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.
Matrix organizations are sometimes described in terms of solid line and dotted line relationships. The solid line/dotted line terminology can be useful shorthand, but only after the more tedious work of clarifying the structure in more precise detail has been done. Glib and lofty descriptions of matrix management as arrangements of “sharing staff” or “dotted-line” relationships are elegant at the intellectual level. Descriptions that are more gritty and granular are needed for folks who work in the matrix structure everyday and use it to get decisions made and work done.
One useful question for clarifying structure is to ask whether an issue to be decided relates to “doing the right thing” or to “doing things right.” Some issues associated with “doing the right thing” relate to defining what is to be done, by when something must be done, and why it must be done, to name a few. Issues associated with “doing things right” include, among others, defining how something is to be done and by whom.
When employees are confused as to whom they should turn about what issue, we have a structure that needs clarification. Failure to clarify these relationships adequately results in frustration and lost productivity—schoolyard-style shoving matches, people making up their own rules, and expanding or contracting their own roles on a freelance basis. Once key issues of doing things right and doing the right things have been explicated fully, we can, if we wish, then attach a shorthand description. Call it solid line or dotted line, call it vertical or horizontal, but make sure that whatever you call it has real clarity of meaning behind it—news that the employees can use.
Matrix management-related developments are monitored closely here at Strategic Futures. One good source of information is Google Alerts, a resource one can access and subscribe to on www.google.com. Google Alert–Matrix Management is increasingly displaying job vacancies where the applicant is expected to have experience managing or working in a matrix environment.
Indeed, we can’t help but observe that more and more companies are moving to matrix management. There are significant employment and promotional opportunities available to those who can represent fairly that they are ready, willing, and able to work in a matrix structure.
A jobseeker or someone looking for career advancement may have the requisite technical skills for a job vacancy but may lament that s/he doesn’t possess extensive matrix management experience–or perhaps none at all. What to do?
First, let’s consider that you may well have relevant experience and not know that you do. Have you worked on a cross-functional team where you were collaborating with people drawn from disciplines other than your own? This may have been in pursuit of a specific goal, performance of a specific project, or the satisfaction of a particular customer’s requirements. If so, you are part of the way there. Have you worked successfully on multiple projects at once? If so, this is something to emphasize!
Cross-functional collaboration is at the heart of any well-designed and managed matrix organization. Seeking out the productivity- and profit-building synergies that are expected from such collaboration is the strategic companion to the matrix structure. If you are able to talk about your contributions to results achieved from such cross-functional effort, you already have your foot in the door.
On the other hand and as you might expect, there’s more to it than that. When multiple cross-functional teams pursue shared objectives using shared resources, things get a bit more complicated and your ability to work through and with these complications is what the employer is seeking. There are specific roles that are played by participants in the matrix structure. There are also rules and tools that you need to know.
One way to get over this employment screening hurdle is to indicate that you have worked on cross-functional teams (if you have) and/or on multiple projects at once, and also to indicate that you have familiarized yourself with the structure and dynamics of a matrix organization by reading pertinent literature. You might want to order one or two of our booklets, namely Life in the Matrix and also Matrix Stations. Better yet, you may want to order my book, Matrix Management Success: Method Not Magic. Chances are if you read the booklets and/or the book as well as reviewing the articles in our Library such as Matrix Management: Method, Not Magic and our matrix management blogs, you’ll know as much as the person who is reviewing your resume and interviewing you. Indeed, if you read the book, odds are you’ll be more knowledgeable about matrix management than the person who is scrutinizing your application for employment.
Good luck in your quest!