energizing breakthrough performance

Matrix Teams, Care and Feeding Of

Author: ; Published: Feb 14, 2012; Category: Cross-Functional Teams, Matrix Management, Mentoring, Strategic Planning, Uncategorized; Tags: None; No Comments»

Staff can be matrixed for short-term assignments. However, they can also be matrixed for assignments of several years’ duration. I have consulted recently to clients in a variety of industries ranging from construction to medical device research and development where staff are matrixed to a complex project for three years or more. In such circumstances, extra effort is required if the vertical (functional) leader – the manager of a resource pool – is to stay connected with the matrix staff and also impact the enterprise in a positive and accountable manner. What’s more, such long-term deployments cause some to ask whether the matrix structure is best suited or whether an intact project organization is a more suitable arrangement. That’s a complex question to answer without a thorough examination of organizational culture, the degree of dynamic technological change affecting the industry and staff skill sets, along with several other key variables.

That said, there are numerous ways in which the vertical leader can and should add value in these “long-term deployment” circumstances. The notions of “care” and “feeding” are useful to begin a partial discussion of this challenge.

By way of “feeding,” vertical leaders should provide coaching and mentoring to matrixed staff, keeping them connected with “home base.” What kinds of skills should the employee be acquiring so that s/he is prepared for the next assignment several years out? How can these skills be cultivated? How can work assignments, training opportunities, and other learning platforms be leveraged on behalf of all matrixed employees as well as for the individual employee? Vertical leaders are positioned uniquely to shape a strategic human capital plan and to ensure its implementation throughout the enterprise, cutting across any and all individual projects which are underway. The vertical leader occupies a unique vantage point not only for creating this plan but also for implementing it.

With respect to the “care” dimension, vertical leaders should provide the technical and/or scientific leadership which transcends all of the projects. This should involve the identification and correction of “sticking points,” “fumble/fizzle points” and any and all types of “hot intersections” which are causing pain and frustration for the projects and the matrixed staff who are executing these projects. Effective vertical leaders work together to identify the most significant thorny patches which afflict numerous, if not all projects, and then correct these areas of trans-project difficulty so that all staff may enjoy greater success with less frustration. Such corrections are difficult to achieve project-by-project, but vertical leaders can generate the tide which lifts all boats.

There are other opportunities for vertical leaders to have deep positive impact. Suffice it to say that if a vertical leader believes that s/he is disconnected from staff or insufficiently accountable in an environment of multi-year projects, it’s time to take a fresh look at how to effectuate the care and feeding of the matrixed employees.

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