Matrix Management

New to the matrix, what should you expect?

We are experiencing an increase in interest in matrix management training. There are two key drivers of this

  • organisations introducing a matrix for the first time – many organisations are emerging from the pandemic with an urgent need to become more integrated, share resources and implement a “One Company” approach both internally and externally
  • organisations which have had the matrix at some level in the past, but are now taking it deeper into the organisation and giving the “horizontal” aspects of the business more power

There appears to be a wave of organisational change happening that many organisations have delayed implementing whilst their people were on furlough, they can’t wait any longer.

Whilst every organisation is different, with different legacy power structures, personalities and culture, human beings are pretty consistent. Having worked with many organisations in matrix management around the world over the last 30 years, here are the key questions that people ask in the early stages – almost irrespective of organisation.

  • Why are we introducing a matrix?
  • What happens next?
  • How can I be accountable for results when I don’t directly control the resources?
  • How can I get things done without formal authority and reporting lines?

Why are we introducing a matrix? This sounds laughably simple and somewhere in the organisation there is probably a 57-page PowerPoint deck explaining in great detail the why and the what. Unfortunately, this information rarely gets through to the middle management population that is most impacted by the change.

It really isn’t enough to send out “push” communication, we need to engage our leaders in two-way conversations over time to build real understanding of this. If we aren’t crystal clear about the why then it gets difficult to work through the details on the how.

The rationale for the matrix is compelling, whether it’s to improve internal collaboration and processes that cut across the traditional silos, to present one voice to the customer, to share learning, to unlock resources, build functional expertise or to prepare for digital transformation.

That’s why over 90% of the world’s leading companies use some form of matrix.

But if we don’t understand the benefits, we tend just to notice the challenges. We also won’t know whether we are succeeding.

What happens next? We’ve never experienced any organisation that completely planned the matrix before introducing it. There are a lot of moving parts and the process of change can take years. It starts with changes around strategy and structure and these tend to be the fastest parts of the process (though they can still take time).

The next two waves of change are about the execution of the strategy in detail. This involves aligning systems and skills to a matrix way of working.

Systems alignment Includes ensuring business processes now cut across the organisation, restructuring P&Ls, and aligning people processes such as objective setting, KPIs and metrics.

There is often an initial period where the traditional incentive structure of the organisation, for example, is still focused on the legacy silos and works against the intent of the matrix.

The part that is often forgotten is the need to align culture, skills and behaviours, and that is often where we get involved.

It is essential to set realistic expectations about the time this will take and to put in place workstreams that systematically align all of these elements.

The first two questions about management that people new to the matrix ask us are nearly always

  • how can I be accountable for results when I don’t directly control the resources?
  • how can I get things done without formal authority and reporting lines?

They seem like reasonable questions; however, they betray a preoccupation with control and ownership of resources. It is the essence of the silo to maintain control and hierarchical authority, and we often see a preoccupation with reporting lines and control  at the early stage.

In a matrix it is not the reporting lines that get things done. In a matrix we work with multiple bosses, on multiple teams and with large groups of stakeholders. If we need to default to formal hierarchy to get things done, we’re in trouble. We also know that people prefer to be led through influence rather than hierarchy, so moving to the matrix tends to make us better leaders.

Our company mission is to inspire and enable people to succeed in complex organisations. At this early stage we try to inspire people with confidence in the matrix and show how it has both organisational and personal benefits, particularly in regard to career development and higher levels of engagement.

We also give people the skills and tools to understand this new environment and how to thrive in it. The matrix isn’t without its challenges, but the solution to these challenges is normally about ways of working and culture, not tinkering with the structure. Luckily after 30 years of experience building matrix skills, we have many of the solutions.

If you are new to the matrix or your matrix is starting to bite, you might enjoy our book Making the Matrix Work or want to find out more about our matrix management training.

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