Matrix Management

Does multiple team membership = matrix management?

Following my blog, matrix and multiple team membership is everywhere I have been thinking and talking to clients and participants more about multiple team membership issues.

Our research shows that on average managerial and professional people in large companies are a member of an average of four different virtual teams.

McKinsey’s research (referenced in the blog above) found that:

• 49% worked on multiple teams some days (they called this somewhat matrixed)
• 18% percent served on multiple teams every workday but with different people, though mostly reporting to the same manager (matrixd working).

A further 17% reported to different managers in their work with different teams – McKinsey called this “super matrixed”.

The academic definition of a matrix is where people have more than one boss (super matrixed) but we have been arguing for some years that matrix working consists of any collaboration that cuts across the traditional vertical silos of function and geography and is much more widespread than just those people working in a formal matrix structure.

We are finding that multiple team membership is not only the norm but it also introduces many of the same challenges in leadership and collaboration as working in a formal matrix structure.

When we work on multiple teams we effectively have multiple bosses and a broad network of stakeholders. These may not be formal reporting lines, they may be dotted lines at best but they do introduce competing goals and issues of prioritizing between different teams – in almost exactly the same way as these challenges are caused by having multiple formal bosses.

Collaboration is equally complex. People are split between different teams, groups and communities, they experience divided loyalties in allocating their time and their attention is pulled in different directions. They experiences challenges with balancing trust and control with people who may not know them well and who they rarely meet.
So in many ways multiple team membership creates the same people challenges as a formal matrix structure.

Once you have multiple reporting lines, you quickly realize that you can’t solve the problems using reporting lines and traditional hierarchy and control. The reality of multiple team membership is that it sidesteps the issue of formal reporting and focuses instead on how we need to collaborate to get the work done.

However, by bypassing formal reporting lines the pressure to solve the problems falls on people further down the structure, the multiple team members themselves. They become the only individuals who have a complete view of their goals and role. They need to become much more active in managing prioritization and goal conflicts and as a result they need to be empowered to do so, otherwise they will create a lot of escalation – to bosses who only understand a small part of the picture.

In an environment where multiple team membership is the norm we need to do much more to develop skills and consistent ways of working – shared expectations and tools to kick-off team activity and shared ways of collaborating and communicating.

Without consistency we rely on individuals to work out their own ways of working with each individual team. This takes a lot of time and means that team members have to juggle radically different ways of working in different teams. Effectively today each time individuals form a team they have to work it out from first principles. This is time-consuming and ineffective and it’s unlikely they will each stumble upon bet practice.

So if multiple team membership is the norm for you (and it seems to be in every complex company) – do you equip your people to work in this more complex environment, do they have the skills and empowerment to manage the complexities and trade-offs involved?

If not, why not give us a call?

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