Matrix Management / People and purpose / Virtual Teams

Build layers of skills – or crash your helicopter

I came across a nice story recently in Richard Rumelt’s book Good Strategy / Bad Strategy. He was talking about how organizations build capability, and he used an example of a friend of his who was a military helicopter pilot. To manage the incredible complexity of flying a helicopter in this environment he had to learn successive layers of skills; mastering the basic controls, learning to fly at night, learning to land on a moving ship etc. It is essential to learn each layer of skill to an instinctive level, so you are not having to think about the basics as you move along to the more complex.

It is the same with people management, if you can’t manage people in a relatively simple environment and do the basics well, then it’s hard to be successful in a more complex environment or with more challenging people.

In my early career I was lucky enough to learn to manage large groups of people in a face-to-face environment before I started to work remotely and to lead international and eventually global teams. Then I learned to work in a matrix with multiple bosses, accountability without control and influence without authority. Having mastered the basics at each stage it was still challenging to move up to a higher level of complexity, but at least I had the basics to build on.

Today it’s not unusual for us to meet participants whose first management job is in a remote, matrixed, international, and agile role. Whilst I’m not suggesting you must learn each one of these elements in isolation, it is a big step.

Organizationally we need to develop these capabilities in a systematic way. For example, if we can’t work across the silos in a matrixed way, then we won’t be able to successfully implement a digital transformation that cuts across the organization.

That’s why we talk about a hierarchy of collaboration from learning remote, virtual and hybrid skills to mastering the matrix, to moving onto finding purpose and working effectively in a complex, digital world (click on the links to see more details of the content of the training at each level)

If you haven’t even been trained to do the basics such as coaching, facilitating a meeting, or giving effective feedback, then you are like the helicopter pilot who hasn’t yet mastered the basic controls. This absence may come home to bite you when you take on a more complex team or challenge.

You won’t be crashing your helicopter off the side of a ship, but you may be damaging your leadership credibility and the trust and confidence of your people

How are you equipping your people to manage the layering of these complex skills (or are you just handing them the keys to the helicopter)?

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