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The key to success when you work in a matrixed organisation

You’re probably familiar with the term matrixed organisation. You may even work in one now. But do you understand why an organisation will choose to adopt a matrix. And, more importantly, do you understand the key ingredient you need to make one work.

What is a matrixed organisation?
A matrixed organisation is one that is structured so power is shared across either a function and product basis or a function and process basis. The aim is to achieve balance and collaboration rather than have one area dominate and silos form.

In simple terms – and in practice –  this means a matrixed organisation is one where some people have two or more bosses, who themselves may have two or more bosses.

Therefore, rather than defining a structure, a matrixed organisation is more a set of reporting relationships. In theory, this allows managers to work together and consider each other’s business perspectives when they make decisions. It’s designed to provide a clear sense of purpose and foster collaborative working.

In practice, a matrix can cause anxiety, stalemate and disagreement.

What kinds of organisations are matrixed?
Most large organisations, due to their complexity, are likely to be matrixed organisations.

A matrix functions best when people work in the same building. However, as technology drives globalisation and creates more opportunities for flexible working, fewer people do work in the same building. These days they may not work in the same city, the same country or even the same continent.

This rise in virtual teams is increasing the need for the kind of collaboration a matrix should foster. But, at the same time, as the distance between people grows it becomes harder for organisations to operate effectively under a matrix.

Why have a matrix
As with  most things in life, there are arguments for and against adopting a matrix.

In theory, a matrix will make it much easier for your organisation to take a flexible approach and so share resources and deploy teams where it most needs them.

The links it builds across your organisation will help prevent silos from forming and encourage and enable your teams to work together with a common purpose.

This in turn will help your teams learn from each other and share best practice. All of which will cut costs and help your efficiencies and productivity improve.

Why avoid a matrix
In a matrixed organisation, because some people have more than one boss, power struggles can easily happen. It’s human nature to resist giving up resources or to find it hard to accept that your priorities are less important than another’s. Resolving these disputes can take time and divert attention away from what’s most important: your customers.

With so many people involved it can also be difficult to reach agreement and make decisions. People may end up feeling confused about what they’re responsible for and who they’re accountable to.

What you need to make a matrix successful?
The key to effective leadership and management in any organisation is effective communication, or what in my business we call innovative communication. Leaders and managers who have innovative communication skills set the style and tone for behaviour across the whole organisation. They connect with people, create loyalty and build relationships. And they encourage others to do the same. As a result they drive success.

In a matrixed organisation, with its complex structure and inbuilt tensions, the need for a highly skilled leadership and management team with innovative communication skills is even more acute.

Yet there is a global shortage of people who have these essential skills. In 2019, IBM’s Institute for Business Value found that, over the next three years, more than 120 million workers worldwide will need retraining in behavioural skills, including communication, teamwork and ethics.

As we continue to expand our global economy and develop new ways of working, matrixed organisations will become more common. If these organisations are to enjoy success through true collaboration, they must have leadership and management teams who have the innovative communication skills necessary to exploit the advantages and overcome the challenges a matrix will bring.

Miti AmpomaFounder and Director – Miticom Communications Training

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