Matrix Management / Virtual Teams

Power and consequences

Influence without authority, accountability without control – power and consequences

The two biggest objections that managers new to matrix management often state is “how can I be accountable for things I don’t control” and “how can I get things done without formal authority”. These sound like legitimate concerns, until you think about the assumptions that underlie them about how you get things done. Is it really necessary to have control and formal power to achieve something in a modern organization? Successful leaders use a much wider repertoire of influence and sources of power.

In fact, this preoccupation with control and authority is very often counter-productive. In matrix management training we look at the various sources of power available to people and, crucially, the consequences of using them. Even if you have coercive or hierarchical power, if you use it you are at best, likely to get passive acceptance. In many cases you will create resistance. For every leadership action, we create a followership response. The corollary of this is that if we want to create a certain style of followership, our leadership style needs to be designed to elicit this. For example, if we want people to be autonomous and self-starting then, as leaders, we probably need to do less leadership with them. We need to give them the space to exercise autonomy, we need to reduce control to allow them to grow and we need to give them less guidance and direction if we want them to be self-starting. Did you ever see a list of leadership criteria that included leaving people alone and giving less guidance?

In a matrix, direct control and hierarchical authority are undermined; and maybe that’s one of its most positive contributions. We asked people on our matrix management training courses, who had both solid line and dotted line bosses, which they preferred working for? Generally people prefer the dotted line boss. When asked why, they said “they have to work a bit harder to influence us”. However, it’s important that we give these managers with a more traditional command and control way of operating some new skills. If they aren’t confident that they have the skills to influence and to be accountable for things when they don’t have direct control, then they will tend to fall back on traditional ways of leadership which can be very counter-productive in this more complex world. This legacy way of working can really slow down a matrix.

Sources of power such as expertise, relationships and norms become much more important in complex organization structures. As one of our clients once said “why talk to someone with a job title, when you can talk to someone with an answer?”

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