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As organizations become more integrated they often introduce some form of matrix working. This may be a formal organizational change with multiple reporting lines or simply an increase in virtual teams or processes that work across functions and geography.

This move creates a sharp increase in the amount of “horizontal” working that cuts across the traditional vertical silos of function and geography. It often leads to an increase in workload with people now being invited to both vertical and horizontal meetings and participating in multiple teams and work streams.

One question that organizations rarely ask is what should the vertical STOP doing to give the space for the horizontal to succeed? If all we do is create additional matrix work to add on top of our existing functional workload we are likely to create overload.

To make this worse, many organizations accompany this with a drive for functional excellence. They realize that providing a high quality, consistent service across functions, business lines and geography means that the functions need to raise their game. They need to improve processes and capabilities and they often introduce business partners and specialists to manage the complexity of a matrix environment.

However, by focusing on functional capability, new systems and process building they tend to create a significant increase in functional work and this is often accompanied by an increase in centralization within the function.
Whilst it is easy to see how a change in functional excellence is required as the functions move to giving support across the matrix, it’s also clear that this increases the amount of vertical work and the amount of time the individual has to spend focusing on their functional silo.

When we bring these two trends together we can see that there is potentially a large increase in the amount of work needed to be done by people at the point of intersection of the reporting lines. We have created more horizontal work at the same time as we create more vertical work. This can create significant increases in workload for people in the matrix.

It’s a major change to get people thinking horizontally across the organisation and very often this reflects a shift in balance of power from the vertical to horizontal. If at the same time we attempt to bolster the power of the vertical we work against this objective.

If you are engaged in both of these initiatives at the same time, it’s probably worth going back to basics and doing a “zero-based” analysis of what you want the functions to be doing. It is very hard for organizations to stop doing things but we need to cut out some legacy activity in order to make space for the rest of the matrix to work.

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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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