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.
Over the past 14 months or so, I have had occasion to do work with an African multinational nonprofit that specializes in agricultural development. Our work has focused on the development and implementation of cross-functional country-based teams: Use of matrix management is creating a more agile, muscular, and scalable organization that is positioning itself to do work in additional countries with the benefit of funding drawn from philanthropies located around the world.
In addition, my monitoring of matrix management feeds from Google and elsewhere indicates that more African professional job postings are seeking professionals with experience working in matrix organizations.
All of this is a way of saying that Africa is modernizing in many respects, including management practice. I have visited Nairobi, Kenya; Accra and Cape Coast, Ghana; and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia over the past year or so. There is new construction occurring in all of these areas, particularly Addis and Nairobi. There are new non-stop flights to more African cities being added by multiple airlines month after month.
I had not been to Africa before work with this particular client. I have been fascinated by the number of Asians – particularly young 20- and 30-something Asians that I see at African hotels that cater to business travelers. The personal and professional opportunities that are presented by the African continent are not lost on our friends from the Pacific Rim. Although anecdotal and unscientific, the spirit of change in Africa is palpable. There is an electric excitement in the air. One senses that a tipping point has been reached.
Yes, the poverty is widespread and overwhelming. There is so much to do. Roads are terrible, often nearly impassable. Health conditions are appalling. Yet, the possibilities are endless and, again, the energy is positive and strong. Even more than that, the people are warm and deep. The people with whom I have been dealing are well-educated, as well as sophisticated and multi-lingual, speaking languages such as Japanese and Russian.
The music, dance, art, and history you encounter are complex and wonderful. I have been both professionally and personally enriched by my travels there. While the journey is long and tough on the posterior, the rewards far exceed any inconvenience. It is so exciting that I can’t help but recommend it to anyone who is interested in learning, growth, and pure enjoyment.
Why are more organizations choosing matrix management? The answer that we are hearing most frequently relates to scalability. Often, the objective is to add new locations that are functioning as intact horizontal matrix teams. Sometimes the objective is to be able to scale up and add new projects.
These organizations want to be able to expand their operations without having to do a new restructuring every time that they increase the number of locations, number of projects, or other indices of growth.
The good news about matrix management is that it allows such modifications without having to alter the structure or add considerable overhead as part of the expansion process. Most of the time, new locations or new programs can be added without any adjustments to the vertical organization.
As an organization moves to matrix management—prior to an expansion of locations, projects, or other dimensions—employees cannot reasonably be expected to understand immediately the need for the structural shift. Until expansion has actually occurred, they may instead perceive the move to matrix management as an addition to overhead or superstructure. It is important to explain to employees the benefits sought from the move to matrix management and to offer this explanation plainly and repeatedly. Don’t assume that because you understand the reasoning for the structural change that anyone else will.
Also, don’t assume that explaining it once or twice will do the trick. It won’t. Many employees will adopt the Missouri “Show Me” attitude and won’t understand the motives behind the move to matrix management until real expansion has actually been executed. Thereafter, the reason for the change will have been clear to them all along!
In summary, a key advantage of the matrix structure is that you are able to “snap on” a new horizontal team or any number of teams; up to a point; train up the team members; and then go “live” immediately.
More and more, scalability is what our clients are seeking when turning to the matrix structure. While there are other significant benefits of the matrix structure such as maximizing resource utilization, solving complex problems, achieving a flatter organization, and achieving cross-functional synergy, the advantage of scalability is driving many decisionmakers to opt for matrix management.
If you need consulting or training help with your transition to matrix management, please call us, 703/836-8383 or email us at email@example.com.