Matrix Management

Why I am unexpectedly excited about connection and complexity?

As a fairly pragmatic Yorkshire man who has been around for a few years I am not given to constant rushes of enthusiasm :-); but I have to say I am genuinely excited by some of the recent developments in technology and organization.

I just finished Kevin Kelly’s new book “The Inevitables” about the key trends shaping the development of technology and their impact on society. I’ve enjoyed all of his books; but this one in particular is redolent with opportunity and with a sense that we are witnessing a new beginning in so many things, with the unprecedented connection of so many people, so much information and the addition of animation and connection to previously inanimate objects. He describes it as the biggest thing humans have ever built.

I feel genuinely enthused by the opportunities these developments are going to create – of course there will be downsides and important issues to be resolved in areas like privacy. However in general I am optimistic that the more choices we create, the more freedom we unleash.

In my own area of interest – leadership in complex organizations, this is going to be a fascinating time. People are becoming more connected across organizations, hierarchy is being undermined, and information becomes more freely accessible.

Leadership will require integrating huge amounts of data and information and bridging the gap between this and people with all their complexity, concerns and passions.

I am seeing it already in my workshops – when people talk about the complexity of their jobs, virtual working, multiple team membership, international cultural complexities, I always ask “would you want to go back to a simpler job in one location” almost everyone I ask tells me they would hate that. Complexity is intoxicating, we love the challenge, we like variety.

We may complain about complexity but given the choice, we usually choose the more complex option – products and services with more features and options win over ones with less.

Many people consider the matrix organization that I specialize in, with multiple bosses and multiple team membership to be a problem – spawning a lack of clarity and higher levels of ambiguity. However a Gallup survey last year showed that the more people were exposed to matrix management the higher their level of engagement.

If roles are not as clear, it gives people more scope for ownership and autonomy. If hierarchy is undermined, it means less recourse to traditional authority and it requires leaders to consult and influence more.

I think the next couple of decades are going to be fascinating for society and organizations – more so than almost any time in the past, change is going to be fast and disruptive for many people and many organizations. As individuals we need to be open to this and to build the mind-set and skills we need to thrive in this environment. If we don’t there is a real risk that we will be left behind. If we do, I think we can be part of a genuinely significant moment in the evolution of society and organizations.

I’m going to stop being evangelical now. I know this will not appeal to everyone and will worry others. You can write this off as starry eyed optimism (not something I am regularly accused of so it makes a nice change) but equipping yourself for this change starts with energy and anticipation – make a start by reading Kevin Kelly’s book. Come join me.

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