Matrix Management

Lost in translation: embedding the matrix in a global organisation

For the different regions of a global organization it can feel like drive to implement a matrix is something being done to them by a (typically) New York or London HQ. The local L&D/OD managers (in Asia, Eastern Europe or the Middle East) tell us they often feel powerless – with central HQ making decisions on global programmes with little or no consultation.

As a result, the local L&D teams run the required training programmes on the change to matrix working – but treat it as a checklist that has been ticked off, rather than obsessively focusing on how to apply and assimilate the new ways of working into day-to-day life.  And global HQ thinks all is fine as they can see that the programmes have been run around the world – so that’s sorted.

But to make the change really stick there have to be corresponding, organization-wide changes to ways of working such as how people meet, make decisions, travel and collaborate at a practical level.  These are the everyday instances in which the new matrix ways of working take place.

As a number of our Asian clients have raised, a particular challenge is that many Asian languages are inherently not very clear and direct (whether it’s Korean, Thai, Indian or Chinese).  Working in connected, complex and remote organizations can easily exacerbate simple misunderstandings.  Being aware of this and helping balance the global organizational culture with the local one is an additional skill that these managers have to develop.

Established national and corporate cultures run deep and getting people to give up their ‘fiefdoms’, loyalties and detailed job descriptions doesn’t usually happen overnight. For example in Asian or Germanic countries and in corporate cultures where management has been strongly hierarchical and personality-leadership driven, it can be very difficult to question or challenge multiple bosses.

Skill building is important to this but we also need to address corporate cultural issues such as the behaviours we value and reward. The new matrix way of working needs to be embedded deeply into our organizational DNA, in offices all around the globe.

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