Matrix management success – switch from reorganizing structure to building skills

Many large organizations suffer from constant structural change and re-organization. In many companies it is a joke. “Keep your head down, there will be another reorganization along in six months.”

In working with complex matrix organizations we found that structure really solves nothing. It is the networks and the way people work together that make the difference between success and failure in matrix management. Not only do reorganizations rarely achieve the benefits they were designed to deliver; they often make things worse by disrupting the networks and relationships that actually get things done in a matrix.

It is tempting to turn to structure for the solution to a problem. It can be tangible and you can see a visible change in the organization, but the reality is that the behaviours, culture and way of working are far more resilient than the formal structure.

We believe that too much focus on structure can cause underinvestment in the skills and ways of working that are necessary to matrix management success.

In today’s fast changing environment a formal structural response to change is likely to be too slow and inflexible, increasingly we will rely on behavioural flexibility and ability to put together fluid teams and work streams to get things done.

Reorganizations incur costs and cause disruption. The worst example I found (unsurprisingly from the state sector) was that the UK government spent £780m on 51 reorganizations of its departments and agencies in the four years after the 2005 election  The National Audit Office said it was impossible to demonstrate that the changes made between the May 2005 general election and June 2009 represented value for money – “Most were rushed through by Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown without a clear explanation of the purpose.”

Compare the money your company spent on reorganization with the amount invested in skills to see if you have got the balance right. Did the spend on reorganization meet its goals, was it value for money, were the changes subsequently changed again?

Why not switch your attention to skills instead?

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