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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 in Africa

Author: ; Published: Oct 27, 2010; Category: Matrix Management; Tags: , ; No Comments»

african church

Over the past 14 months or so, I have had occasion to do work with an African multinational nonprofit that specializes in agricultural development.  Our work has focused on the development and implementation of cross-functional country-based teams: Use of matrix management is creating a more agile, muscular, and scalable organization that is positioning itself to do work in additional countries with the benefit of funding drawn from philanthropies located around the world.

In addition, my monitoring of matrix management feeds from Google and elsewhere indicates that more African professional job postings are seeking professionals with experience working in matrix organizations.

All of this is a way of saying that Africa is modernizing in many respects, including management practice. I have visited Nairobi, Kenya; Accra and Cape Coast, Ghana; and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia over the past year or so. There is new construction occurring in all of these areas, particularly Addis and Nairobi. There are new non-stop flights to more African cities being added by multiple airlines month after month. 

I had not been to Africa before work with this particular client.  I have been fascinated by the number of Asians – particularly young 20- and 30-something Asians that I see at African hotels that cater to business travelers. The personal and professional opportunities that are presented by the African continent are not lost on our friends from the Pacific Rim. Although anecdotal and unscientific, the spirit of change in Africa is palpable. There is an electric excitement in the air. One senses that a tipping point has been reached.

Yes, the poverty is widespread and overwhelming. There is so much to do.  Roads are terrible, often nearly impassable. Health conditions are appalling. Yet, the possibilities are endless and, again, the energy is positive and strong. Even more than that, the people are warm and deep. The people with whom I have been dealing are well-educated, as well as sophisticated and multi-lingual, speaking languages such as Japanese and Russian.

The music, dance, art, and history you encounter are complex and wonderful.  I have been both professionally and personally enriched by my travels there.  While the journey is long and tough on the posterior, the rewards far exceed any inconvenience.  It is so exciting that I can’t help but recommend it to anyone who is interested in learning, growth, and pure enjoyment.

A Key Benefit of Matrix Management: Scalability

Author: ; Published: Aug 20, 2010; Category: Cross-Functional Teams, Matrix Management; Tags: , , , , , ; No Comments»

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Why are more organizations choosing matrix management? The answer that we are hearing most frequently relates to scalability. Often, the objective is to add new locations that are functioning as intact horizontal matrix teams. Sometimes the objective is to be able to scale up and add new projects.

These organizations want to be able to expand their operations without having to do a new restructuring every time that they increase the number of locations, number of projects, or other indices of growth. 

The good news about matrix management is that it allows such modifications without having to alter the structure or add considerable overhead as part of the expansion process. Most of the time, new locations or new programs can be added without any adjustments to the vertical organization.

As an organization moves to matrix management—prior to an expansion of locations, projects, or other dimensions—employees cannot reasonably be expected to understand immediately the need for the structural shift.  Until expansion has actually occurred, they may instead perceive the move to matrix management as an addition to overhead or superstructure. It is important to explain to employees the benefits sought from the move to matrix management and to offer this explanation plainly and repeatedly. Don’t assume that because you understand the reasoning for the structural change that anyone else will.

Also, don’t assume that explaining it once or twice will do the trick. It won’t.  Many employees will adopt the Missouri “Show Me” attitude and won’t understand the motives behind the move to matrix management until real expansion has actually been executed.  Thereafter, the reason for the change will have been clear to them all along! 

In summary, a key advantage of the matrix structure is that you are able to “snap on” a new horizontal team or any number of teams; up to a point; train up the team members; and then go “live” immediately. 

More and more, scalability is what our clients are seeking when turning to the matrix structure.  While there are other significant benefits of the matrix structure such as maximizing resource utilization, solving complex problems, achieving a flatter organization, and achieving cross-functional synergy, the advantage of scalability is driving many decisionmakers to opt for matrix management.

If you need consulting or training help with your transition to matrix management, please call us, 703/836-8383 or email us at info@strategicfutures.com.