energizing breakthrough performance

Matrix Management: Method, Not Magic

A growing number of organizations have experience with a horizontal chain of people working in a multidisciplinary, or cross-functional team setting. Where there are one or two such teams operating at the same time, things can be relatively manageable. It’s when several or many of these cross-functional teams are cobbled together into a matrix which requires that people relate to one another vertically, horizontally, and diagonally—all at the same time!—that the terrain becomes unfamiliar and downright tricky. What color is the sky on your matrix-managed planet?!

Let’s see how this plays out in a live example, drawn from, say pharmaceutical R&D. Peter is a biostatistician who is currently assigned to 3 separate cross-functional drug teams. He "reports" to three Project Team Directors as well as to the head of his functional department, the Vice President for Biostatistical Research. Two of the drug teams are working on schedule and the biostatistical aspect of the work is going swimmingly. Unfortunately for Peter, the third drug team is behind schedule. There are problems in almost every function associated with this drug, including Regulatory Affairs. This team promises to consume more effort from all of its members and detract effort from other teams that are functioning smoothly. What should be done? How do we not abandon the herd to chase one errant lamb? There are several possibilities for managing this situation, but all of them assume that some of the essentials of the matrix organization are available:

An essential part of organizational design and implementation planning is to map out the organizational arrangements that will be used in managing the enterprise. All too often this mapping is given short shrift. Magically, somehow, people are supposed to "know what to do." They don’t.


I eschew sports analogies, but the inescapable fact is that the matrix is like a football team: The individual and collective roles must be planned in advance so all the players know their own authority and responsibility and that of the other players. A Linear Responsibility Chart which maps consultation and coordination requirements, along with actual decision-making authority depicts the scope of advance thinking that needs to get done. It needs to get done with the active involvement and consensus of participating managers, both vertical and horizontal.

Another ingredient required for success is that the participants in a matrix organization must have a clear sense of the goals, objectives, and accountable performance metrics. There must be both vertical and horizontal alignment of goals, objectives, and metrics if the matrix is to function properly. Misalignment, competition or conflict among managers’ goals, objectives, and metrics will create gridlock in the matrix—across functions, across locations, or all of the above and more.

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