Why the silos live on in matrix management

Many organizations introduce matrix management in order to break the traditional vertical silos of (usually) functions and geography. They seek improved cross-functional communications and cooperation and better sharing of the resources that were formerly locked up in local ‘silos’.

But the silos are very powerful. Most people still see their careers as within the functional silos. People are trained in their functional skills and mindsets, and pay attention to the issues that they were used to when the functions drove most activity. It’s not surprising that people still pay attention to their silos.

However, as organizations become more global and more integrated, most of the value generation happens horizontally – from global marketing, product development or supply chains. It is critical we give these processes the power and tools to balance the power of the function.

Note I say “balance”. This is not about replacing the vertical silos with horizontal ones. The functions remain important. We still need functional capability building and checks and balances. However successful matrix management means a rebalancing of power towards the horizontal processes and leaders.

Benefits_80-BlackA good example may be the supply chain where people are now starting to see themselves as supply chain professionals rather than referring back their legacy functions. The benefits of an integrated view of the supply chain are too compelling to ignore. Once you see your future career in terms of the horizontal then perspectives change.

For the support functions such as HR, legal, IT etc.. the  function is likely to continue to be the basis for careers and skill development for the near to medium term future.

So what tools and power can we give the horizontal management stream to help balance the attraction towards the function? They are largely responsible for activity management and should drive business planning and have a strong input into goal setting and appraisal.

The trick in matrix management lies in defining clearly who drives what in the different legs of the matrix. If is is not clear, then individuals can suffer misaligned goals and divided loyalties. These are made worse if the functions still expect the same level of focus on functional goals as they had when individuals only reported up the functional line.

Something that companies rarely consider is “what do the verticals need to STOP doing to make the space for the horizontal to succeed?”

If you want help determining the right balance of power in your matrix organization or in facilitating senior groups to define it for themselves, why not give us a call?

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