Last week was a whistle-stop tour of parts of the USA to visit clients and talk about some of their matrix organization issues. London-Detroit-Boston-New York-London.
Alignment came up, as always in a matrix structure. We discussed that alignment is a good thing where we can bring clarity but that the purpose of a matrix organization is to trade some clarity in return for more flexibility. In matrix management, not everything can (or should) be made clear – otherwise we would not need a matrix!
One of the managers I was talking to made the observation that the matrix was set up to recognize competing priorities and the true complexity of modern business but that all of our efforts seemed to be focused on using RASCI and other tools to get back to the unified, simplified and one dimensional sets of accountabilities and objectives that we enjoyed before the matrix (though often this is an idealized view of a past that never really existed – can you remember when everything was clear and aligned – I know I can’t)
If you can use alignment tools to get back to completely aligned goals and accountabilities then you do not need a matrix.
If you can’t align completely (as is normal) then we have to get used to the new complexity. I think that good management is a balance of seeking clarity where we can and learning to live with the remaining complexity.
When we train people in this approach they quickly accept it intellectually, but when we help them develop action plans people seem to unconsciously focus all of their efforts on creating clarity and they tend to avoid the tools around embracing ambiguity – it seems this is human nature.
What do you think?