Matrix management presupposes collaborative communities, both within our organizations and among them when they are involved in strategic alliances and other multi-firm endeavors. Indeed, academic contributors are emphasizing the need to develop and nurture collaborative communities within your organization before you seek to form collaborative communities with external partners. Structurally, this is what I call the “multi-organization matrix” requiring that matrix management be well-practiced in each of the participating enterprises prior to linkage.
A matrix management success factor involves the nurturing of a “shared-fate culture” which both reflects and fosters collaboration among people and the functions they deliver. The successful shared-fate culture requires a clear set of values which promote teamwork and trust. The shared-fate culture presupposes that employees be both willing and able to cooperate with one another. Caution: This condition must not be assumed but instead must be cultivated consciously.
The oft-overlooked challenge in transforming towards collaborative communities is to avoid fostering a “group think” culture where conformity always trumps creativity. Indeed, a continuum of personalities must be factored. As one example, some employees may be “Dark Angels.” Dark Angels are often high producers who are viewed as significant assets by management precisely because their hard work leads to results, time after time. However, at the darkest end of this personality continuum such individuals can be more feared than trusted by their colleagues. Dark Angels can have a poisonous effect upon the formation of a collaborative community, let alone the shared-fate culture. Without reverting to the “cranky genius” caricature, it’s not unheard of for creativity to be accompanied by some anger and/or alienation. The leadership challenge is to find the right balance where collaboration does not degenerate into quasi-robotic conformity and ensure simultaneously that creativity is heightened rather than stifled. In other words, let’s keep everyone awake – conscious and creative.
I consult in many environments, particularly R&D but not exclusivel, where this delicate balance between creativity and community is a near-constant dynamic tension, which must be managed carefully. Pursuing our example, the iconic Dark Angel may harbor disdain for peers, subordinates, and top management. In the end, such disdain limits professional impact and, ultimately, professional advancement – thereby adding to this anger and alienation which will eclipse creativity in the end. We do not assist the Dark Angel, the organization nor ourselves when we fail to coach the Dark Angel into the collaborative community we seek to build. However, we must coach this talent in a way which strengthens rather than weakens their creativity, and which encourages them to participate collaboratively by being themselves – but in a way which permits acceptance of them for who they are and for who they are becoming by the community into which they have been integrated. A tall order—but it can be done. Although the Dark Angel is our example for this posting, these principles apply to us all, regardless of where we sit on any chosen continuum of personalities. Getting to creative and successful collaborative communities requires more than platitudinous exhortations and wishful thinking. Getting the job done requires genuine leadership, management and careful coaching.
Cross-functional teams pass the baton of work-in-progress back and forth across functions with regularity. Hopefully, they do it with synergy and in a way that avoids fumbles and fizzles that require rework. In addition, such avoidance of rework and achieving the benefits of synergy should be enjoyed at the working level. Such are the principles of horizontal alignment in a matrix organization.
I won’t attempt to identify all of the techniques that you can use to achieve these results in this space. However, there is one critical technique which is surprisingly underused. Where have major fumbles and fizzles occurred in the past? What hand-offs have resulted in dissatisfaction between or among functions? Which fumbles and fizzles have delayed delivery of a product or service? Which interfaces have detracted from the attainment of team goals and objectives?
Bring your team together and take a little trip down “Memory Lane,” answering the questions posed above. Do a post-mortem on things that have gone wrong in the past and then develop a “watch list” for use by management and staff alike to ensure that they go right in the future. Create an inventory for surveillance and control. Simple? Obvious? Perhaps. However, you might be astonished by the number of organizations that don’t avail themselves of this simple technique for making their matrix teams work more smoothly; your organization may be among their number.
Try it. You’ll like it.
We monitor the Google Alerts for matrix management and, from time to time, note various blogs which deprecate matrix management on the basis of bad experiences that people have had with it—as if no one has had bad experiences with other forms of organizational structure!
At Strategic Futures, we never try to “sell” anyone on the need to shift to matrix management. This is a conclusion that an organization’s leadership must reach on its own when its traditional hierarchical structure has run out of breath. Once leadership has concluded that matrix management makes sense for its purposes, we are here to help.
That said, we can’t help but smile when we see various old wines repackaged in new bottles. The flawed logic usually goes something like this:
- There was a bad experience with matrix management.
- I had a bad experience, ergo everyone had the same experience,
- Therefore, matrix management is fundamentally flawed.
Management of any sort is defined as the art of getting work done through other people in a manner which satisfies established standards of efficiency and effectiveness. More colloquially, management is more about steering than it is about rowing. That’s not to say that today’s managers shouldn’t be “working managers,” meaning that they themselves must be personally productive even as they harness the talents and energies of others to accomplish objectives. On the other hand, if management fails to observe certain key principles, then any structure will surely fail.
For instance, there is nothing intrinsic to matrix management that is inimical to customer-centered focus and action, but it does require putting the customer in the center of your organization. Indeed many matrix organizations use customer-centered teams to get work done on a seamless, cross-functional basis.
There is also nothing intrinsic about matrix management that suggests that you can’t engage the creativity of key contributors across every function represented on a matrix team.
In addition, capable managers in any structure are accountable for accomplishing short-term objectives even as they pursue longer-range development strategies that will build the capabilities of their talent pool. This is a both/and proposition not an either/or ultimatum.
As I have written in this space before, the relative absence of structure engenders more pronounced personality conflicts. Structure in and of itself need not mean suffocation or gridlock. Have the guts and foresight to establish decision protocols as part of the structure and then live by those protocols. Clarify roles, responsibilities and prerogatives as part of the structure. Do these things and then insist on customer-centered thoughts and deeds, aggressive human resource development, and the unleashing of creative energies and your organization will prevail over fantasies about how people can pull together magically, achieving Hollywood-inspired miracles and breakthroughs every time. Come on back to Planet Earth! Homo sapiens still roam the globe.
If every manager in every organization were a virtuoso who could squeeze every drop of motivation and creativity out of every employee, and do so in a way that uniformly aggrandized the organization rather than the self, we could fantasize about an almost endless spectrum of structural or quasi-anarchic possibilities for organizing people and work. If your organization is flawlessly full of such virtuosos, then you have a brave new world ahead of you that is beyond the reach of us mere mortals. However, if your organization is like most, it is populated by intelligent, hard-working folks who also happen to be human beings, and, alas, with that human dimension, ladies and gentlemen, lies the rub. Indeed, management would be so much easier if it didn’t involve human beings!
Matrix management is a networked approach to getting things done, greatly facilitated by today’s communications and shared-minds technology. However, this networked approach requires use of a tested set of roles, rules, and tools to make it work. When these roles, rules, and tools are not installed nor followed correctly, you can’t expect favorable results.
False contradictions between sound management practice and matrix management are red herrings. The wholesale deprecation of matrix management is the management equivalent of performing delicate surgery with a stone implement. It’s a kind of all-or-nothing grandiosity based on oversimplification, often accompanied by a veiled invitation to return to the 1990s fashion of self-directed teams which didn’t achieve widespread success. We can fine tune a matrix organization and improve its performance. However, attempts to fine tune anarchy or some other kids-in-the-schoolyard caprice is a fool’s errand. When you see animosity towards matrix management in print, read between the lines!
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