energizing breakthrough performance

Fortifying the Matrix Organization: Sharing and Distributing Credit Among Teams

Author: ; Published: Dec 19, 2009; Category: Cross-Functional Teams, Matrix Management; Tags: , , , , , , ; No Comments»


By pausing and investigating the underpinnings of success, both process and human, senior leadership can distribute credit in a way that fortifies the matrix structure by creating conditions favorable to teamwork—past, present, and future.

The matrix organization is comprised of multiple cross-functional teams. The team is the basic building block of the structure. At any given point in time, the behavior of all personnel will either fortify or erode the matrix structure. At the highest level of matrix functioning, all personnel will become appropriately circumspect about whether their behavior is fortifying or eroding the matrix.

Absolutely essential to matrix functioning is an adequate degree of circumspection at the most senior levels of the organization. All members of an organization like to be the one to deliver good news to senior leadership. However, the first “messenger” to trumpet success to a top-level boss may or may not have been instrumental in achieving a given success. Sharp elbows might be indicative of a sharp mind and Herculean effort; sometimes this is the case but sometimes it is not.

When good news is reported to a senior leader, this individual should immediately pause and ask two questions namely, “To what can we attribute our success?” and “To whom can we attribute our success?”

In answer to the first question, the challenge is to identify those cross-functional synergies that were pivotal in achieving a breakthrough.

In answer to the second question, the challenge is to ensure that credit for the success is distributed to and shared among the members of the team which delivered it. The Horizontal Leader and the participating Vertical Leaders are likely to have insights as to any creative, or otherwise disproportional or heroic contributions that should be singled out for special commendation. Most frequently, a small amount of digging will reveal any special achievements that warrant special notice. The heroic contributors are often too busy to sound their own horn. Following this analogy, don’t assume that a vehicle is moving just because it has honked its horn. In addition, it can also be argued that the efforts of each and every team member were required to create an incubator in which synergistic, cross-functional success could be attained. In this sense, senior leadership should distribute both generic as well as particular credit, should particular credit be warranted.

Interdependency is at the root of creative synergy. When it comes to the behavior of senior leadership, little things can and do mean a lot. When senior leadership ensures that both team and individual efforts are recognized and rewarded, the matrix structure is fortified in ways that will reinforce future synergy. The cumulative effects of senior leadership impact the significant benefits which an ever-strengthening matrix culture can deliver.

Remember the operational definition of “culture:” Culture is what employees do when the boss isn’t looking. To the extent that employees perceive and understand that effective teamwork is what will be inspected and rewarded by senior leadership without fail, their behavior will tilt increasingly in the direction of cooperative interdependency. In this way the promised benefits of matrix management can be delivered through multiple cross-functional teams pursuing shared objectives using shared resources.

Beware of “Cotton Candy” Consulting

Author: ; Published: Nov 9, 2009; Category: Matrix Management; Tags: , , ; No Comments»

cotton candy

During my quarter-century consulting career, I have seen a good many management fads come and go. Every once in a while, a new “model” becomes a proven classic and actually affords enduring value. However, you don’t have to look far to discern elegant models which appear to offer value, but then upon further examination, the value melts away like cotton candy. Cotton candy may be sweet but it has no known nutritional value, and it doesn’t take much of it before you start suffering indigestion.

A cotton candy consulting model has several defining characteristics:

  • It makes sense logically; there’s usually a glossy color graphic that suggests a systematic approach, even though it’s a triumph of marketing over substance–perhaps a triumph of PowerPointing over active thinking
  • It conveys commonly shared but often unspoken management values such as engagement, collaboration, distributing credit fairly, etc., or at least it conveys values that work well in abstraction, freed of the hurly-burly of surviving and prospering at the speed of business
  • It is usually testosterone-free, meaning that the exercise of decisive authority, particularly in high-stakes situations, is rarely mentioned. (Androgynous solutions–providing a mix of “estrogen” and “testosterone” approaches–are usually the most effective in meeting everyday work challenges).
  • It seems to be intellectually unassailable because it exists at a level of abstraction that camouflages or ignores the inconvenient reality that human beings are creatures of habit and that changing these habits requires sustained focus on day-to-day organizational life at the behavioral and performance levels

Sometimes organizational life can be akin to building sand castles at the beach. You put up a structure and it’s wonderful to behold for a short while but then the tide rolls in and takes its toll. It is then time to repair the castle or build it anew. That’s a problem with the cotton candy model: It rests on the implicit assumption that you perform Step 1, it ossifies or becomes permanent, and now you go to Step 2 as if you were doing a simple construction job on dry land in an ideal world, happily unfettered by environmental regulations, weather cycles, permit problems, or union squabbles. Were that organizational life were so simple and straightforward! (Of course, that would not only take the fun out of it, it would put me out of business).

Truth is, reality is neither clean nor clear-cut. When making change of any kind, organizational defense mechanisms kick in and the “two steps forward, one step back” phenomenon may obtain. Indeed, effective planning and implementation coupled with a bit of good fortune may yield  “two steps forward and one step back.” Not a shabby outcome because at the very least you are one step ahead of where you were and that’s progress: Progress is tough.

Effecting real change takes real work and that’s a far reach from the implied simplicity that cotton candy models seem to promise without actually saying so. Take a second look and trust your instincts: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

I don’t really know if anyone actually buys these cotton candy consulting models on a widespread basis.  One sees them advertised on websites and brochures. Maybe clients buy but don’t actually eat the cotton candy. That would make them half-right.  I am aware that some amount of cotton candy consulting sells if it is associated with a “big name” firm, but that’s usually because the corporate buyer of the services may feel like it’s a safe bet because, after all, who could go wrong with a brand name… You think a Tiger Woods’ consulting outfit would be a safe bet?

That said, if the client has a sense of urgency about making change because current strategies, systems, and structures aren’t working as well as they could or should, then that client will need protein.

Lovely to look at, sticky to hold, cotton candy makes fools of those sold.