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 management provides a pathway to organizational dexterity. Why does that matter? In 2010, IBM conducted its Global CEO Study. More than 1500 CEOs in 60 countries and 33 industries expressed concerns about massive and rapid change, global economic shifts, and the disruptive impacts of technology. 80% of the CEOs expect that the environment will become even more turbulent than it already is. More than half of the CEOs believe that their organizations are not prepared to cope by way of strategy, systems, and/or structure. The biggest needs they identified were for organizational dexterity, creativity, and closeness to customers.
At the risk of understatement, traditional silos and hierarchies are not known for their contribution to organizational dexterity. Far from it, these hierarchies are too often calcified in place, leaving few if any degrees of freedom. What’s more, in the worst cases, the hierarchy has been known to stifle creativity as well as create a moat which separates the enterprise from its customers—be they internal and/or external customers.
One example comes to mind: The client practices business-to-business selling of over-the-counter medications to drug and grocery stores. It once sold these products on a silo’d basis—one representative selling one particular type of medication. Sales reps from the same company but representing different products kept bumping into one another at the stores to which they were selling. This was wasted time and energy, accompanied by customer frustration with the picket fence offerings of the company. Also, it did not provide the drug company with the dexterity needed to anticipate customer needs using a comprehensive approach to the customer. The transformation to selling by customer-focused matrix teams meant greater closeness to customers, greater dexterity, and greater cross-selling creativity—the biggest needs identified by the CEOs in the IBM study!
When we unleash the power of a battery of cross-functional teams, which are pursuing shared objectives using shared resources, we can enjoy new vistas in organizational dexterity, provided that our design is sound, our roles are clear, are processes are defined, and we are nurturing a shared fate culture. In addition to all of this, our people must be trained in how to apply matrix management roles, rules and tools, and how to get the most and best of what it has to offer.
You can use matrix management to increase your organizational dexterity if you design and implement your matrix consciously and deliberately. As we say at Strategic Futures, during the course of our matrix management consulting, use method, not magic.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.