energizing breakthrough performance

Matrix Management/Matrix Leadership

Author: ; Published: Sep 26, 2013; Category: Collaboration, Cross-Functional Teams, Matrix Management, Uncategorized; Tags: None; One Comment»

What’s the difference between leadership and management? The short answer is that leaders make sure that the right things are being done and managers focus on things being done right.  The most valued people tend to be those who can both lead and manage.


How are leadership and management responsibilities distributed in a balanced matrix organization? Functional (vertical) senior personnel are primarily responsible for managing the resources and methods for their discipline.  Matrix team (horizontal) senior personnel are primarily responsible for leading cross-functional efforts to achieve specified outcomes.  That’s the classic formulation of roles in a well-designed matrix organization.


That said, the word “primarily” becomes especially important to this discussion.  Vertical senior personnel are primarily responsible for managing resources and approaches but they also have leadership responsibilities, just as horizontal senior personnel have primary responsibilities for leading cross-functional efforts but also secondary responsibilities for managing resources which have been matrixed to their team.


Neither vertical nor horizontal key personnel can abdicate their secondary responsibilities. Indeed, a matrix organization works best when there is constructive tension between the horizontal and vertical dimensions of the enterprise. However, when differences in priorities emerge, which they will inevitably, the primary responsibilities associated with the respective vertical and horizontal roles must govern final decision-making authority.  If roles and rules blur or are suspended or even abandoned, the most common complaints hurled at poorly designed and managed matrix organizations will, unfortunately, play out.


The journey to optimum decision-making requires a blend of collaboration, competition, and sometimes conflict through which the vetting of alternatives, contingencies, and potential unintended consequences occurs. This journey is best accomplished when horizontal leaders are capable of thinking and acting as managers and vertical managers are capable of thinking and acting as leaders. Such reciprocal empathy is the basis of healthy communication in any enterprise.


The benefits of constructive tension can only be harvested when there is strong role clarity in your matrix organization.  Otherwise, destructive tension or potential chaos aka “the battle of the personalities” tends to break out. Leaders can and should have the freedom to make managerial contributions and managers can and should have the freedom to make leadership contributions when they are comfortable and competent in their respective horizontal and vertical roles. While it is sometimes difficult for some senior personnel to leave the comfort zone of the pre-matrix days when they possessed a combination of horizontal and vertical prerogatives, the transition from this historical comfort zone to the matrix organization’s power and agility delivers considerable and cumulative advantages. Stated differently, what may have seemed like a loss of status to some as the matrix was implemented later ends up delivering substantial increases in focused organizational power and impact…but you won’t get there without role clarity.


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