Leaders and individual contributors within organizations struggle every day with end endless amount of obstacles and hurdles that seemingly block their paths to success. Some of these hurdles are generated by changes in customers and competitors yet unfortunately, some of them are created by their own organizations. One of the biggest challenges I hear from leaders who participate in our Advantexe Business Leadership programs is dealing with and working in a “matrixed organization.” The challenges and complaints are common:
- “I have no idea how to manage people in a different continent who don’t report to me, yet I am accountable for their output.”
- “I have teams of people who report to at least 3 different leaders.”
- “It takes forever to get anything done because of the matrix.”
A matrix organization is a business structure that shares power among multiple (typically 2-5) dimensions. The matrix organization involves achieving specific goals and objectives and is supported by a process that is able to produce extraordinary and competitive products and services more efficiently. The matrix organization is in place to:
- Provide multiple perspective – Forces a business unit or person to report to more than one group for ideas, coaching, and support.
- Leverage expertise more efficiently – Provides multiple points of unique expertise and specialization from different business units allowing for sharing of innovation and efficiencies at the same time.
In a perfect world these two previous points sound great, but unfortunately none of us live in this perfect world. Based on research, interviews, focus groups, observations, and our own personal experiences, here are five secrets for creating alignment in a matrix organization:
The matrix organization is ambiguous by design. It is meant to be complicated to be able to produce better quality in a more efficient way. The problem most leaders have is they fight it and are resistant to it because it is non-traditional and represents change. So get over it. Don’t fight it, embrace it. Embrace the fact that every day is unique and the challenges of the matrix are ambiguous. Make the most of it and be proactive in terms of creating the paths that work for you and your team.
This is classic change leadership 101. People don’t resist change, they resist being changed. Your people are fearful of the matrix because the expectations are too high and there has been too little communication. The most effective thing you can do as a leader leading resources that don’t report to you is to manage their expectations by being transparent and open. When managing expectations in a matrix organization, there is no such thing as too much communication.
The matrix organization is built for people to take action and create their own system. If you are reactive and are waiting for the matrix to work for you, it won’t happen and you should look for another position. You have to actively seek out the resources that you need, embrace the ambiguity, and manage the expectations in a proactive manner.
Think strategically, not tactically
Tactics are the things you do to get the work done. Strategic thinking is what you do to define the work. The matrix organization is set up to be strategic because it is multidimensional. Like a chess game, you need to think more than one move ahead to get the most out of the system.
The final secret is to make sure you share results. In a traditional system where the boss gets “credit” for successfully managing a team to the achievement of goals and objectives. In a matrix organization, the opposite is true; multiple teams and functions will take the credit and your job is to share and push that credit their way. If you do, then the effort will come back to you in multiples. In the traditional organization, you get one credit for one team. In the matrix organization by sharing results, the functions that you shared the results with are motivated to support you the next time and share credit back. If there are five functions within the matrix you share the results with, there are five functions appreciating and sharing with you the next time.