The ability to make decisions quickly in this complex globalised world is crucial. However, many structures are unwieldy and cumbersome. Many organisations are returning to matrix management as the answer. The quality of relationship in the matrix is key to success. Mark Goodridge argues that this cannot take place unless there is a strong and well thought-through structure to support these relationships.

In a fast-moving world we need swift decision making processes that take into account and commit multiple stakeholders whether they be international colleagues, corporate colleagues, customers or shareholders. For example, no one these days could say to a product manager that they have total power to develop and launch a new product; the technology has to be right, the operations platform needs to be in place, the sales teams prepared. All have to be aligned. All the stakeholders have to be committed to play their part. Matrix management is a form of organisational structure that emphasises this need for collaboration and provides a form of management behaviour that gives us the tools to make effective business decisions.

Thirty years ago matrix management was a popular form of organisation but this lost favour as decisions and accountabilities became blurred. As synergy was lost, blame tended to be heaped on each element of the matrix to excuse failure. However, in response to the evermore complex problems of a globalised world, big corporations are moving away from highly decentralised structures: it has become clear that these structures are great for focus and autonomy but tend to be weak on capturing synergies and leveraging opportunities from one unit to another.1 For many, matrix management is seen to be the answer. However, like all organisational forms the structure is only as effective as the behaviours that support it.

In short then, matrix management is a response to a complex set of business requirements where objectives conflict and trade-off s need to be made between them. For example, in many people’s minds we have a tension between the delivery of this year’s budget and the rollout of our longer-term strategy.

Both are required; one is bounded by the current financial year, the other is the investment for future years. Resources put into the future are largely resources taken from those who can deliver today’s budget. Matrix management does not resolve this tension but can place the accountability for these two goals with different teams. This gives focus to the tension and requires the two teams to co-operate and collaborate so they both reach their goals. One delivers the demands of today, the other the demands of tomorrow. The matrix organisation requires at least two streams of work activity to deliver the business’s goals.

Thus, matrix management creates two or more sets of people with different but compatible accountabilities who have to co-operate and collaborate to deliver the business goals. In order for the two to be practically brought together, certain key individuals are required to have different sets of accountabilities to different people. Therefore, some people sit in both communities and represent the points where the two sets of accountabilities come together. These people have two bosses, one in each community.

Whatever the form then, we can see that the effectiveness of matrix organisations comes down to managing relationships and when these relationships are created on comparable but differing goals, then by definition, these relationships are that much more difficult to handle. However, a strong and well thought-through framework can support these relationships. Let’s examine this in a bit more detail.

 

What does effective matrix management look like?

Balancing goals and freedom to act

 

Effective matrix management can be defined as getting a balance between working to common goals, and the freedom to act (or job-space) for each team or individual.

 

 

matrix1

Figure 1 shows this tension. The dotted square represents the job space. A performance planning process is required to get this balance right. In a matrix structure, personal objectives and targets need to be agreed by both bosses who in turn are accountable for ensuring that personal goals are fully aligned with the business plan.

 

Mapping out the domains

The domain of action of each boss can be divided into a planning, co-ordinating and leading role (Figures 2 and 3).

Planning means setting the goals, targets and measures. Co-ordination involves such activities as formal reporting, community meetings.

 

matrix2

 

Leadership is about creating a sense of identity and purpose for the community and will typically include a series of cohesion- building activities such as communications, conferences, personal and professional development.

 

In addition to the agreed personal goals, the co-ordination interface needs to be explicit and agreed. If boss 1 wants the same information, makes the same decisions and wants to influence performance of the same people as boss 2, then chaos and possibly conflict will occur (Figure 2).

 

matrix3

 

The leadership section of the matrix can be conceptualised as two distinct spaces: a cohesion space and the project and task, collaborative space. The cohesion space is the means by which each boss develops identity with their particular community. This should not be onerous in terms of time or demands; rather it provides a set of influences upon how the project or task is accomplished. The project, task and collaborative space needs to be as large as possible so that teams and individuals are empowered to get and deliver targets without continual reference to either boss.

Summary of key principles:

  • There needs to be distinctly different accountabilities for the different dimensions. If they are too similar then there will be constant confusion as to who has the authority to do what. E.g. project v resource managers. Segment v delivery managers
  • Individuals with twin reporting relationships need to feel membership of two communities which are both committed to the overall aims and objectives of the organization.
  • The two communities are likely to have different priorities and different objectives – some conflict is inevitable. Matrix management is about resolving these conflicts in a quick and effective way.
  • Horizontal relationships are crucial. In other words, decisions should be made and conflicts resolved with those who are accountable for different aspects of the task. The product manager needs to work with the client service manager and the operations manager to deliver a revised proposition. If each complains to their bosses about the other two, then inevitable delay will occur.
  • Transparent information is a key enabler. In a matrix, as in any modern organisation, managers need to have the same data. If one has one set and the other a different set then the argument is about the figures and not about their meaning.
  • Effective matrices work where the management mindset has been changed from serving one master to serving multiple customers.

 

The pitfalls to avoid

As with any other organisation form, there are potential pitfalls.These may be summarised as:

  • Weak, confused or overlapping accountabilities between the twin arms of the matrix.
  • An overly mechanistic approach which demands that every action and decision has to be agreed by both bosses.
  • Functions which demand mindless conformity across the business.
  • Allowing the speed of decision-making to slow down in order to achieve consensus across the matrix. Not everyone needs to be consulted about everything.
  • The substance and meaning of co-ordination becomes controlling and bureaucratic.
  • Blaming the organisation for individual failure to face up to problems and issues.
  • A culture that promotes individual success over collaborative success.

 

Matrix management is not easy. It requires a clarity and maturity that not all managers possess. Above all, managers have to under- stand why matrix management needs to work for them so that they can make sense of it for themselves and give that sense to their own teams.

Matrix management works well when sufficient time and resource is given to making it understood and competencies are built through training and facilitation. When managed well, the benefits are enormous .It means that you can strike the right balance between many conflicting tensions: local and global, marketing and operations, short-term and long-term; and business as usual and transformational change.

 

MANAGING THE MATRIX: HINTS AND TIPS

Task

  • Clarify accountabilities
  • Maximise the ‘get on and do it space
  • Minimise the number of joint decisions
  • Maximise the number of individual accountable decisions
  • Adopt an accountable decision-making process
  • Understand the difference between responsibility and accountability
  • Develop accountability for what is done as well as how it is done (competencies)
  • Excuses – don’t accept excuses blaming the other arm of the matrix – fix it, not excuse it!
  • Develop effective information systems
  • Make sure that measurement is in place
  • Remember, everyone needs some source of power to make things happen
  • Review effectiveness and tackle problems and conflicts early
  • Develop the reward and recognition systems to promote collaborative working

 

Relationships

  • Develop a tolerance of ambiguity
  • Build the competencies of influencing and persuading
  • Build effective lateral relationships
  • Build openness and trust between the arms of the matrix
  • Create a common vision and strategy that both arms of the matrix buy into

 

Key processes requiring definition

As there are at least two arms to the organisational relationship, matrix management does require a greater degree of explicit ‘how we are going to do things around here’ than one needs in a single line organisation. Processes that that are quite simple in the single line organisation do need agreement with the other parties to work effectively. For example:

  • Creating and agreeing the business plan, the budget, the operating plan. We need to establish the mechanisms as to how these plans will be put together. The two sides of the matrix have to co-operate in a similar way at a similar time – not rocket science but needs thought.
  • Performance management processes need to be established: when and how are targets set and performance reviewed?
  • Who decides on staff resourcing and development issues? Does one manager have primacy over the other or do all decisions have to be made together?
  • Conflict handling and dispute resolution. Matrix management demands maturity in handling relationships. Tensions and conflict have to be faced up quickly and resolved. The impact of two bosses in disagreement is corrosive on morale and debilitating in terms of getting things done.

 

 mark.goodridge@oecam.com