energizing breakthrough performance

Matrix Management: Walk Before You Run

Author: ; Published: Jun 28, 2012; Category: Cross-Functional Teams, Matrix Management; Tags: , ; No Comments»

I first wrote “Life in the Matrix” in 2000 — well before the emergence of flattering imitation. This brief, easy-to-read pamphlet was introduced expressly for employees who are given matrix assignments and for those who manage them, as a job-performance aid for mastering the matrix structure at the everyday level. Underwriters’ Laboratories and Pfizer have been among the quantity purchasers of this resource for such employees over the years.

The undergirding concept — then, as now — is that if a structure is not readily understandable by all who live within its intended roles and relationships, then it will surely collapse of its own weight. This simple fact is one reason for my steadfast belief that easy-to-understand implementation training and job-performance aids, coupled with occasional “tune-up” consultation and training is essential to success. Such is the straightforward consulting model employed here at Strategic Futures.

Yes, matrix management does have its complexities and, to paraphrase Albert Einstein, things should be made no more complex than they need to be but no simpler than they actually are.The fact is, front-line employees and their immediate managers can and should be spared many exquisite matrix management complexities — both for their sake and for the sake of the overall matrix organization’s performance.

Granted, there are special dynamics and tools which need to be mastered by the leadership team to make matrix management work effectively.  Indeed, it makes sense that these complexities are an appropriate focus of training and consultation when working with the executive audience.  (Parenthetically, I have reviewed some materials that purport to be targeted to the executive audience, written at the “nosebleed” altitude, scarcely useful or understandable by anyone with the honesty to call it what it is: unhelpful balderdash).Bottom line? A failure to equip productive employees with easy-to-understand and easy-to-use principles and tools is to invite frustration and failure in getting the most and best of what matrix management has to offer.  True mastery of these complexities by the leadership is best demonstrated by leaders who can apply and explain them to employees at all levels.  Academic life is the right place for those who are happiest when understandable to a mere handful of people worldwide who specialize in a topic, and I say that with the utmost respect and occasional envy!

For those working at the speed of business, the fundamentals are what matter most, and they must be grasped fully and accurately — particularly by those who would design a successful matrix organization.  Thereafter, we can master the complexities to fine-tune performance.  A useful adage applies here: We must walk before we can run.

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