Matrix Management

Aligning with others taking too much time?

We ran a survey with a client recently who are relatively new to working in matrix. One of the comments, and one we see regularly in this situation, was that people felt they were spending too much time communicating and aligning with other parts of the matrix before making a decision.

If you’re not used to doing this, it can be frustrating and can lead to delays in decision-making. However, this increase in alignment activity once we introduce matrix management can be seen in two different ways.

  1. we are doing unnecessary alignment
  2. we didn’t do enough aligning in the past and we are now getting it right

Unnecessary alignment

There is certainly a tendency when people are new to the matrix for the amount of alignment activity to increase sharply. The reason for this is often that decision rights and involvement processes are poorly defined. In a matrix, there are more people who are potentially involved in any issue, and if we are not clear about how wet they should be involved there is a tendency to “invite them all to the meeting”. It’s less risky than leaving someone out.

It’s always a good idea to think through decision-making and involvement, whether you have a matrix or not. Many businesses tend to default to consensus decision-making and involvement where everyone is involved who may want to have a say.

Whilst this sounds democratic, it does mean that too many people get involved in issues and too many people think they are decision-makers or can block progress.

If you’re in this situation and is worth taking some time to define

  • who can take a decision
  • what process they will use

Many organisations also have an unclear understanding of what “involvement” means and what role “stakeholders” have. Because these concepts are unclear again we often involve everyone just in case.

One very simple example, if you use a tool like RACI, (defining who is responsible, accountable, consulted and informed) then think about when these different roles should be involved. Consulting is something you do before making a decision, Informing is something you afterwards. Only the responsible and accountable parties are actually decision-makers. So only they should be at the decision meeting.

If you can clarify your decision and involvement processes you will start to limit the number of people who you need to be aligning with.

Correcting a past lack of alignment

Another way of looking at this increase in alignment activity is that maybe it is necessary and reflects the fact that we didn’t do enough alignment in the past.

In a matrix, we give a formal role to more parties to critical decisions. Perhaps business units, geographies and functions have been used to making unilateral decisions that don’t really take into account the needs and perspectives of their colleagues in other parts of business.

Maybe the increase in time spent aligning activities is healthy. The critical test is – do we make better decisions.

Many matrix implementations are also associated with increasing centralisation, often focusing on fewer, “bigger bets”. If you are making fewer, more global decisions then you should expect that more people will be involved in the decision process. Smaller decisions that may have been taken locally in the past, for example in product development, will inevitably take longer if you are deciding whether to develop a huge local product. If you are seeing larger decisions or want more consequences being taken, then don’t be surprised if the amount of alignment and communications are  higher.

If you are seeing increasing alignment activity, but you think in general the decisions are better and/or bigger), than it is probably worthwhile.

Conversely, if you’re spending more time on alignment and it’s making things worse, then think about clarifying your decision and involvement processes.

In a matrix you either way will probably have to spend more of your time aligning with others so it’s important to clarify the process and build the skills to do this. If you would like to find out more about how to do this, give us a call.

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