Matrix Management

Creating Alignment in the Matrix

Video: Matrix Management, Creating Alignment

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Creating alignment is a key challenge in matrix management.

The defining characteristics of a formal matrix organization structure is multiple bosses and multiple reporting lines. Traditional organization structures had vertical reporting lines from functions and countries. As organizations became more complex, work started to cross these traditional vertical silos – for example in working with global customers, coordinating functions across countries or running supply chains that cut across traditional functions and geographies.

Organizations added horizontal reporting lines to reflect this reality, so a person working in IT might have reporting lines to their country organization and to the IT function internationally.

A matrix structure looks a bit like a net; if you work within a matrix, you will tend to have at least two bosses, two sets of objectives and two influences on your priorities. Imagine the impact if both legs of the matrix are pulling strongly in different directions.

Because of this a lack of alignment in goals and roles is a common problem in matrix organizations. People often experience competing, and sometimes conflicting, sets of objectives.

So what can we do to create alignment?

Part of the answer is to create clarity where we can.

1. Have a strong process for cascading goals. Check that people can see how their goals fit into the overall strategic goals of the organization – this is sometimes called “line of sight” making sure everyone is focused on the same goal. This sounds simple but involves a lot of work, particularly in a dynamic environment where goals change regularly.

2. Clarify roles, the most used process is called RACI. In this process, you define for each task area who is responsible, who is accountable, who needs to be informed and who needs to be consulted. This is a useful process to use if you have had a major change or need to clarify a particularly difficult role or task. BUT: it is extremely bureaucratic and takes a lot of time. I would recommend you use it more by exception than try to keep every role up to date.

3. Have a clear process for escalation of conflicts. People who work at the intersection of the matrix, the middle of the net, can find it extremely challenging if they are not able to escalate conflicts to more senior managers. Managers can be reluctant to escalate because they think it makes them look incompetent, so we need to find positive ways to allow this to happen.

However, whilst creating clarity is important, it is also a potential trap. I have met organizations who spent two to three years following a very extensive processes to try and get complete clarity on goals and roles. If it takes this long, it is unlikely to happen.

In a matrix,not everything can be fully aligned. The nature of it is that there ARE competing objectives – different, equally important things that need to be taken into account.

What is more important the global or the local? The function or the business line? The answer will depend on both situation and context. These are daily dilemmas that need to be managed. There is no ‘once and for all’ solution to these dilemmas. We have to build the capability to manage those trade-offs.

If you could perfectly align your objectives and cascade them down from the top, there would be no need for a matrix organization: you could simply cascade through a traditional functional organization. So it is completely normal in a matrix to have some lack of clarity.

My advice is to make things clear where you can, but remember that it is just as important to build the capability to manage the inevitable dilemmas and trade-offs.

This typically means giving more information, new skills and autonomy to people in the middle of the organization, where the links of the mesh meet. If you do not do this, you can expect a lot of escalation, delay and dissatisfaction.

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