Matrix Management

You can’t succeed at digital without matrix management

Whether as part of a formal digital transformation, or just the ongoing need to deliver work that cuts across the traditional vertical silos of function and geography, the ability to manage a “matrixed” way of working is essential to any integrated organization.

This does not necessarily mean that we need solid and dotted lines and multiple bosses, but it does mean that cross-functional collaboration becomes more common and that other integrating mechanisms such as cross business projects and common systems become more common.

For many years work has been becoming successively more collaborative and more horizontal. It doesn’t fit within the traditional neat silos (if it ever did).

Digital processes and customer needs do not respect our traditional organizational boundaries. They, quite naturally, only care about delivery of the end results, not the internal hoops we have created to jump through on the road to delivery.

But the silos remain strong, geography and proximity often bring loyalty, functions often control objective setting, incentives, and career development. There are strong rational reasons to pay attention to the verticals – and they do play a useful role in, for example, creating future capability. It’s unlikely that functions will be going anywhere soon.

So we create a classic matrix, work becomes more horizontal but capability building and functional excellence remain vertical. In 30 years of consulting, I haven’t seen any organisations that violates this fundamental principle.

But things are different in this multi-dimensional world; accountability without control and influence without authority become the norm, there are higher levels of ambiguity and more complex collaboration.

None of these challenges can be solved by structure. Indeed a symptom of unhealthy matrix is an obsession with reporting lines and who has solid or dotted line control. When we focus on reporting lines, we are trying to solve the problem through power and control, and these often only make the situation worse.

Instead, the solution lies in skills and culture, the way we behave within the matrix to get things done. You can see a ready-made curriculum of matrix management skills here which can be further tailored to your specific needs if required.

This also means that it’s hard to succeed in digital transformation if you haven’t built matrix management skills first. If you’re trying to jump straight to digital, you may need to take a step back and make sure you’ve got the underpinning skills in place to enable effective horizontal work.

How do you develop your people to make your matrix work?

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