Matrix Management

How to influence without authority in a matrix organization?

To get people to do what you want them to do in a matrix organization it is better to inspire and empower them than to shout. Every manager knows that, right? They might know it in theory, but according to a recent study with a large technology matrix organization, it’s not coming across that way to their teams.

Researchers asked functional and project managers in South Africa, Canada and Italy which influencing styles they used with their team; and then asked the same team members what styles they perceived their managers used with them.

The gap was big.

While the project managers in the matrix organization stated their top three influencing techniques were passion and inspiration, logical arguments and creating shared goals – their team members felt they used authority first, then association (desire to be linked with the manager), with passion and inspiration coming a dismal third.

For functional managers – their view of influencing teams through empowerment, logical arguments and challenging them professionally was not reflected in the experience of their teams, who felt they were most likely to try to persuade them through penalty pressure, performance ratings and authority.

As these and other academics point out, no wonder micro-management and decision strangulation is a constant challenge in matrix organizations.

Using a statistical technique called the ‘Kruskal-Wallis non-parametric test’, the researchers found the biggest perception gap was for the coercive technique of ‘penalty pressure’, with team members feeling both types of managers used it far more in the matrix organization than the managers reckoned they did. Based on Global Integration’s experience of working with many thousands of managers in matrix organizations, it might be that the managers intended to be inspirational, but because of the status of their role, team members assumed they were being coerced and looked for confirming evidence of that.

This is a problem as the research also found that in a matrix organization, the soft approach works best.

When it comes to project manager impact on performance, the strongest statistically significant correlations were for ‘respect knowledge’, logical arguments and passion and inspiration. And for functional managers the strongest drivers of performance were similarly passion and inspiration, logical arguments, and then association (see figure 1). The threat of poor performance ratings or other penalties were the least effective techniques for this matrix organization.

Figure 1: Showing strength of statistically significant correlation with manager influencing style and team member performance. Source: Moodley et. Al (2016).

So how can we help managers use their personal power effectively, rather than dropping back on positional power? They know they should be doing it – but it’s not coming across in practice.

Over the last 24 years Global Integration has helped thousands of managers influence without authority in matrix organizations; and would be delighted to support yours.

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