Matrix Management

Control and autonomy – me, me, me, me, me 

We have we seen a big increase recently in the number of organisations either introducing a matrix structure for the first time or tightening their matrix up to share costs and resources and to become more aligned and effective at delivering digital and other priorities. In at recessions we have seen the same pattern but it seems to be happening faster this time. As we conduct stakeholder interviews with people at all levels in these organisations one very consistent theme is around control.

Everyone loves to be in control, but nobody likes to be controlled. If someone more senior than you gets involved in a decision you think you should take, it feels like an infringement of your civil liberties. However, it’s easy to feel you have so much to contribute to the decision of the people who report to you.

What we have learned is that it is all about who has control. If you have control we call it autonomy and it feels good, if others have control, then it is just control and feels bad.

This flows all the way through organisations. If we talk to people on autonomous teams, they are passionate and protective about their own autonomy and freedom to take decisions in their area of responsibility. However, this doesn’t stop them complaining bitterly about decision’s taken by other autonomous groups that have an impact on them.

If you really want autonomy for yourself, you need to support the autonomy of others just as strongly as you support your own. This means accepting that they have control in certain areas that will have an impact on you. Nobody in a complex organisation works in isolation.

All organisations need control, particularly in the tough economic climate that we are all facing.  It is a worthwhile process to decide where in the organisation control should be exercised.

In some aspects of governance, particularly in a regulated environment, you may have no choice; in which case communicate this

In other areas it is a conscious decision where to exercise control. In my career and my observation of hundreds of organisations I have generally concluded that control should be pushed as far down the organisation as possible, so that control is exercised as close to the action as we can.

It is helpful to realise that we are not arguing about whether we need control or not, we are just arguing about which megalomaniac gets to exercise it. If it’s me it feels just about right, if it’s you -you should have a serious think about whether you are a micro manager 😊

It takes a high level of self-awareness as a manager to support both your own and your people’s autonomy by giving away control. The win-win is that by distributing control to closer to the action you actually get more and faster control, not less.

The essential precondition of control, of course, is trust, we don’t empower people we don’t trust. But that’s another blog

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  • Autonomous teams
  • Accountability without control
  • Continuous empowerment

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