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Making the matrix work


Life in a matrix 4 - not another reorg

Kevan Hall, CEO of Global Integration will be part of the international faculty on the upcoming Senior Executive Programme, IMI’s flagship development programme for senior business leaders which begins on September 9th. Kevan will be providing insights into how individuals can navigate the potential complexities of new reporting structures. Below he gives us a preview of some of these challenges and how we can look to overcome them.

The majority of large international organizations now operate some kind of matrix organization but this brings major changes in the nature of leadership and collaboration..

In the past, work was organized “vertically” through functions and geography. Today, a lot of value creation happens horizontally across the organization in international supply chains, more integrated business functions, common business processes and in delivering global projects and serving global customers.

To manage this reality, organizations have either introduced dual reporting lines (where some people have more than one boss) or introduced virtual teams and other integrating processes to connect the business together horizontally and break the traditional “silos”.

These companies are often spending many millions of dollars on systems integration projects with companies like SAP, to make sure that the components of their supply chains and other systems are more integrated and connected.

However, the poor relation in the implementation of the matrix is often the skills. Matrix working creates an environment where multiple bosses, accountability without control and influence without authority become the norm. Teams work together across barriers of distance, cultures, time zones and technology, and in complex organization structures.

This creates a tremendous change in nature of leadership and collaboration. The exercise of power and control are shared, trust has to be built and repaired remotely and with very diverse groups of colleagues, and communication is mainly through technology.

Many organizations have evolved from a family model with strong relationships based on face-to-face contact. Managers have been used to owning dedicated resources that they could apply to their own goals.

Today’s managers are realizing that they can’t be present for the performance of all work, increasingly, they are not the experts when managing specialist staff. Real control in a global multinational has to be exercised locally, not by remote central offices.

Teamwork has become more needed but more expensive and difficult to organize with people working on multiple teams across time zones or with significant travel costs.

Whilst the matrix brings significant commercial advantages, it also has some risks. It can lead to an increase in meetings and other coordination activities, it can cause delays in decision-making and increased conflict over resources. But it doesn’t need to! All these factors are about the way we work together and all of these can be addressed by changing skills, practices and culture.

It is skills, not structure that make the difference between a successful matrix implementation and a failed one. The matrix is not “business as usual”, if we don’t change the skill set and mindset of managers then they will tend to default back to legacy behaviours that stop the matrix working.

It also requires a culture change. If the people we value and promote are the high visibility leaders who jump on a plane at the drop of a hat and fly in to fight fires, then we shouldn’t be surprised if that is the behaviours we get.

We need instead to value and celebrate the people who get things done without travel, who build local capability so the crisis doesn’t emerge in the first place, and who are able to work for the common interests of the organization rather than optimizing their own local metrics. For many organizations this is a big change.

Kevan Hall is CEO of Global Integration www.global-integration.com a worldwide consulting and training organization specializing in matrix management, virtual teams and global working. He is the author of “Making the Matrix Work – how matrix managers engage people and cut through complexity” and the “Life in a Matrix” blog, videos and cartoons. http://www.global-integration.com/blog/




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