HPO ASPIRE: The Characteristics of High Performing Organizations
The Five Steps of CRISP Decision-Making

Do You Work In a Matrix?  

Do you work in a company that requires you to coordinate across reporting lines to accomplish your goals?  In order to complete work, are people dependent on others who report to a different boss?

Matrix organizations are becoming more common as organizations grow larger, become more complex, and/or enter global markets. They offer the advantages of increased information flow across boundaries, deeper development of expertise and knowledge, and greater flexibility and responsiveness.

However, the disadvantages will quickly outweigh the advantages if leaders think this is simply a matter of restructuring or drawing dotted lines on an organizational chart.

Leadership In a Matrix

Everyone must provide leadership and assume responsibility for success.  A matrix simply will not work with the old style thinking of “it’s up to the people at the top to fix the problems.”

A matrix succeeds when there is a collaborative culture, where information flows freely, where development of strong relationships and informal networks are supported, and where people are encouraged to develop interpersonal skills (e.g. communication, conflict resolution, teamwork and influencing without authority.)

Power and control need to be viewed differently. Old school hierarchical thinking will create a misaligned organization with low morale and low productivity.

The good news is that in a matrix every single individual has the opportunity to influence it through the actions they take.

Four Challenges – And What You Can Do

1. Misaligned goals.

One of the most difficult challenges occurs when people working on the same project have different goals. Working at cross-purposes, they often end up in interpersonal conflict.  Conflicting goals stem from lack of a shared vision for the larger picture and are a setup for power struggles.

What you can do:

  • Make sure your goals are linked to the same vision and goals as others you are working with.
  • If you are experiencing conflict, check to see if you share the same goals before you start blaming each other.
  • Understand you are part of a team, whether or not you all report to the same person. If the team is not successful, you cannot be successful. Think “we” instead of “me.”

2. Conflicting Loyalties

When people are oriented along reporting lines rather than around the work, they don’t see themselves as part of the same team. When the focus is on power and control instead of the goal, attention is turned in the wrong direction. Conflict between line managers and functional managers erupts around prioritizing projects and allocating resources.

What you can do:

  • Focus on the work to be done and the best way to accomplish it.
  • For each major project or key responsibility area, create a Team Charter that clarifies priorities, processes, decision making, resources, etc.
  • Make sure your meetings are purposeful. See No More Boring Meetings, Please.” Use a good project tracking system to avoid wasting time with meetings that only provide updates.
  • Set an example and act in ways that encourage collaboration across boundaries.

3. Confusion about roles and responsibilities.

People don’t know who to contact for information and/or fail to share important information with those who need it. Someone might be seen as dropping the ball when they never knew the ball was in their court. Frustration arises when projects get stalled or are not implemented as a result of lack of communication and coordinated efforts.

What you can do:

  • See beyond your own piece of work in the context of the bigger picture.
  • Set up a communication plan.
  • Create a RACI chart. For each aspect of the project, identify what role each person plays: R= responsible to do the work and involved in decisions (several people). A= ultimately accountable for success (usually just one person, although it can be shared). C=consult to the project because they have needed information or expertise but do not make decisions or do the work. I=informed, people who are not directly involved but need to be updated on progress.

4. Delayed decisions.

In a complex environment where several teams are working on different aspects of a project, it can be unclear who has the final authority over decisions, even among the decision makers. And it can be especially challenging in organizations where leaders are unaccustomed to sharing decision-making. Often everyone owns a piece of a project, but it’s not clear who is accountable for the whole and as a result no one is steering the ship.

What you can do:

  • Find out everyone who needs to be involved in decisions. Make sure they all know and agree who is involved. Create a decision-making model that identifies who will make which kinds of decisions (similar to the RACI chart – in fact this will be easier to do if you have created a RACI chart).
  • Keep decision-makers up-to-date so they have the information they need to make informed decisions. Give them advance notice that you will be bringing a decision forward.
  • If you are put in a situation where you are accountable for the success of a project without the authority to make decisions on how to execute, push back or proceed carefully.

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