Matrix Management

How to get rid of power in matrix management

"matrix management"Introducing a matrix organization structure often means balancing the existing power of the traditional vertical silos such as function and geography by introducing additional reporting lines that cut horizontally across the business from entities such as supply chain, business units, product groups or global accounts organizations.

We introduce matrix management because we want to be good at multiple things. The business unit is important, but so is the function: if we could make a once and for all choice on priorities we wouldn’t need a matrix. Because of this the matrix is often an exercise in balancing power.

A participant on one of our recent matrix management workshops asked an interesting question:

How do we unload power once we have it?

It’s not unusual for legacy power and relationships to be vested in, for example, country managers of functional heads. When we introduce an additional reporting line we try to balance this existing power.

A question we often ask is: “What will the vertical stop doing in order to make the space for the horizontals to be successful?”

But how can these traditionally powerful vertical managers give up power to allow the horizontals to assume equal influence. If you already have power it can be hard to change the perceptions of the people around you. You are sought out for decisions; your word has weight and influence in discussions.

It requires a conscious choice to extract yourself from decisions, not to interfere in activities driven by the other leg of the matrix and to give up a level of control over resources. All of these are extremely difficult to achieve and take a sustained act of will. It also requires changing the mindset of the people around you, otherwise they will keep defaulting to legacy patterns of behaviour.

It’s not surprising that it sometimes takes a change in the personnel of these roles to really overcome this problem. It is made worse if these powerful individuals don’t support the move to a matrix. The reality is that often they feel as though they are losing control and power and they resist this, either explicitly or subconsciously.

We recommend that senior groups discuss these issues of power in developing their matrix management structures. If these individuals are not reasonably aligned and willing to share power,  then people further down the organization find this very difficult to achieve.

If the ‘horizontal’ line serves to add more activity, we can end up with more meetings, more e-mails, slow decisions etc. The ‘vertical’ needs to stop doing some things to create the time for the horizontal to succeed too.

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