Matrix Management / Virtual Teams

Are we matrixed, virtual, global or what?

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The term “matrix” seems to be growing. Strictly speaking a matrix is where we have more than one reporting line, whether solid or dotted. However, our clients are increasingly using the word matrix to describe the phenomenon of horizontal working – across business units, functions and geography.

A recent discussion about this made me reflect on a number of terms that are often use interchangeably or unclearly.

• A matrix structure is one where some people have more than one boss
• Matrix management is increasingly used to describe the process of managing people in a complex multidimensional world – across functions, business units and geography
• Virtual teams originally meant teams where the leader had limited or no formal control over the people involved. Today the term includes people who are physically dispersed (what used to be called a remote team)
• Global teams may be virtual, matrixed, and remote all at once.

Most of the time these fine distinctions don’t matter, but when we are building skills it is useful to be precise, because different types of (for example) virtual teams have different challenges and require different ways of working.

• Remote teams need to work across distance
• Virtual teams may require influence without authority and experience greater challenges with alignment
• Global teams have additional challenges with cultural differences and time zones
• Cross-functional teams experience functional differences and multiple reporting lines
• Extended teams may include suppliers and customers with different commercial objectives and corporate cultures.

In developing your team’s effectiveness it is important to be clear about the challenges you are trying to overcome. It’s clear that the challenges of a cross-functional team in a single location will be very different from those in a distributed global team.

The challenges may include one, or all of; distance, cultures (national, functional or corporate), working through technology, time zones, and working across complex organization structures.

A one size fits all approach is unlikely to be effective. Make sure your virtual teams approach to their way of working, and skills required, reflect your unique blend of needs.

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