Matrix Management

Five reasons why matrix management could be the best thing that can happen to you

Matrix management often gets a bad press, with people citing an increase in bureaucracy, reduced clarity and delays in decision-making as common problems.

However, the matrix is the organisation structure of choice for the world’s most successful organisations so it must bring some benefits.

As well as the business benefits of increasing collaboration across the traditional silos, better resource allocation and flexibility to deal with competing goals, working in the matrix may also be one of the best things that can happen to you as an individual.

Here are five reasons why:

  1. The matrix increases engagement

A Gallup survey for McKinsey found that the more people were matrixed (working on multiple teams and for multiple bosses) the higher the level of engagement. Each time we step up a level of complexity, we see a small but significant increase in engagement.

In discussing this with many participants I think that, even though we like to complain, many of us enjoy the increased breadth and the complexity of matrix roles and few would really want to go back to a simpler way of working.

2. The matrix is good for your career development

A study of over 400,000 people on LinkedIn found that the development activity that was most likely to lead you to a C suite role was having an MBA from a top 5 US school like Harvard. This would probably cost you $250,000 in fees and expenses and a year of your life.

The second-best development activity was having multi-functional experience. It seems that the breath that the matrix encourages and requires makes leaders think more strategically and more broadly earlier in their careers. The impact of having a number of multi-functional moves was 75% as high as having a top five US school MBA.

Your experience of the matrix will prepare you more effectively for senior roles.

3. The matrix increases the likelihood of international experience

As well as cross functional opportunities, the matrix tends to create more integration internationally, opening up more opportunities for regional or global experience.

As most large, complex organisations pursue higher levels of international integration this type of experience will be essential for career development and success.

Working and perhaps even living internationally are also highly enriching personal experiences and particularly attractive to young talent.

4. The matrix teaches you new ways to get things done

To take two examples, accountability without control and influence without authority become the norm. Whilst this is often initially seen as a problem, what it does is undermines our ability to get things done through traditional hierarchical control. This is usually extremely positive, making us develop a whole new range of skills in influencing, in creating alliances and engaging with people much more broadly across our organizations.

Great leaders have always exercised a broader range of techniques than just hierarchy and control. By undermining these traditional levers the matrix forces us to find different routes. This experience makes us better leaders and better colleagues.

It also undermines traditional control and allows for high levels of empowerment and self-direction – something most of us value.

5. The matrix builds your network

 Networking is important in all organisations but in a matrix, networking is the way we get things done.

Because of the breadth of the matrix and the need to take an end-to-end view across the vertical silos, the matrix gives us a huge opportunity to extend our network horizontally across the organisation.

These broader networks give you the opportunity to reach out across the organisation, engage people and achieve results. They also allow you to tap into much more diverse sets of expertise and perspectives.

This broad network can also be helpful for your future career development, either inside your own organisation or elsewhere.

So if you want higher levels of engagement, new skills, a better network and broader cross functional and international experience – accelerating your route to the top of the organisation – seek out and embrace the matrix.

Check out an interactive graphic on our matrix management learning path and training module contents.

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