Most organizations are set up using some form of matrix structure. Increasingly, customer expectations, organic growth imperatives, and productivity improvement goals all require answers that come from combining deep and diverse expertise.

The challenge is not so much to build a matrix structure as it is to create a matrix in the minds of leaders. The practice is to thoughtfully share power and responsibility across two or more dimensions.

It entails achieving a functional AND product, process, or business segment focus. Most of the constraints or roadblocks companies encounter are about the way people work together, not the structure.

The clear goal is to create an environment where accountability without control, and influence without authority, becomes the normal way of working.

Managing cross-business, cross-functional, cross-boundary, and other multi-functional teams requires keeping everyone focused on the big picture, rather than the narrow self-interest that can often breed a silo mentality.

Knowing why you do what you do and showing people the "size of the prize" can create alignment and ownership by all members of a multi-functional team... and this is an essential first step toward success.

Multi-functional teams' ability to execute depends largely on creating a "own the whole of the team (goals/outcomes) before your piece" mentality. This will always require leaders to make sacrifices in their area of responsibility in pursuit of accomplishing something bigger than what they could achieve alone.

In order to work this way, leaders must develop East-West leadership skills (versus just the North-South skills where their followers ultimate report up to them). Here are 7 principles that will help you build your EAST-WEST leadership capability.

Keys to East-West Leadership Success

  1. Lead as a connector: The most important need around leadership development is helping leaders see their role as a CONNECTOR. Leaders need to actively and constantly connect the key dots between our people and what we do as an organization. Show people how our strategy connects to our products, products to pricing, and sales processes to strategy and pricing...and so on until they can truly see the whole picture.
  2. Lead in a different way: If you're going to elevate the importance of connections, you must lead in a different way on daily basis, not just on critical projects. Be a better meeting facilitator. Learn how to better connect people with one another. Communicate up, down, and across to minimize roadblocks to success. Get good at organizing and executing ON the business versus IN it. Global, matrixed organizations need leaders who can make critical connections among people, teams and entire organizations.
  3. Hone your East-West connector skills: Solid East-West leadership focuses training on four areas: ideation, facilitation, collaboration, and the role of coaching. These will help you learn how you can better solve the right problem, elevate the options and alternatives, know how to rapidly test and refine across functions and units, as well as when and how to collaborate.
  4. Align the multi-functional leadership team on the goal: All leaders must have the same outcomes, goals, and end-state visions for performance. Alignment is crucial so employees don't receive mixed messages and develop loyalty to one leader over another, particularly on goals and priorities.
  5. Build "Rules of the Road" for East-West tension points: Craft an agreed-upon approach that all members of the multi-functional team will use to manage in the gray space - where no oblivious primary stakeholders exist and where concerns of winning and losing are attached to the way responsibilities get assigned. The "rules of the road" will proactively answer the questions that typically trip up the best multifunctional efforts.
  6. Create a stakeholder map: This is an important proactive step to understand who the key stakeholders are, and what they are looking for in a project, initiative or strategy. Stakeholder mapping is a visual analysis, organizing people per the criteria that you would be mapping them in the project. Some of the criteria may be interest, influence, financial stake, emotional stake, and more. And don't forget those on the periphery who just need to be kept in the loop.
  7. Create an empathy map: People do not change because of facts, force, or fear. They change because of what they believe, sense, and feel. Empathetically understanding what other functions value, believe, embrace, and want to avoid serves as the underpinning for working together in an environment of shared responsibility, power, and respect. As a powerful addition to a stakeholder map, an empathy map goes beyond defining the key network to keep in the loop, it captures what each stakeholder cares about the most and why.

What do you need to do to become a better East-West leader?