Matrix Management – tips for the top

Matrix management is not so different right at the top of organizations. If you are the most senior matrix manager then everyone still works for you! At the top of the functions, business units and geographies there are a small group of managers who themselves only have one boss and for whom the exercise of personal power can still get most things done even they don’t have a formal reporting relationship in the matrix management structure.

As a result, there is a tendency for these people at the top to underestimate the impact that the matrix has on the matrix managers below them.

In addition to this, because their environment has changed less, they may tend to assume that the legacy management behaviours that worked in the pre-matrix days are appropriate to matrix management. In fact senior managers reverting to pre-matrix behaviors can cause big problems for the rest of the new matrix organization as managers try to “get things back under control / the way it used to be.”

The role of these senior matrix managers is critical. They need to be advocates and sponsors of the principles of matrix management. This is particularly challenging for the next level down of matrix managers who do have dial reporting and often feel that they have lost control or power in the matrix management structure.

The key challenges for senior matrix managers include

  • Creating a clear rationale and value proposition for matrix management – and communicating and modeling it.
  • Dealing with political and legacy cultural barriers to the success of matrix management (including removing senior managers who cannot adapt to matrix management)
  • Building matrix management skills throughout the management population and reinforcing good matrix management practices.
  • Sponsoring and building the networks and communities needed to make matrix management work.
  • Providing high level clarity on direction to allows the competing priorities that inevitably arise in matrix management to be resolved in the interest of the organization as a whole.

Further into the middle of the organization are matrix managers who operate where the matrix reporting lines intersect, we call them the matrixed middle – more on matrix management at this level in a future post.

Do your senior matrix managers do a good job of leading in the matrix?

See more about our approach to matrix mangement training or some of the other matrix management issues we encounter in our matrix organization consulting

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