Matrix management skills #2 – living with ambiguity

The second of the skills we cover in the pyramid model as part of our skills for matrix working training program is living with ambiguity.

Human beings seem to instinctively dislike ambiguity, but the point of a matrix is to trade a reduction in clarity for an increase in flexibility.

As we already discovered in this post on alignment of objectives in the matrix not everything can or should be made clear, and if we can achieve complete alignment and clarify then we probably don’t need a matrix.

Dual reporting lines add a human element to ambiguity. It is not only about objective tasks, but about the loyalties and emotional issues that are engaged when you have to manage trade-offs with colleagues and your bosses.

You would have thought that with two or more bosses you would have enough direction to achiever higher levels of clarity wouldn’t you? No? Me neither.

So how do we get more comfortable with ambiguity? Maybe there are personality types who are more able to deal with this? Geert Hosftede studied cultural differences and one of his dimensions was “uncertainty avoidance (see the data behind his research using this link) – the preference for finding mechanisms to reduce of eliminate uncertainty and he found significant cultural differences around the world.

Cultures that score high on this dimension may be less comfortable with uncertainty as it increases the opportunity to make a mistake or be in conflict. They tend to prefer rules and other methods to reduce uncertainty

Please note that I do not recommend Hofstede’s model for cross-cultural training in general as I think some of his terms are outdated and a bit pejorative. (Take a look at our cross-cultural model for something more current).

My own observation is that matrix structures are less easy to operate in very hierarchical cultures as it is harder to challenge your boss and managing trade-offs from multiple managers.

Do any of you test for ability to manage ambiguity when selecting for matrix roles? How would we do this – any ideas?

(Note: links updated and punctuation error corrected May 2013)

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