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Managing in a Matrix – 10 ways to steer your way through the matrix and thrive

Meysam Poorkavoos 16th October 2020

As the financial effects of the pandemic continues, organisational restructure has become one of the strategies that is being used to reduce cost, respond to the changing environment faster or even just to stay operational.

Generally viewed as a way of increasing collaboration, solving issues quickly and maximising resources, matrix structures are one of the ways organisations are turning to address current and future challenges.

What is a matrix structure?

A defining characteristic of a matrix organisational structure is multiple reporting lines. Typically, a team member will have two managers, and a matrix manager will share authority, responsibility and accountability with another manager for the team members’ delivery of objectives and performance. The dual reporting lines are often referred to as ‘solid’ or ‘dotted’ lines to denote the strength of the reporting relationship. In addition to multiple reporting lines matrix structure is also about the culture and human behaviour that is needed to support it. A recent article published in MIT Sloan Management Review identifies a culture that supports the new structure and an effective matrix decision-rights structure key success factors for a matrix structure at current times.

The reality of managing in a matrix

The reality of managing in a matrix can seem like a daunting task for even the most experienced manager.  Often a matrix structure can cause confusion over where responsibility lies, conflict over decisions and increasing ambiguity.  Productivity falls and strategic goals fail.

But there are ways to navigate through a matrix and thrive. Using our existing research here are ten ways to help managers be more effective when managing in a matrix.

Network, network, network

Build a wide and diverse peer group where you can discuss ideas and ask to influence on your behalf. Think of every workday activity as an opportunity to meet someone new, or develop a stronger relationship with a previous acquaintance. Use social media, formal and informal channels of communication to stay connected and informed.

Be authentic and transparent

 Articulate clearly and confidently how and why your approach is the right one for the business as a whole. Make your goal and vision meaningful for others to share.

Know your stakeholders, their ambitions and challenges

Have one-to-one conversations with senior and influential stakeholders to secure high level support. Create champions for your work.

Stay objective

Be clear about your objectives and map these to the needs of your stakeholders and peers, so they remain focused on business needs and not personal preferences.

Manage conflict positively

Regularly review project needs, resources, responsibilities and priorities to reduce ambiguity and conflict. Become skilled at having assertive, productive conversations with other managers.

Use power constructively

Harness your sources of power to engage others. Demonstrate expertise and remain values-driven so you build trusting relationships. Invest time supporting and building trust within your team. (Here is my research on building trust if you want to explore this further)

Be a role model

Role model lateral communication and collaborative working. Consciously create time to support others in different parts of the business.

Communicate upwards, downwards and across

Develop your communication skills. Be informed and share information widely. Be engaging. Present a compelling reason for others to collaborate with you and be courageous when faced with opposition.

Be an enabler

Champion the team successes and achievements, articulate clearly how the team’s endeavours are making a difference to the business.

Make wise project choices

Carefully select which projects to collaborate on (and which to not). Faster and more flexible decision making is possible within matrix teams when project teams have the authority to make decisions and have the key people involved in the team.

Get to know your organisation

Create opportunities to move around the organisation, build cross-functional knowledge of the organisation and develop relationships

Roffey Park Institute has a range of management and leadership development programmes which can be delivered online or in a classroom.  If you’re interested creating a matrix structure in your organisation or developing your skills for managing in a matrix, the following may be worth considering:

Essential Management Skills

Personal Effectiveness and Power

Leading Organisational Design