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Matrix Management and Painless Dentistry

Author: ; Published: Jun 27, 2013; Category: Cross-Functional Teams, Matrix Management; Tags: None; No Comments»

Can you successfully implement and manage a matrix organization by humming a few bars of Kumbaya and exhorting personnel to collaborate with one another as they have never done before?  Some folks seem to think so. Indeed, some speak of a matrix organization which doesn’t involve a dual reporting structure and which doesn’t have need for use of tools such as RACI diagrams, or the alternative LACIE diagram which is recommended by Strategic Futures.


This then raises the question: When is a matrix organization not a matrix organization? While implementation of a matrix organization need not be painful, it does require learning some new ropes which are not highly intuitive.  It also requires special insights and, yes, here’s that terrible word, discipline to get the most of what this organizational form has to offer as a source of strategic advantage.  Matrix management consists of roles, rules and tools: Everyone needs to be on board if you are to avoid incessant frustration. If people don’t change their behavior from what has gone before, please be assured that you will keep getting what you were getting before in much the same way albeit with a masquerade ball of changed nomenclature.


If you skip one or several rungs on the ladder to matrix management success, you may well stumble and fall.  You probably didn’t take the advanced course prior to successful completion of the prerequisites. If you think it’s enough to inculcate key personnel with nosebleed-altitude matrix management concepts alone, with everything else taking care of itself, then welcome to painless dentistry.  Dentistry may be painless for minor procedures, but an extraction or a new crown likely involves some discomfort. The shift from a traditional hierarchical organization to a networked matrix organization is not a minor procedure, but it need not be long and painful either.


Years ago, Judith Bardwick taught us that there is “danger in the comfort zone.”  Matrix management is a state of mind, but if you think that the “state of mind” is enough, you won’t achieve the changes in behavior that are required to make it work. That’s too comfortable and convenient. Indeed, psychologists teach us that changes in behavior lead to changes in attitude, rather than vice versa.  While significant changes in behavior based solely on an altered “state of mind” may materialize suddenly in the twilight zone or a cartoon world, they don’t materialize desirable when people are cocooned in the comfort zone. Real change involves a degree of discomfort.


Established principles of change management, applied in conjunction with equipping your employees to use the matrix structure to achieve individual and collective success – competently and confidently – make the difference.  A behavioral approach, based on tested roles, rules and tools, is critical to making the shift to matrix management while avoiding needless chaos– unless you like the idea of a bevy of consultants pulling their trailer into your parking lot for a long stay! 


Buckminster Fuller summed it up best: “If you want to change how a person thinks, give up. You cannot change how another person thinks. Give them a tool, the use of which will gradually lead them to think differently.”  Once again, Bucky nailed it: Changes in behavior precede changes in attitude. Roles, rules, and tools are the scaffolding for behavioral change needed to transform your organization.

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