energizing breakthrough performance

Matrix Management Lessons from R&D

Author: ; Published: Apr 18, 2012; Category: Cross-Functional Teams, Matrix Management; Tags: , , , , , , ; No Comments»

Many, if not most, of my matrix management engagements over the past couple years have emanated from Research & Development (R&D) organizations in both the private and public sectors. This is not an accident. I have established a track record of working with a wide variety of R&D operations over a couple of decades and thus enjoy competitive advantage. More important, however, is the fact that R&D organizations gravitate to matrix management because of the relevant benefits that it offers – achievement of integrated science across multiple disciplines in a scalable way, and delivery of cross-cutting results which satisfy increasingly discerning stakeholders, including internal and/or external clients.

My observation is that there are intrinsic characteristics of R&D organizations and the scientists, technicians, and engineers who typically staff these enterprises, which are favorable to organizational success generally and to matrix management success, particularly:

1. Practitioners typically exhibit uncommon passion for their quests; they are adamant in their zeal to achieve breakthroughs; yes, it’s personal as well as professional

2. Scientists tend to be collaborative by nature as well as by tradition, and by virtue of the underlying requirements of scientific endeavor; they are quick to see the whole picture and accept – within their standards and limits – the respective compromises that will be needed to achieve integrated science. Collaborative capability in a shared-fate culture is essential to matrix management success in any industry.

3. The investigative mind inquires constantly and is quick to detect redundant and/or unnecessary procedures or steps, or to prompt useful conversations that promote efficiency.

4. The incessant pressure to produce results requires “all hands on deck” motivation and action. “Add pressure and stir” tends to blur the boundaries and enhance integrative action in the R&D environment; that said, it should be acknowledged readily that in lesser organizations, the exact opposite can happen, accompanied by turf-protecting “circle the wagons” dysfunction.

This is not to say that non-R&D organizations, regardless of structure, don’t evidence passion, collaborative tendencies, investigative minds, and incessant pressure to deliver results. Don’t get me wrong: They most certainly do. However, there is much to be learned from the special culture that emerges regularly from a gathering of scientists, technicians, and engineers. Their dominant behavioral habits and culture are often favorable for matrix management success. We can learn much from them. They exhibit constructive traits in strong dosage – traits which deserve emulation well outside of the special world of R&D. Someday they may well teach us how to clone the best of what they have to offer. Until then, we study, learn and apply the lessons they impart regardless of the industry in which we find ourselves.

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