Bring Your “A” Game to Drive Change

Highly matrixed organizations are complex in and of themselves, often fraught with ambiguous reporting relationships, inconsistent agendas, and slow, ill-defined decision-making processes.

Leading cross-functional initiatives through a highly matrixed organization can be confounding — on a good day. 

Leaders who have learned to navigate the complexities are a special breed. Those who thrive in such an environment lean into two “A” game leadership attributes: Alignment and Accountability. They take nothing for granted throughout the process.

Alignment means that those involved and affected are in line, or in agreement, with you. It includes norms for how a team works together and who owns what and provides clarity on deliverables and what constitutes success.

Let’s face it, most of us have found ourselves in a situation that sounded like a good idea at the time — only to realize later that it wasn’t. So, it’s not enough to gain agreement at the get-go of an initiative; rather, it must be checked each step of the way.

Alignment requires a project management mindset, in which each milestone is an opportunity to check in on commitments and concerns. All too often, the train is too far down the track before a leader realizes that one of the cars has derailed. Re-affirming alignment requires time, patience, and an open mind. 

Accountability means holding each other responsible for commitments and deliverables.

To be effective, accountability requires a process for keeping track of who is on the hook for what by when. This can happen via email, text, Slack, meeting minutes, performance objectives, etc. Without a “formal” system, it is all too easy for stakeholders to leave a meeting or Zoom session with different impressions. 

While there are plenty of other factors that contribute to whether a cross-functional initiative is successful (i.e. politics, etc.), alignment and accountability stand out as two key skills within a leader’s control.

For those who love the murky world of leading through complexity, these skills become second nature and make the difference between a poorly executed initiative and one that works superbly.

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