Matrix Management

Matrix Management: Building skills

If you read our previous posts on the first three ‘S’s; strategy, structure and systems. You will realise that organizations have, by the time they arrive at ‘skills’, put a huge amount of effort into introducing  matrix management and  a matrix organization structure. The final wave of change, the final ‘S’, lies in developing the skills required to make matrix management work.

By this stage, senior leaders are often getting tired of the matrix. They have invested an enormous amount of time and effort over several years. The cost and complexity was more than they anticipated, and yet still people seem to have problems making the matrix really work.

At this stage, some organizations experience what our colleague John Bland calls “4 ‘S’ fatigue”.  In extreme cases, they conclude that the organization cannot work and decide to reorganize again – taking us back to step one without completing the implementation of the original strategy.

Our IT organization introduced an integrated regional IT structure for the first time. We ran a very successful pilot ‘Matrix skills training’ program based on the key challenges that people expressed in working in the new structure.

The IT leadership team needed to approve the workshop for roll out to the wider organization. Unfortunately, they were extremely busy with a major systems implementation, and the review of training kept falling off the agenda. It was listed as ‘any other business’ for twelve successive monthly management meetings.

Finally, we learned that the review was no longer required as they had concluded that the structure could not work and were reverting to a more local IT operating model. I was told that the total cost of this decision was $30 million.

HR, IT Business Partner, Pharmaceuticals

Unfortunately, we will never know whether the skills training would have made the difference, but it is clear that this organization never reached the fourth ‘S’.

The step up to working in a matrix environment is a significant increase in complexity in the way people work together and are managed.

When we are working across distance, cultures, time zones and barriers of functional and organizational differences , we need to learn some new skills and also to unlearn some of the traditional ones that may no longer apply at this new level of complexity .

It is not about business as usual. These challenges change the skill set the matrix leadership, matrix teams and matrix personal effectiveness.

If you look back across the previous posts on the costs of implementing strategy, structure and systems, you will get an idea of the scale of investment required to make a matrix management implementation successful. Often skill development is the poor relation compared to the costs incurred in other areas. However, it is the matrix management skills and ways of working that will ultimately make the difference between success and failure in a matrix organization structure.

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