Matrix Management

Matrix management myths – Part 2

In our work with leading organisations on matrix management we regularly encounter a number of myths and assumptions that often hold people back in managing the matrix successfully. It’s important to dispel these as they can lead to people waiting passively for “normal service” to be resumed or for senior leaders to fix a problem which they may not be aware of or may not be a problem at all.

In part 1 last week I wrote about:

  1. We need to get everything clear and aligned
  2. We need more collaboration

In part 2 this week I will address:

  1. How can I be accountable when I don’t have control?
  2. How can I influence without authority?

How can I be accountable when I don’t have control?

This is one of the top two complaints we hear from experienced leaders new to the matrix. In reality it’s always been very rare that people in a complex organisation have complete control over the resources they need to deliver their accountabilities.

Where there is a complete match between accountability and control this can be good proficiency but it is the essence of silo thinking – resources are locked up in individual areas we don’t need to engage with anyone else to get our work done. In a complex connected organisation this is very likely to lead to poor allocation of resources and inflexibility.

Having jobs where accountability is broader than control is the norm in matrix organisations, people often see it as an unintended consequence of the matrix but the reality is it’s the whole point of the matrix – when we have broader accountabilities and control we need to engage with others, mobilize resources we don’t own and demonstrate value. This tends to lead to better resource allocation and more joined up thinking across the organisation.


How can I influence without authority?

This complaint is often combined with the one above accountability without control. When I summarize the two challenges people often nod as if these are serious concerns and a complete change with past.

I usually counter by asking “is the only way you want leaders in your organisation to get things done through control and authority?” Everyone immediately shakes their heads.

Not many people have complete authority to get whenever they went in a complex organisation; even the CEO is to influence people sometimes. Good leaders have always exercised a broader range of influence strategies and sources of power than just authority and control.

We also have to consider the implications of using these sources of authority even if we have them. If we force people to comply despite their wishes and without explaining the value of what we are asking we may get the best unwilling compliance, at worst resistance and sabotage. It would be unwise leader put too much faith in hierarchical authority and command and control, particularly with a skilled and educated workforce.

So where do these objections come from? We think that often is an indication that leaders are not comfortable with a broader range of skills they need to be successful in the matrix. The matrix is more complex and does require a step up in skills.

We think that reducing the ability of leaders to get things done simply through hierarchy and control is an almost entirely positive step. It is likely to lead to higher levels of engagement and better decisions. If you hear people in your organisation complaining about accountability without control and influence without authority, ask them what alternative they propose and whether they would like to be led entirely through control and authority?

If you need to build the skills to be more effective at matrix management why not give us a call.


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