One of the greatest challenges facing leaders in matrix and global working environments is ambiguity. Unclear expectations, competing demands and lack of role clarity; these are all factors that contribute to a challenging and complex working environment. Underpinning this is the extent to which you can accept that this is ok, and believe it is a place in which you can both function well on a daily basis and succeed over a longer period of time. If you require a clear structure with congruency between what really happens as opposed to what is said will happen, then a matrix is not going to give you this.
There’s nothing wrong with not being able to adapt to the ambiguities of a matrix structure, because your need for structure is hardwired, as it is with all of us. It just means that each day there is a disconnect between your behaviours and how you feel about what you are doing, and why you are doing it. Those who are unable to deal with the complexities of dual reporting and the cross-functional tug of war that comes with such an environment need to own up to this and do something about it.
And the good news is that there are things you can do to overcome the ambiguities of a matrix and achieve success.
Successful leaders can accept ambiguity. It doesn’t mean that they like it, but they are able to see it for what it is and put measures in place to compensate for the lack of structure and clarity that they desire. I’ve spoken previously about some of those measures in the article Tips for Succeeding as a Matrix Leader. They included:
There is one other successful matrix leaders do very well. They favour collaboration over competitiveness.
In an ambiguous working environment the path to success, either individually or for your team, isn’t always clear, yet, in such an environment our natural instinct is to either fight or flee; and if we choose to stay and fight we are in a competitive mindset that naturally creates blind spots and works against our ability to think and act strategically. In a matrix or global working environment a strategic mindset is a must; and is a natural companion to a collaborative way of working. The best way to succeed in complex environments is to look for ways to achieve success by leveraging the expertise that exists in other parts of the business. In a small to medium sized business the ability to be the ‘jack of all trades’ may be important; but in a large organisation it is a blocker of success; in fact this mindset reinforces silo’s and a competitive mindset (“why share or collaborate when we can try and do it all ourselves?”). In a complex organisation, knowing who the masters of their trades are, and how to leverage that expertise is what gets you ahead. Instead of imagining the boundary that separates your team or function from the next as being solid; see it as soft or somewhat porous and allowing of energy, creativity and communication to flow more freely.
You may not be able to remove ambiguity from your world, but you can find ways to make your peace with it and set yourself and your teams up for success. The first step is to be honest with yourself around the extent to which you can easily work in such an environment, and then determine the actions that will help remove the fog of ambiguity and allow you to succeed.