A raft of blogs and articles earlier this summer linked McLaren’s recent woes on the F1 track with their matrix management structure. However in an interview directly with the current CEO Zak Brown by Sky Sports, he denied that their current internal issues can be traced back to their matrix management system. He did acknowledge that “we need to simplify to speed up. My job is to put pace in the organisation. The current structure isn’t allowing some people to be as entrepreneurial as l would like them to be…and at times our decision-making process is gridlocked.”
Many leaders and managers who work in matrix organizations will empathise with these concerns. However the issue is not the matrix structure itself, but the ways that people at McLaren are working within it. Working in a matrix does not have to mean that every decision has to involve lots of people reaching a slow consensus, or that entrepreneurial ideas get buried in bureaucracy – although if managers don’t have the right skills it is easy for these challenges to creep in.
Our mantra with matrix clients has always been “cooperate when you need to; stop doing it when you don’t”. Being clear on what decisions truly require multiple input, and which we can trust others down the organization to take on their own (and follow through to swift action) – is one of the fundamental matrix leadership skills.
It is possible to be agile within a matrix – indeed this is one of the current missions of French Quality of Life Services management firm Sodexo, which has 425,000 employees worldwide operating in 80 countries. Last year we ran a virtual programme with their top 200 leaders to help them develop their matrix skill set and mindset, embed agile working with multiple remote and virtual teams, and collaborate effectively globally. After the 1-year programme, in answering the question ‘what was the benefit to you or your organization?’, leaders responded with comments such as: “more efficient, less time in meetings and faster decision making”. “Better flow of information, enhancing empowerment and trust, better financial results”.
This success story shows that agile collaboration within a matrix is absolutely possible – and with less than 5,000 people working at McLaren, this should be very much within their grasp. But only if they focus on helping their people develop the right skills and mindset to flourish within a matrix, instead of getting continually gridlocked.
For more information on how to cooperate effectively within a matrix and balance empowerment and control, have a read of our Matrix management white paper – “Beyond structure to winning ways of working”.