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11 Top Tips for Leading in a Complex Environment

The bigger and more complicated the organization, the more essential it is to put your attention where it really counts.

Operating cross-functionally, across geographies, across time zones, and across business units in a fast-paced, complex matrix organization—where reporting relationships are set up as a grid, or matrix, rather than in the traditional hierarchy—requires self-awareness, tenacity, patience, and intentional attention.

To shine as a leader in our industry in a matrix environment you have a responsibility to demonstrate strong skills in communication, networking, advocate building, influence, and personal branding.

To leverage relationships, communicate across time zones, and recognize different company cultures in an environment where reporting lines are tricky, you must pay attention. The benefits you will gain include opportunities to meet other industry leaders, attract and retain top talent for your event team, accelerate project completion, and advance your career.

Implement these strategies to succeed in any matrix organization:

1. Build relationships—your ability to network across multiple business units and with different levels within companies will ensure your success. Do people see your name in their inbox and answer it immediately? Do others instantly respond to your text messages? Do people happily accept your meeting invitations? If not, you may need to invest time in creating stronger relationships. 

2. Identify informal leaders—every team has someone that may not have the title of manager/supervisor/director, but the whole team knows he or she is the “go-to” person. Find those informal leaders, network with them, and learn as much as you can about team dynamics and their leadership styles. These people will help you navigate their teams, company politics, and leadership, and will also potentially became become advocates for you.

3. Create advocates—while improving your relationship-building skills, identify people with vendor teams who can become your advocates. Look for people who have an idea of your responsibilities and projects and are willing to help communicate your value, make introductions, and advocate in meetings and with senior leaders if required. This is a longer-term strategy that requires focus, systems, and dedication to relationship building.

4. Systemize thoughtfulness—Set up systems to create the freedom you need to truly pay attention to what counts. Can you schedule a monthly appointment to reach out to people who you want to stay top of mind with? I create an appointment in my calendar every month and reach out to my list of 20 advocates. I send them books, links to articles and TED talks, and, if I am out and about and see something that reminds me of them, I pop into the post. How can you dedicate time monthly to identify relationships you want to build, create a list of advocates, and then systemize thoughtfulness?

5. Articulate your role—learn how to quickly articulate the value of your role as you provide a project update. Always be prepared to share how your event is achieving results, how your team is adding value, and even defend your crazy timelines. Learn the skill of briefly describing how your event affects others in the organization so you are prepared in every meeting and teleconference—or if you run into a vendor or company leader in the elevator. Look for opportunities to promote your event and build relationships with others. 

6. Book 15 minute tele-coffees—This is what it sounds like—we talk on the telephone over coffee (I do tele-cocktails on a Friday… love those). Scheduling quick catch ups with other essential professionals will allow you to build relationships, understand their objectives, focus on sharing your event value, quickly assess if you need their support, and engage them in future planning. 

7. Know communication preferences—learning the best way to communicate with others in matrix organizations will accelerate decisions and workflow. Do your internal clients prefer email, phone, instant message, text, or in-person meetings? Do you external vendors have a preference? Once you learn people’s preferences make a note and share this with your team. 

8. Get creative—do you have to attend every meeting about your event? Do you have to be on every teleconference? Identify the purpose of meetings and determine if your presence is required the whole time. Can you send a team member in your stead? Can you just receive summary notes? Be creative in the way you contribute to other teams and find ways to leverage technology. 

9. Monitor time zones—be kind when scheduling across global time zones. Use a variety of timeframes so it is convenient for everyone—don’t just use the same time every week or month because it is convenient for one team. If the meeting time is going to impact you personally, have the courage to speak up and suggest alternatives.

10. Demonstrate expertise—in all meetings, presentations, webinars, training sessions, and social activities, look for ways you can add value to conversations. Be the subject matter expert—don’t speak up just so you can hear yourself speak. Ask yourself if that question or comment will add value to everyone in the room. If not, be quiet. If it will, share freely. 

11. Make an impression—know the rules, strengthen your personal brand, develop relationships, and navigate politics. When you are constantly thinking of others, prepared to promote your team and your project, and are willing to listen, you will be a successful, attentive meeting professional in a matrix organization.

 For more strategies on how to personally and professionally be more intentional with your attention, grow your personal brand, develop your communication skills, check out my new book, Attention Pays.

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