Matrix Management

A matrix organization needs high tension and high readiness

What temperature is your team today? A recent paper by Danish researchers Burton, Obel and Hakonsson argue that a successful matrix organization will inherently have both a ‘high-tension’ and a ‘high-readiness to change’ climate.

High-readiness for change in a matrix organization doesn’t mean overhauling the structure every two years – it means top management handing over control to the functional and divisional directors and empowering them to make the constant “detailed, ongoing coordination adjustments” in order to meet the firm’s strategic objectives.

According to the researchers, high-tension means that; “Individuals are a bit on edge as tension is high, but it cannot be allowed to become so high that it becomes detrimental to performance. In fact, tension helps to drive performance as people deal with fluctuations in trust and conflict. People are willing to change and accept new challenges and opportunities if they believe goals can be met.”

A similar theme has come out of Global Integration’s work with a global gaming firm who have recently introduced a matrix organization. Our work with the top 100 leaders and managers revealed that the leaders are happy with the ambiguity that matrix working has introduced and the fact that it will create ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ – as this is exactly the entrepreneurial spirit that the firm was founded on, and is what will continue to drive it’s success in the future.

A climate where it’s OK to challenge stuff, as well as to fail (so long as you learn from it) has helped another of our global manufacturing clients with a matrix organization to make the most of the high-tension/ high-readiness to change climate. As a result, leaders in this firm have been happy to give up their former country ‘kingdoms’ and embrace the new way of matrix working. The CFO in particular has set the tone by regularly getting up on stage and sharing how excited he is about the matrix organization and the opportunities it will bring.

However it can easily go the other way.

High tension can quickly escalate. Burton et al. talk about the ‘jello effect’, where because of the highly interlinked design of the matrix, a conflict flare up or missed deadline at one matrix product/region/function junction can quickly spread to many more junctions, or even across the whole matrix organization.

This is why training ‘junction managers’ in negotiation skills and managing emotions was found by the researchers to be a key driver in getting matrix organizations to work.  This has certainly been our experience in working with over 50,000 participants – the majority of whom are part of the ‘matrixed middle’, desperately trying to keep work and positive emotions flowing across the junctions.

If you’d like to find out more about setting the tone from the top and giving junction managers the skills (and mindset) they need to thrive in a matrix organization, do get in touch.

Burton, R., Obel, B., Hakonsson, D. (2015) How to get the Matrix Organization to Work, Journal of Organization Design, 4(3), 37-45.

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