energizing breakthrough performance

Solid Line/Dotted Line: Is that ‘Nuff Said?

Author: ; Published: Apr 26, 2011; Category: Matrix Management; Tags: , , ; No Comments»

Matrix organizations are sometimes described in terms of solid line and dotted line relationships. The solid line/dotted line terminology can be useful shorthand, but only after the more tedious work of clarifying the structure in more precise detail has been done. Glib and lofty descriptions of matrix management as arrangements of “sharing staff” or “dotted-line” relationships are elegant at the intellectual level. Descriptions that are more gritty and granular are needed for folks who work in the matrix structure everyday and use it to get decisions made and work done.

One useful question for clarifying structure is to ask whether an issue to be decided relates to “doing the right thing” or to “doing things right.” Some issues associated with “doing the right thing” relate to defining what is to be done, by when something must be done, and why it must be done, to name a few. Issues associated with “doing things right” include, among others, defining how something is to be done and by whom.

When employees are confused as to whom they should turn about what issue, we have a structure that needs clarification. Failure to clarify these relationships adequately results in frustration and lost productivity—schoolyard-style shoving matches, people making up their own rules, and expanding or contracting their own roles on a freelance basis. Once key issues of doing things right and doing the right things have been explicated fully, we can, if we wish, then attach a shorthand description. Call it solid line or dotted line, call it vertical or horizontal, but make sure that whatever you call it has real clarity of meaning behind it—news that the employees can use.

Matrix Management and Organizational Dexterity: Method, Not Magic

Author: ; Published: Feb 9, 2011; Category: Cross-Functional Teams, Matrix Management; Tags: , , , , ; No Comments»

Matrix management provides a pathway to organizational dexterity. Why does that matter? In 2010, IBM conducted its Global CEO Study. More than 1500 CEOs in 60 countries and 33 industries expressed concerns about massive and rapid change, global economic shifts, and the disruptive impacts of technology. 80% of the CEOs expect that the environment will become even more turbulent than it already is. More than half of the CEOs believe that their organizations are not prepared to cope by way of strategy, systems, and/or structure. The biggest needs they identified were for organizational dexterity, creativity, and closeness to customers.

At the risk of understatement, traditional silos and hierarchies are not known for their contribution to organizational dexterity. Far from it, these hierarchies are too often calcified in place, leaving few if any degrees of freedom. What’s more, in the worst cases, the hierarchy has been known to stifle creativity as well as create a moat which separates the enterprise from its customers—be they internal and/or external customers.

One example comes to mind: The client practices business-to-business selling of over-the-counter medications to drug and grocery stores. It once sold these products on a silo’d basis—one representative selling one particular type of medication. Sales reps from the same company but representing different products kept bumping into one another at the stores to which they were selling. This was wasted time and energy, accompanied by customer frustration with the picket fence offerings of the company. Also, it did not provide the drug company with the dexterity needed to anticipate customer needs using a comprehensive approach to the customer. The transformation to selling by customer-focused matrix teams meant greater closeness to customers, greater dexterity, and greater cross-selling creativity—the biggest needs identified by the CEOs in the IBM study!

When we unleash the power of a battery of cross-functional teams, which are pursuing shared objectives using shared resources, we can enjoy new vistas in organizational dexterity, provided that our design is sound, our roles are clear, are processes are defined, and we are nurturing a shared fate culture. In addition to all of this, our people must be trained in how to apply matrix management roles, rules and tools, and how to get the most and best of what it has to offer.

You can use matrix management to increase your organizational dexterity if you design and implement your matrix consciously and deliberately. As we say at Strategic Futures, during the course of our matrix management consulting, use method, not magic.

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