Matrix Management

Managing the Interfaces

I was recently working with a client where some individuals were feeling like – in our words – Matrix Victims.

Their company had transitioned from a family-owned and operated hierarchy into a matrix organization and they were feeling that they no longer had the ability to move quickly – one of the strengths they felt of the old way of working.

We got into a decision making discussion, and the inevitable question of who owns what decision came up.  One participant from Israel shared an example: recently there had been a production fault on an item that historically would have been swiftly resolved by the item category champion. However in their new matrix organization, Operations also needed to be involved.  But as no-one knew who was meant to take charge, so far nothing had happened.

To bring some clarity into their matrix, I introduced a couple of models – the first being a classic Venn diagram to describe the issue they faced:

Where there is no overlap between Markets, Category or Operations everything is relatively clear and similar to the old way of working. The matrix makes explicit the shaded interfaces between these areas – and this is where there is likely to be conflict or lack of clarity. Being able to visualize these overlaps and appreciate that these are areas where extra thought and effort are required to set up new matrix ways of working proved to be a great help for participants.

I went on to introduce our 5 Choices Tool for agreeing the way forward. With it, parties involved in the interface can explore the choices and consequences of adopting their particular practices. Put simply, what it looks like to adopt ‘my way’ or ‘your way’, or what it would take to agree an ‘our way’ approach.  So for the production fault issue, the Israeli manager was able to take a clear action to go back and have a structured discussion with his Operations counterpart on the choices they had for resolving the issue, and what an ‘our way ‘ approach might look like.

Interestingly when I introduced the interface Venn diagram to a leading drinks manufacturer the next week, they shared they have a special committee of very senior leaders who deal with disputes that occur right in the middle of the Venn diagram (i.e. involving all three areas).  After seeing this model, they felt empowered to push back any issue outside of this middle zone – as all other interface issues should be resolved by the relevant matrix managers.

With the clarity provided by the interface diagram, plus the simplicity of discussing and agreeing the 5 choices approach, participants left with the capability and confidence to manage their matrix interfaces.

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