Matrix Management

Do you know why you have a matrix?

I worked with three multinational clients last week, one new to the matrix and two who have had a matrix for some years but had never focused on the skills needed to make it work more effectively.

A question I usually start with is “why do you have a matrix?”

These are smart people, and most can articulate a wide range of benefits, from breaking the silos to running better projects, delivering internal synergies, making better use of functional resources, or serving global customers.

What I often feel is lacking is a crisp, common statement of why.

It is true that the matrix may deliver any or all of these benefits but a matrix designed to serve global customers, for example, may look and function quite differently than one focused on internal synergies or projects.

If you are not clear about the “why”, it is impossible to know whether your structure is working. Did it indeed improve projects, serve customers better or deliver cost savings?

A clear purpose statement also helps people in the matrix prioritize; does this action or decision meet our overall goals?

The people we are working with are usually middle managers, if they are not clear you can guarantee that, a couple of levels further down, people have absolutely no idea. Many have joined the organization since the matrix was introduced so missed out on any initial communication.

The benefits of a matrix are compelling, but if we don’t communicate and even “sell” them all people see is increased complexity, and this can breed cynicism and resistance.

It is also rare for organisations to actively sell the benefits of the matrix to the individuals that work within it. There is evidence that working in a matrix improves engagement, makes people feel more listened to, and helps them develop broader networks, careers and skillsets.

Yes there are some challenges, but these have been successfully overcome by thousands of organisations around the world. There is a good reason at 90% plus of leading organisations use a matrix.

Do you know why you have a matrix? If not start by knocking on some doors to find out. There is probably a dusty PowerPoint deck or email chain somewhere.

If you need to build better understanding of what matrix working involves, or to build the skills to make the matrix work, check out our blogs, books and training programs.

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