Two of the most common concerns, particularly for experienced leaders, in operating in a matrix or virtual environment are:
- How can we get things done without formal authority and
- How can we be accountable for results when we don’t control the resources?
I often counter by asking “is the only way you know how to get things done through power and control” and “is that the kind of organization you want for the future’’?
In fact, for most of us, there never was anything in the past when we could get everything done through authority and control – and, even if we could, it was probably counter-productive to rely just on these techniques.
Autocratic leadership has big consequences on the style of followership that it creates. You may be forced to follow someone, but it is unlikely to be willing followership and may lead to dumb compliance.
In our virtual teams training we asked participants with two bosses whether they preferred the dotted line boss or their solid line boss. The majority of them preferred a dotted line boss because “they have to try a bit harder to keep me informed and engaged”. Just having a dotted line (or no line at all) makes the point that you have more than one way to get things done.
Similarly, in accountability without control, those of you who have read my book ‘Making the Matrix Work’ will have seen the study that shows how accountability without control is both normal and essential to the successful delivery of results in complex organizations.
I often make the point that accountability without control is not an unintended consequence of the matrix; it is the whole point of it!
Again, was there really a time for those of us in complex organizations where we had complete control over all the resources we needed to deliver all of our accountabilities? It’s pretty rare that we work in complete isolation from our colleagues. This would be the essence of the silo.
Quite often when I hear these concerns, what I think is behind them is a lack of confidence in people’s ability to get things done through other means. You do need to exercise a wider range of power and influence strategies and skills to get things done in complex organizations. Once you learn this however, you have a much wider range of techniques to get things done.
High performing leaders have always used a broader range of tools than just control and power.
As work becomes more collaborative and more knowledge intensive, the ability to influence without authority and get things done without controlling the resources are absolutely key leadership skills.
If you are concerned that you don’t have the skill base to get things done in that environment now is the time to start developing a wider range of skills before you get left behind.