energizing breakthrough performance

Matrix Gold: Mining for Synergy in Cross-Functional Teams

Author: ; Published: Feb 2, 2010; Category: Cross-Functional Teams, Matrix Management; Tags: , , , , , ; 2 Comments»

Cross-functional teams operating in a matrix-managed environment can deliver enormous synergy across participating disciplines which results in many significant benefits. This is true not only in R&D organizations but also in a wider, more diverse set of enterprises, such as engineering and construction management, government and more.

Benefits resulting from achieving valuable synergy include but are not limited to:

  1. Greater efficiency and productivity. Essentially there are golden possibilities for eliminating rework because each discipline learns to anticipate the needs and preferences of another discipline for the work that is being delivered to the other
  2. Discovery Breakthroughs. Much of what constitutes “discovery” in almost any field of endeavor represents a reconfiguration of components that existed previously but had not been assembled together in a particular way. When disciplines have the opportunity to mix and match their work products together in novel ways, discovery breakthroughs can result. The hastening of such breakthroughs is best accomplished by those who are closest to the work, laboring together in a cross-functional team setting.
  3. Widening of Comfort Zones. When members of different disciplines work closely together, organizational defense mechanisms are disarmed as trust builds. This widens comfort zones and builds esprit de corps—esprit de corps that has immediately usefulness, but which also expands future agility.  Experienced team members who have participated previously in cross-functional efforts that have shattered barriers can be reconfigured for new projects or purposes with learning curves that are less steep. These team members will also evidence diminished resistance to change as new teams go through the stages of team development, e.g., form-storm- norm-perform.

In addition to lateral, cross-functional benefits, there are also important benefits for each of the participating vertical functions. One of these benefits is what I call “disease control,” meaning that a functional problem that is being evidenced on one cross-functional team may also be apparent on one or more other functional teams. Early knowledge of such problems permits the function to either fix or prevent the difficulty systemwide. Another benefit relates to priority-setting, where a helicopter view of all matrix teams’ needs for the services of a particular function permits proper allocation of available resources. This helicopter view also permits the discipline to identify and develop its future capabilities consistent with a clear-eyed view of emerging needs and team preferences.

Synergy is golden and the employee with a synergistic mindset is more valuable than an employee who lacks synergistic skills and behaviors. Success in mining for gold presupposes that you know where to look. This blog entry isn’t the full “treasure map” but I hope that it sends you off towards True North.


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.