure out how to reach your people in a way that works best for them, you’ll get better results.

TIP 3: Create a shared picture and connect everyone to it. To successfully lead a matrixed team with different managers, a variety of workloads, and unique work styles, you must create a united team. Each member, whether they’re down the hall or across the globe, needs to know, believe in, and feel connected to the same story, outcomes, and goals. And they each need to clearly understand their unique part in the story. Taking the time to clarify roles at the start of the project will serve you well.

How to do it: Help each person understand the big picture of the project and how it supports the overall company strategy. Then help them connect how their role and expertise contributes to helping deliver project results. Ensure all members understand objectives, team roles, schedules, accountability, and your expectations. Conduct regular check-ins to make sure individuals remember the end goal and understand why their work is critical to help the team – and organization at large – reach success.

TIP 4: Communicate, communicate, communicate. Your team members aren’t your direct reports. And they’re not dedicated to your team and your team only. So, in order to empower them to do their best, consider what else is on their plate. Talk to them – and their other managers – to find out what else they are working on. This will further prove to them that you are to be trusted and that you have their best interests in mind.

How to do it: Coach team members to share information (like timelines and deliverables) with their other manager(s) – and ask that they share important details on their other work with you as well. You should make the time to check in and collaborate with your team members’ other managers. The more information you have, the better you can anticipate issues or schedule conflicts. If it makes sense, take the time to collaborate with the other managers. After all, you are all working for the same organization.

TIP 5: Be mindful of varying cultures – always. One of the most important things to do in Matrix Management is to be cognizant of each team member’s culture. This impacts almost every interaction you have with your team and begins with the very first email or phone call with them. Being informed of what not to do is just as important as knowing what to do.

How to do it: Do your cultural research – ask your peers or do a Google search – to find out if there are any cultural taboos for a specific region. Taking the time to find out what might offend your team members will help you create trusting relationships that much faster (see tip #4). And always consider times zones, local vernacular, and the mode of communication – emails and text messages lose all nuances and can easily be misinterpreted. You should always ask yourself, “Considering the different cultures on my team, should I address concerns as a group or in one-on-one conversations?” It’s always a smart idea to pick up the phone or use a video chat app to have a talk. Remember, the phone is your friend!

Matrix Management requires managers to think differently about their approach, to juggle more intricacies than ever before because you’re being tasked to coach, develop, and guide a team comprised of people who likely don’t know you … or each other. Creating a team atmosphere and camaraderie that is virtually tangible and is capable of inspiring people and motivating them to do good work is important. Therefore it’s paramount that you connect with people’s emotional and intellectual sides, creating relationships that compel people to give you their all – even if you don’t have a say in their annual review.

Cross-functional management makes things a bit more challenging, but use the tips above to help master the matrix. You’ll be a better manager because of it.


How Do Your Matrix Management Skills Measure Up?

If you’re a manager of a matrix or cross-functional team, here’s a list to review. Check each box if it applies to you and then refer to the scorecard below to see how you rank. The time and effort you put in now to evaluate, refine, and strengthen your matrix management skills will pay off for everyone in the long run!

Your Skills



Your Team





Working Together





Communication








Accolades



Scorecard

Your Total: 0

24 boxes checked – You know your stuff!
20 to 23 boxes checked – Not bad, but if you tackle the unchecked boxes, you’ll be a rock star.
16 to 19 boxes checked – Improvement is needed … ask a mentor or peer for guidance and real-world experience. Learning from others is invaluable!
15 or fewer boxes checked – It’s time to for a crash course in matrix management. Consider investing in management books, articles, and outside vendors for the insight you need.