The Changing Roles of Senior Management in Matrixed Organizations

Matrix managementMatrixed organizations are those where people are working ‘horizontally’ across business silos, rather than in a traditional “vertical” structure based upon geography or function.

This structure makes absolute sense in terms of maximising resources by offering more flexibility and wider access to pools of skilled expertise, but often demands new skills of both managers and the people working for them.

At the very top of organizations, senior managers often underestimate the impact of introducing a matrix organization structure – after all, almost everyone still works for them and senior managers have tremendous positional power and strong networks to get things done.

Indeed senior managers sometimes insist that the strategy is clear and don’t understand what middle managers are complaining about – but the strategy is about what we will do, most of the conflict comes from deciding how to do it, and this discussion happened at middle management level.

Alignment is a common challenge – but if we could perfectly ‘align’ our objectives, roles and business needs perfectly, there would be no need for a matrix structure. Meanwhile, in the real world, there are very few organizations that are afforded that luxury: most need to share skills and resources.

Yet this understates the role of senior management in making matrix organizations work smoothly. Although it is middle management (the matrix middle) that must cope on a daily basis with competing goals and multiple bosses, it is at senior management level that the success or failure of a matrix organization begins, starting with an understanding of the issues facing colleagues so that the right checks and balances can be put into place.

Importantly they need to ensure that middle management is clear about, and has the skills to manage, the complexity that is thrown up. Senior managers need, for example, to decide where to build new communities and networks that will help make the matrix structure work: the teams who work for them will inevitably face conflicting priorities, a situation that working across more than one team almost inevitably throws up, and will usually need support structures and training to help them manage.

Senior managers further need to ensure that internal political and cultural barriers won’t derail the organization’s chances of success, and that the right people are in place to cope with any escalation issues. A particular challenge is stopping the old legacy power structures from distorting the new structure.

And it goes without saying, of course, that executives should ensure that structural complexity only exists where absolutely necessary.

Above all, however, it is vital that those at a senior level communicate why the structure is the way it is, offering clarity and direction regarding why the organization is structured the way it is, and where it’s headed. They also need to be accessible to deal with escalation in a way that supports the new structure.

Based on the seniority of your audience and the way the matrix organization structure works in your company, Global Integration can quickly design specific matrix leadership training programs to build capability.

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