A View from the Top

viewfromthetopThe Leader’s Role in Building Matrix Mastery

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Dotted line reporting relationships, project teams and cross-functional teams are the landscape of organizations today. The “matrix” organization, born out of a need for 1960s aerospace project teams to stay connected to projects as well as their “home base” engineering groups, is alive and well and sprouting up everywhere. Today even small, single-country enterprises and not-for-profit organizations are utilizing matrix frameworks to deliver increasingly complex products and solve increasingly complex problems.

Matrix structures are intended to bring together disparate parts of the organization to create solutions, products and decisions that meet the needs of the enterprise and its customer base, rather than serving just one part of the organization. Matrix managers, those who are at the center of these intersections between global businesses and local resources, between technical expertise and business units and across multiple functions, are the front lines to making the potential of the intersections a reality. But they can feel more like labyrinths than intersections to those attempting to navigate them, especially when matrix structures pop up informally and aren’t managed in a purposeful way.

When you have multiple bosses and/or a maze of resources (that you don’t have formal authority over) to work through to get things done, the game has changed, and traditional methods won’t necessarily bring you success. As leaders, we often fail matrix managers because we assume that working in these roles should be second-nature, and we don’t see the need to fill roles with people who have matrix-specific skills or provide the right support for them to succeed. In addition, we fail to anticipate the challenges inherent in matrix roles and the different approaches they require.

A new book by Susan Z. Finerty, Master the Matrix: 7 Essentials for Getting Things Done in Complex Organizations, aims to arm people in what she calls “matrix roles” with a new set of tools to tackle the unique set of problems they encounter regularly in their organizations. The book is based on her surveys and interviews of over 100 experienced matrix practitioners. It distills their years of insight working in matrix roles into straightforward approaches that anyone can learn and apply.

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