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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.

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.

Job Design in Matrix Management

Author: ; Published: Jun 11, 2010; Category: Matrix Management; Tags: , , , , ; No Comments»

In recent months, we have had multiple opportunities to assist clients with the design of key jobs in their matrix organizations. These clients have included an energy engineering consulting enterprise, a medical device R&D operation, as well as a confidential client. These assignments have allowed us to work collegially with clients in spelling out a number of roles, their responsibilities and key relationships.

As I have written in articles, blogs, and the book, the interface player in the matrix is a make-or-break player. All too often, this mid-level position is given short shrift and that is surely an avoidable mistake.  Your matrix organization will not work if the unique mix of vertical and horizontal responsibilities is not competently and confidently exercised by these key individuals located at the interfaces of the matrix structure. Making plain what they are to do, how they are to do it, and with whom they need to consult is central to success. Patterns and limits of decision-making are also critical to this examination. We have been working with our clients to ensure that there is adequate specificity for these and other roles. C-level executives participate in these sessions and have told us that they are convinced that the investment of time in achieving this clarity is well worth the time and effort.

As a small business, we are able to move in an agile way to ensure that these key roles and relationships are defined in hours and days rather than weeks and months. We believe that the longer things get dragged out and immersed in unusable and unhelpful levels of detail, the murkier things can become. At the risk of sounding polemical, matrix organization job design should not involve a lot of lengthy, go-nowhere “consulting foreplay.” We believe that the better way is to draw together client principals for purposes of designing the job, keyboarding the elements of the role directly during a work session, with the results projected on screen at the front of the room. In this way, participants in the process have an opportunity to seek clarification, express objections, or otherwise jump into the discussion to ensure that competence and confidence are not just enabled, but ensured. That’s what we have been doing as of late.  Clients are gratified by the results and, from a consulting viewpoint, it puts us in a stronger position to ensure that subsequent training and coaching efforts will be sure-footed.

These efforts also help spell out the types and uses of both formal and informal, persuasive authority in the organization in a way that helps build a smooth, confident operation on a day-to-day practical level, rather than a too-cute-by-half theoretical level.  There’s a balance here to ensure that there is sufficient clarity to hit the road running but enough degrees of freedom to allow the job incumbent to grow the role organically over time. 

Bottom line? Don’t go “live” with your matrix organization unless you have committed to clarifying roles and relationships in adequate detail.