Video: The Matrix Pyramid

Working in a matrix: the matrix pyramid

Readable transcript (abridged)

Hi, I’m Kevan Hall, CEO of Global Integration. We are an ideas, consulting and training company that specialises in people management in complex, matrixed, virtual and global organizations. I would like to share with you some of our ideas on working in these very complex organizations.

A matrix pyramid represents the elements of one of our typical ‘matrix working’ training programs. It focuses on some of the key personal effectiveness skills that individuals working within a matrix need to master to be successful. Our programs tend to be tailored to the specific needs of the client, but these are some common elements that we see in a range of organizations:

At the top of the pyramid is understanding the matrix. Many individuals have never really thought about the reason why their companies have a matrix or about the advantages and disadvantages for the organization and to them as individuals. In some cases there is no formal matrix structure, but cross-functional and international teams mean that matrix working is a way of life (even though a matrix structure is not in place).

We help organizations and teams achieve clarity regarding the reasons behind their matrix and the challenges that they face in working in this more complex way. Often this forms part of a company’s in-house communication process following an organizational change.

Our experiences is that is always worth checking that people understand the rationale behind the matrix and how it has an impact on them as individuals.

Underneath the pyramid’s point:

In a matrix, networking is the way things get done. The structure itself solves nothing: it is the networks and patterns of relationship that make for success or failure. We train individuals how to construct and energize really purposeful networks that allow them to get things done. Supporting these two critical elements there are five supporting capabilities that individuals working in a matrix need to develop

1. Living with ambiguity.

A matrix organization is, by design, meant to be more ambiguous. If we could have complete clarity on goals and roles we would not need a matrix structure. The whole point of the matrix is to reflect competing demands on our time and multiple priorities and perspectives.

In order to cope with this we need to give our people the capabilities, confidence and authority to cope with ambiguity.

2. Competing priorities

Second is living with competing priorities. If we have more than one boss we will inevitably have competing demands on our time. We can’t escalate everything for resolution or we look incompetent and slow down the organization. We need individuals to be able to manage these competing priorities themselves, as well as to be able to escalate things in a positive way when they can’t.

In order to do this we need clarity on the overall goals of the organization or department, but we also need to be adept at managing conflict and the daily dilemmas that are normal in a matrix.

3. Multiple bosses

Third, we need to manage multiple bosses. If we don’t we can easily be squeezed between competing demands on our priorities and time. We need to build trust in our managers so that they are confident to leave us alone and let us get on with our jobs. We also need to be able to escalate issues where they are not aligned – where we need guidance on topics such as priority or politics.

4. Influence

Fourth, we need to develop the skills of influence without authority. The matrix undermines traditional forms of hierarchy and positional power. Alternative sources of power such as expertise and influence become much more important. We train individuals to understand how to use their network to influence people in a structured way and how to apply different sources of power and influence to get things done.

5. Role

And fifth we focus on what we call ‘shaping my role’. You might think that by having multiple bosses you have more people helping you make your role clear, both now in the future. In reality, in a matrix you may be the only individual who truly has an overview of your role. You will certainly be the individual most motivated to shape your role for the future in areas that you find interesting and valuable.

We help individuals to think through their own roles and how they can be developed.

The matrix pyramid does not describe everything you need to know to be successful in a matrix environment but it does give an overview of some of the key challenges of personal effectiveness in a matrix. You can see more information at on the skills needed to lead within a matrix or to collaborate within matrix teams. Good luck in working in your matrix.

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