Matrix Management

Matrix Management Interview with Kevan Hall, Part 2

In part one of this matrix management interview, Kevan started to define the various levels of matrix structure and some of the different factors we need to take into account in matrix management. In the second part of this interview he discusses some of the specific matrix management challenges he has been working on.

Kevan – what would you say are the top three matrix management issues that you come across in your consulting and training?

The first is the issue of alignment.

Many of the organizations that we have worked with went through a phase of becoming obsessed with aligning objectives, aligning roles, aligning structure.  When you have multiple reporting lines it does increase the probability that you are going to get competing objectives and priorities.

I often use the example of the matrix management style of mum and dad.  If you have kids (as I do) and one of them comes to you and says “Dad, can I do x?” The first question you ask is “What does your mum say?” because you realize that, unless you two are aligned, then the kids are going to run off and do what they like.

Well how do you get aligned if you are in this complex matrix structure then?

Well there are some tools, the most commonly used one is RACI which we use for clarifying responsibilities, accountability, who is involved in a decision etc…  This is probably the most useful tool but there are some fundamental differences about how RACI works in matrix management and we have adapted this tool to these realities.

Just one simple example, one of the golden rules of RACI is that there should not be shared management accountabilities, unfortunately this is just not true in a matrix. If you have clear accountabilities that helps, but where you don’t, you need some kind of tie breaker, some mechanism for breaking out of accountability conflicts.

More importantly we need to realize that in a matrix management, if you could achieve perfect alignment of objectives and roles you wouldn’t need a matrix, you could go back to a simple single point of reporting.

It is a doomed effort to try and get complete clarity in a matrix, it is almost against the point of having one, so don’t obsess on it. By all means do a RACI analysis when you introduce a major organizational change or there is a new structure.  But be aware that you cannot get full alignment –  it is equally important to focus on getting comfort with ambiguity, building the right attitudes, building the right skill sets as it is to get clarity and those two have always got to go hand in hand.

Don’t people get pretty uncomfortable with that?

Yes I think that is a real problem in matrix management.  The reality is that, depending where you are in the organization you will get different levels of clarity.

  1. Right at the top of the organization, the people we call the global group, are pretty well aligned to corporate objectives – and you want clarity from them.  You want clarity of strategy and direction that enables people further down in the organization to make judgment calls on what are the priorities.  For them life should be pretty clear.
  2. At the other end of the scale, are the people we call the locally loyal, the vast majority of people in any organization who have purely local jobs, looking after local customers, working in your local call centers, retail outlets etc… For them again, life should be kept simple, the matrix adds little value and a lot of confusion at this level so try not to take your matrix structure down too far into the organization.
  3. The challenge really is for the people in the matrix middle. There are the ream matrix managers, people who have dual reporting lines, the people who have to manage the daily dilemmas of being in a matrix structure. Their daily decsions define how the matrix works in reality.

It sounds like life is pretty different for those people in the matrix middle.

Well in addition to the challenges of alignment, there are two daily dilemmas that play themselves out in management in the matrix middle.

The first is the dilemma of divided loyalty.  By definition people with multiple reporting lines are pulled in different directions, their loyalties are pulled towards different managers, different sets of objectives, different sets of priorities.

The essence of a dilemma is that it can’t be solved once and for all.  If we could decide (a) is more important than (b) then we wouldn’t need a matrix.  What we have to do is equip managers at the point of intersection of these lines with the knowledge, the skills, the ability to manage the trade offs and if we don’t, then people do feel very uncomfortable.

The second dilemma that is very evident to us in our work with clients in matrix management is the balance of control and autonomy.

There are lots of small pressures within a matrix organization that tend to undermine trust. I am not suggesting that people get up and actively distrust each other every day, but distance, cultural differences, communicating through technology and competing priorities can lead to misunderstandings or conflicts that can make us doubt our colleagues.

If trust is undermined then managers often compensate by increasing control.  This is potentially a vicious circle where control is constantly tightened and causes high levels of escalation to the centre which causes delay, cost and dissatisfaction.

The third area we see a lot are organizations confusing being connected with being effective.  These are different things.

As I said at the beginning, a lot of organizations set up a matrix management structure to connect people across the traditional silos.  Unfortunately they tend to get what they wished for and pretty soon everyone is connected to everyone and you get a proliferation of meetings, emails, reporting and control mechanisms.  People are connected to more teams, more colleagues, more managers and all of these cause additional work.

Because of this it is necessary in a matrix to simplify and challenge some of the traditional ways of managing people.  If you want to find out more about this check out one of our earlier life in a matrix series podcasts too much corporation going on, or our book, Speed Lead, where you will get some ideas on simplifying corporation, communication, control and community.

It is also true that personal effectiveness skills for people working in the matrix become even more critical and there are many things that change in that area such as managing multiple bosses, unclear roles and high levels of ambiguity.

If you are interested in this area check out our matrix management and personal effectiveness training.

What would be your top advice for matrix managers?

I think my biggest advice would be stop looking for a structural solution.  I see a lot of organizations still tinkering with the organization’s structures, constantly reorganizing and, because the solution isn’t in the structure, this makes things worse by breaking down the networks that really get things done.

Role clarity and structured solutions are less likely to work in a matrix organization, don’t obsess about them.  We should be spending much more focus on building the people skills of operating the matrix.

Visit our Global Integration website to find out more about matrix management training, or to learn more about our matrix organization consulting.

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