In our work with leading organisations on matrix management we regularly encounter a number of myths and assumptions that often hold people back in managing the matrix successfully. It’s important to dispel these as they can lead to people waiting passively for “normal service” to be resumed or for senior leaders to fix a problem which they may not be aware of or may not be a problem at all.

In part 1 I will deal with:rsz_shutterstock_313013501

  1. We need to get everything clear and aligned
  2. We need more collaboration

In part 2 next week I will address:

  1. How can I be accountable when I don’t have control?
  2. How can I influence without authority?

We need to get everything clear and aligned

 Companies introduce a matrix because we are operating in a complex environment, we need to balance the global and local, the business unit, the geography and the function. Inevitably these different pressures will create the need for trade-offs, conflicts and the management of dilemmas. If we could choose once and for all between just one of these or give a clear priority for all time, then we wouldn’t need a matrix.

The matrix is a deliberate decision to trade some clarity in return for flexibility.

Many organisations, however, then go into a state of endless RACI analyses and job description rewrites intended to restore the nice clean boxes that existed before the matrix. Not only do these exercises usually fail after a lot of effort, they also carry the wrong message – we need to learn how to manage the ambiguity successfully, not eliminate it.

In the unlikely event that all objectives could be made clear and aligned at an organisational level then you wouldn’t need a matrix structure, you could just cascade your perfect view of the world down from the top.

Instead of waiting for clarity, we train individuals to take ownership of their own goals and roles – if you have multiple bosses or work on multiple teams you are the only person who can identify competing goals and priority issues. Your bosses and colleagues only see a small part of the total picture. You are also the person most motivated to do something about it – even if you can’t solve the problem to yourself you can initiate the solution and get the people needed together.

Instead of trying to eliminate ambiguity and flexibility, or waiting passively for others to bring clarity to you, learn to embrace it and take ownership of your goals and roles

We need more collaboration

 Organisations often introduce a matrix to improve cooperation across the traditional silos of function and geography. Unfortunately, because the nature and value of this collaboration is not defined and decision rights are usually not clarified in the early stages of matrix working there is a temptation for everyone to get involved in everything.

We spend most of our time trying to get people to simplify collaboration. Our participants tell us that they spend about two days per week in meetings and the 50% of it is unnecessary – that’s a day a week or 20% of your most expensive managerial and professional time wasted.

Unclear and slow decision-making is one of the major challenges facing organisations new to a matrix.

The last thing most of our clients and participants need is a greater volume of collaboration communication, we help them cut through the unnecessary collaboration and focus their time on the areas where it really adds value.

The matrix is a step up in complexity and the old rules of leadership and collaboration change in this more complex environment. Instead of trying to recreate the rules that operated in the old system we need to adapt our ways of working and develop new skills. You can find more about how to do this in my book “making the matrix work”

Next week, more matrix management myths:

  1. How can I be accountable when I don’t have control?
  2. How can I influence without authority?

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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