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Different functional perspectives in matrix management

Working in a matrix organization is often associated with higher levels of conflict; particularly over resource allocation as resources are shared more widely across the traditional silos of function and geography.

However there are also other factors that contribute to an increase in conflict. One example is very different functional mindsets.

Because we are working across functions more often in a matrix we are increasingly likely to be working with people who have very different mindsets and perspectives on our business.

People working within functional silos were hired for specific academic backgrounds and skills, they were trained to act in a certain way and their work focuses on specific aspects of the business. For example, a finance person has received extensive training to focus on the numbers and is more accustomed to working with this aspect of business. This is compounded by the selective communication that they tend to get through the functional structure.

In my corporate career I moved between HR, manufacturing and finance and each time I moved I was struck by the very different briefings I was getting from the same management team meetings. Inevitably each of the functional heads in these areas would focus on the issues most relevant to them and communicate those issues to their teams. In some cases, it seemed as though we were in different businesses.

Some years ago we did some research with a client organization looking at the impact of cultural and functional differences in Europe. We found that in many cases functional differences caused more difficulties in reaching agreement than cultural differences did.

This ingrained mindset is reinforced by the fact that most careers are still vertical within functions and many people are not geographically mobile. As a result people still look to their functions for a lot of communication, development and activity.

This can be a powerful impediment to developing people who have the breadth to look across the matrix and provide end-to-end solutions rather than just delivering functional expertise.

We need to balance the power of the functional mindset and communication with a strand of information, engagement and development that makes people think more horizontally across the organization.

This has already started to happen in areas like supply chain and global accounts where careers and communication move across the organization.

Until we do this we should expect the vertical silos to remain dominant in the minds of our people.

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About the author:

Kevan Hall Kevan Hall is a CEO, author, speaker and trainer in matrix management, virtual teams and global working. He is the author of "Speed Lead - faster, simpler ways to manage people, projects and teams in complex companies, "Making the Matrix work - how matrix managers engage people and cut through complexity", and the "Life in a Matrix" podcasts, videos, cartoons and blog. He is CEO and founder of Global Integration. Company profile: .

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