Matrix Management

Create clarity by being clear about what is not clear

One of the key themes in our matrix management training is how we manage clarity and ambiguity. One of the tools we use is called “islands of clarity”, it helps people build greater clarity in their own goals and roles.

It’s a simple process that begins with people identifying what is not clear about how their matrix works right now.

It’s fascinating to observe how difficult people find it to be specific about what is not clear. In the first iteration of the exercise they tend to capture things like “decision making” or “accountability” as not clear in matrix working.

The problem with issues at this level is that they are so broad and vague that it is impossible to solve them.

In the next iteration I ask participants to be more specific. If decision making is not clear then let’s be specific, which decisions are not clear and what about them is not clear – who makes them, what the process is, who communicates them? It usually takes a few attempts before people can come up with very specific examples.

Occasionally groups can’t come up with specifics at all – it emerges that “everyone knows it’s a problem” but nobody can give an example – in which case it is probably just low level complaining.

Once we get to some specific issues however things get a lot simpler. It’s very often easy to identify someone who should know the answer to this question or at least who is responsible for solving it. Once we have done that the action is to go and ask them!

At this stage we are usually left with a few remaining issues – these are issues that are a problem for our participants but that it does not seem anyone else is working on.

In a matrix where we have multiple bosses and work on multiple teams we may be the only person who has the complete view of our own goals and roles. As a result we may be the only people able to spot areas that are not clear in that role. If we wait for others to notice the problem and solve it for us we are likely to be disappointed.

So for these remaining issues that are not clear, we have to take ownership in driving for a solution. We may not have the authority to make the final decision but we can talk to the key people involved in a solution, publish our proposals or call a meeting to resolve the issue.

If we don’t do this then the issue will probably remain unclear, if you don’t take the initiative you are actively deciding to live with the level of unclarity you have now.

So the beginning of creating clarity is to be clear about what is not clear. A little like Donald Rumsfeld and his “known unknowns” Without this first step it is hard to increase the clarity of you matrix ways of working.

If you would like us to facilitate a “clarity and ambiguity” workshop including this and other tools with your people it can be a great way to build ownership and confidence in matrix working – why not give us a call? See more about our matrix management programs here.

Take our online learning program Creating clarity and managing ambiguity.

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