“Welcome to the Matrix”

As my career has progressed, I’ve continually received more and more challenging assignments.  Earlier in my career, these assignments were of an individual nature or required limited additional resources.  However, the projects coming across my desk now are often on global projects that involve resources from various functions in different regions.  To add a degree of difficulty, I recently began reporting in a matrix organizational structure (where I have one direct manager who serves as head of the global business division and one dotted-line manager who serves as head of regional finance).  Additionally, most of the resources I am looking to utilize also report into a matrix organizational structure.  It is not unheard of that the managers of the folks reporting into a matrix organizational structure will have competing or conflicting agendas.  So, even though I am responsible for accomplishing these projects using these resources, they may have a completely different intention and may also be under a considerable amount of stress as they are being torn in different directions. So, I’ve sought out some literature and professional opinions to help alleviate the difficulty I encounter in getting resources on board and interested in these projects.

One such professional opinion is that of Ruth Malloy, global managing director at Hay Group in Boston in a post she made as a guest blogger on the Harvard Business Review Blog Network.  The article can be found at http://blogs.hbr.org/2012/08/become-a-stronger-matrix-leade/ .

In this article, Malloy sought the opinion of business leaders in this same situation where they are managing projects requiring resources, sometimes international, that they have no direct control over.  These leaders were asked what competencies were required to be successful managing projects in a matrix organizational structure.  The results showed that they four main competencies required for managing in this type of environment are: empathy, conflict management, influence, and self-awareness.  Unfortunately, citing other sources in this article, Malloy noted that these skills are not common among employees.

Malloy suggested some high-level efforts that can be used to address these issues common within these types of organizations.  Fostering diversity can help develop these skills because, in doing this, the team members may get exposure to seeing things from a different perspective.  Malloy also suggests having the team members shadow executives to understand the organization as a whole and all the parts that work together to make the organization function.  Additionally, the author finds that a means to show employees different perspectives is introducing rotational assignments.

Fortunately, I have already participated in many of these efforts and can hopefully convince directors at my firm that these are valuable skills and are, in fact, necessary to allow a matrix organization to succeed.  If these directors are convinced that these skills are essential to success, more employees will get the opportunity to participate in these various development programs and we will all possess the skills of empathy, conflict management, influence, and self-awareness to make these organization structure a success and be able to manage projects effectively on a global, cross-functional stage.

2 thoughts on ““Welcome to the Matrix”

  1. I find it interesting to hear from people who work in a matrix environment, because I come from a very top down organization. While this style of management reduces the need for the conflict management you discussed, we also still struggle with empathy, influence, and self-awareness. Empathy and influence are hard to impact in my company, because of the fact there is one manager. It fosters a “my way or the highway” mentality. While people are “self aware” on an individual level, the lack of transparency among departments from not having a matrix organization, leads to much uncertainty of how your job impacts the rest of the organization.

  2. It sounds like you are facing an uphill battle Brian. I can only imagine how complicated it is trying to get everyone on board when they are being torn in different directions. Chrissie, I also work in a top down organization (for the most part) so it is hard for me to imagine this structure. I wonder if cost cutting and limited resources plays into moving towards the matrix structure at all? Regardless I agree that the four qualities Brain stats are valuable to any manager!

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