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Matrix Management Problems & Misdirected Animosity

Author: ; Published: Nov 30, 2010; Category: Cross-Functional Teams, Matrix Management; Tags: , , , ; No Comments»


We monitor the Google Alerts for matrix management and, from time to time, note various blogs which deprecate matrix management on the basis of bad experiences that people have had with it—as if no one has had bad experiences with other forms of organizational structure!

At Strategic Futures, we never try to “sell” anyone on the need to shift to matrix management. This is a conclusion that an organization’s leadership must reach on its own when its traditional hierarchical structure has run out of breath. Once leadership has concluded that matrix management makes sense for its purposes, we are here to help.

That said, we can’t help but smile when we see various old wines repackaged in new bottles. The flawed logic usually goes something like this:

  1. There was a bad experience with matrix management.
  2. I had a bad experience, ergo everyone had the same experience,
  3. Therefore, matrix management is fundamentally flawed.

Management of any sort is defined as the art of getting work done through other people in a manner which satisfies established standards of efficiency and effectiveness. More colloquially, management is more about steering than it is about rowing. That’s not to say that today’s managers shouldn’t be “working managers,” meaning that they themselves must be personally productive even as they harness the talents and energies of others to accomplish objectives. On the other hand, if management fails to observe certain key principles, then any structure will surely fail. 

For instance, there is nothing intrinsic to matrix management that is inimical to customer-centered focus and action, but it does require putting the customer in the center of your organization. Indeed many matrix organizations use customer-centered teams to get work done on a seamless, cross-functional basis.

There is also nothing intrinsic about matrix management that suggests that you can’t engage the creativity of key contributors across every function represented on a matrix team.

In addition, capable managers in any structure are accountable for accomplishing short-term objectives even as they pursue longer-range development strategies that will build the capabilities of their talent pool. This is a both/and proposition not an either/or ultimatum.

As I have written in this space before, the relative absence of structure engenders more pronounced personality conflicts. Structure in and of itself need not mean suffocation or gridlock. Have the guts and foresight to establish decision protocols as part of the structure and then live by those protocols. Clarify roles, responsibilities and prerogatives as part of the structure. Do these things and then insist on customer-centered thoughts and deeds, aggressive human resource development, and the unleashing of creative energies and your organization will prevail over fantasies about how people can pull together magically, achieving Hollywood-inspired miracles and breakthroughs every time. Come on back to Planet Earth!  Homo sapiens still roam the globe.

If every manager in every organization were a virtuoso who could squeeze every drop of motivation and creativity out of every employee, and do so in a way that uniformly aggrandized the organization rather than the self, we could fantasize about an almost endless spectrum of structural or quasi-anarchic possibilities for organizing people and work. If your organization is flawlessly full of such virtuosos, then you have a brave new world ahead of you that is beyond the reach of us mere mortals. However, if your organization is like most, it is populated by intelligent, hard-working folks who also happen to be human beings, and, alas, with that human dimension, ladies and gentlemen, lies the rub. Indeed, management would be so much easier if it didn’t involve human beings!

Matrix management is a networked approach to getting things done, greatly facilitated by today’s communications and shared-minds technology. However, this networked approach requires use of a tested set of roles, rules, and tools to make it work. When these roles, rules, and tools are not installed nor followed correctly, you can’t expect favorable results.

False contradictions between sound management practice and matrix management are red herrings. The wholesale deprecation of matrix management is the management equivalent of performing delicate surgery with a stone implement. It’s a kind of all-or-nothing grandiosity based on oversimplification, often accompanied by a veiled invitation to return to the 1990s fashion of self-directed teams which didn’t achieve widespread success. We can fine tune a matrix organization and improve its performance. However, attempts to fine tune anarchy or some other kids-in-the-schoolyard caprice is a fool’s errand. When you see animosity towards matrix management in print, read between the lines!

For clarity on matrix management organization and its implementation, please call us, 703/836-8383 or email us at info@strategicfutures.com

Matrix Management, Personality Clashes, and Darwinian Management™

Author: ; Published: Nov 8, 2010; Category: Cross-Functional Teams, Matrix Management; Tags: , , , ; No Comments»

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In the matrix organization, personality issues hemorrhage in to fill gaps created by structural ambiguities.  This also happens in traditional hierarchical structures, but that is not our focus here. One of Strategic Futures matrix management success factors is role clarity. To the extent that defined roles in your matrix organization are unclear, you will create a fertile breeding ground for personality-based clashes. These rifts can do lasting damage to relationships that are needed for a shared-fate culture where shared objectives are pursued using shared resources. Personality clashes that would have rarely if ever been ignited become needlessly incendiary because of role ambiguity.

In the past quarter, I have worked with two clients in the same sophisticated industry – an industry which will remain unnamed. Both of these organizations have suffered intensifying personality clashes among senior leaders. In one instance, the roles were well-defined at the time of matrix management implementation, but have been allowed to drift. In the other instance, the roles were not clearly defined at the outset and ensuing disagreements with accompanying personality flare-ups have occurred.

While it is true that personality clashes can and will occur among strong executives even when structure has been well-defined with accompanying role clarity, matters are exacerbated when the strict lines dividing horizontal and vertical authority and responsibilities have been allowed to blur or otherwise to become intertwined.

To avoid reaching the “point of no return” on personality clashes within the organization, it is best to ensure that roles and prerogatives are defined clearly and then enforced strictly by top leadership. The absence of fundamental clarity creates a dysfunctional breeding ground for such conflict.  The dynamic that gets unleashed by role ambiguity is straightforward: When there is doubt about who has the authority to do what, ego enters the fray and personality variables that would otherwise be suppressed or otherwise unexpressed are unleashed.  The result is destructive tension rather than the constructive tension that we seek through the matrix structure.

With this said, the existence of such conflicts should not be cause for utter despair. One of my earliest matrix management consulting assignments involved such a conflict. The Chief Scientific Officer here in the US was sending “ricochet shots” intended to deprecate his US Chief Operating Officer via company headquarters personnel located in Europe. Understandably, there were hard feelings between the CSO and the COO. The differences between the “business” personality and the “science” personality were inflamed. Each held a hard-bitten, passionate viewpoint that was in conflict with the other. The two were on the brink of being unable to work together on anything — for any purpose. However, with a new agreement that clarified the roles of each and the protocol for consultation with others here in the US and abroad, they were able to work it out for the good of the company and for their own respective careers and comfort levels. Role clarity made for a happy ending to a story that could have ended disastrously for the parties and for the company.

Bottom line? There is plenty of good that can be done by human relations consultants who are focused on improving and repairing damaged interpersonal relationships. On the other hand, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Ensure role clarity at the outset and maintain it throughout and you will avoid the exacerbation of mis-fitting personalities. There are times when a Chief Executive needs to resort eclectically to Darwinian Management whereby the “survival of the fittest” is an appropriate contest. However, Darwinian “survival of the fittest” scenarios are best reserved for extraordinary use: Role clarity is the best antidote for abating conflicts that never needed to happen in the first place and, in the end, added absolutely no value or special insights, only distress and lost productivity.

If you need help with role clarity or standing up your matrix management organization, please call us, 703/836-8383 or email us at info@strategicfutures.com.

Matrix Management and the Matrix Guardian

Author: ; Published: Aug 24, 2010; Category: Cross-Functional Teams, Matrix Management; Tags: , , , ; No Comments»


Does your matrix structure need a “Matrix Guardian?” A “Matrix Guardian,” also known as a “Matrix Manager,” is an individual whose job it is to see to it that the matrix structure is functioning effectively and efficiently, and that the principles of matrix management are being applied correctly and fairly. The Matrix Guardian ensures that “good hygiene” is being practiced throughout the matrix structure.

Some of the key functions of the Matrix Guardian are to:

  • Serve as a technical resource to staff, managers, and executives on matrix management practices and issues
  • Conduct periodic inspections to ensure that key matrix success factors such as role clarity, process clarity, are in a state of continuous improvement
  • Function as an ombudsman or arbiter in working through a variety of emerging issues such as chronic staff overwork/underwork or boundary disputes, for example
  • Provide a long-range strategic perspective on the structure and assist in its evolution over time

Consider designating a Matrix Guardian under these circumstances:

  • During matrix management’s early implementation or revitalization
  • When there are challenges of intense internal politics or significant resource skirmishes
  • When there are persistent concerns related to trust and fairness
  • When you want to accelerate and fortify institutionalization of matrix management in a larger organization

How do you staff the Matrix Guardian position successfully? Ideally, the position should be staffed by someone who is thoroughly trained and experienced in matrix management and who is regarded as fair and approachable. The Matrix Guardian should be both mature and discreet—a person with whom people at all levels can converse candidly without fear of hearing their words echoing in the hallway or being communicated to “the boss” when confidential or low-profile problem-solving was the primary objective of the conversation.

One of my first matrix management consulting assignments was that of rehabilitating and re-strengthening a matrix manager in whom R&D personnel had lost trust. Up until the turning point when trust soured, the individual had been very effective in playing the role of Matrix Guardian. The rehabilitation project was a success. This assignment reinforced in my mind the valuable role that a Matrix Guardian can play—when the role is played effectively and when trust is building rather than eroding.

For help with your matrix, please email me at info@strategicfutures.com or call 703/836-8383.