Whatever your experience has been – for better or worse – the matrix has become a necessary organizational structure in today’s business environment. Companies that have multiple product lines, conduct business in different countries, and serve a variety of customers through several channels know that the matrix structure is here to stay.

In a matrix organization—where people rely on getting work done through others over whom they have no direct authority—maintaining high levels of cooperation and coordination can be a challenge. The findings of OnPoint’s Execution Gap study helps clarify the extent to which organizations struggle with this:

  • 40% of managers surveyed do not believe that people cooperate across functions and departments to achieve their organization’s strategic objectives.
  • 44% of managers surveyed do not believe that people in different divisions readily share information, ideas, and best practices.

What can leaders do to encourage and sustain cooperation?

Working effectively in a matrix requires trust, cooperation, and coordination built upon a foundation of shared goals, clear roles and decision authority, and transparent and timely communication. While these behaviors provide a foundation to encourage collaboration, they won’t eliminate disagreements about what, when, and how to do things. In order to sustain cooperation and collaboration in a global matrix structure, leaders must gain others’ support for their ideas and constructively resolve differences across organizational boundaries. Therefore, it is essential for today’s leaders to hone their influence skills.

The key to influencing in a matrix is to build the foundation for the effective use of the influence tactics well in advance. If you wait until the moment when you need to change the perspective, behavior or attitude of your matrix partners, it’s too late. The most effective leaders use the following behaviors in all their daily interactions.

1. Demonstrate Credibility

Being seen as someone who “knows what they’re talking about” is an important determinant of whether people give your ideas and proposals appropriate consideration.

Quick Tip: Don’t exaggerate and admit when you don’t know something. It may seem counterintuitive but admitting when you don’t know something increases the likelihood people will take what you say seriously when you do express an opinion or preference

2. Identify Shared Goals or Common Ground

Even a well thought out proposal will not result in a change in the other person’s behavior or attitude if goals are not aligned. Despite the potential power of an argument and the strength of supporting data, if leaders are focused on an outcome that the other person is not interested in, they will not be successful. Rather than repeating their position more forcefully when they realize their rational argument is not having the intended effect, they take a moment to ensure goals are aligned.

Quick Tip: Meet with matrix partners to complete a Goal Alignment Grid which clarifies goals that are shared by the matrix partners and provides an opportunity to discuss how matrix partners can help each other achieve their work unit’s goals.

3. Build Positive Work Relationships

Positive work relationships and trust are a prerequisite for the effective use of the influence tactics of inspiration and consultation. Trust and relationships take time to establish and must be in place if you want to increase your style flexibility and decrease your dependence on rational arguments.

Quick Tip: Demonstrate reliability by consistently meeting your commitments and keeping your promises. One way to do this is to commit to more manageable, but more frequent, milestones rather than to a single final deliverable that is often more challenging and the outcome of which more difficult to manage and predict.

4. Get to Know the Needs and Values of Others

The key to effective influence is to see the issue from the other person’s point of view rather than your own. Using facts and focusing on values and benefits you think are desirable, or that would generally be attractive, is not as effective as clarifying the specific benefits complying with your proposal would have for the other person or how your proposal is consistent with the specific values and beliefs that are important to them.

Quick Tip: Make time for “small talk” with matrix partners. For example, during a call, build in time to discuss non-work topics before moving to the formal agenda.

5. Clarify What Resources You Control that Others Need

One core tactic for gaining the support of others is providing resources or help that would make it less difficult for the other person to comply with the request or proposal. To do this well, you need to know what resources you control and what they need.

Quick Tip: Learn about your matrix partner’s business and their customer’s business. The more you understand the issues and challenges they face, the easier it will be to identify the resources you have that your matrix partners would value.

Organizations are complex structures with many interdependencies. We rely on others to help achieve results, and that means cooperation and collaboration are often the key to our success. Ensuring the conditions that create and sustain cooperation and collaboration are in place is even more challenging in a matrix structure. Leaders who are able to effectively use influence to gain the support of their matrix partners will have much greater success in creating a culture of cooperation and achieving their business objectives in today’s matrix organizations.

This interactive guide outlines the fundamentals of effective influencing behaviors, when to use them and how influence varies across cultures and gender. It’s based on our own research and research from others in this area. Take the first step toward empowering your leaders by exploring the guide and sharing it with your teams.