Master the Matrix Global Tour Stop #5: Zurich

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It might have been the scarf.

It’s 5:00 am and I am packing up after a day of workshops in Zurich.  Great questions, many of the same challenges with the matrix that I have heard across the globe.  Yesterday’s theme seemed to be role clarity–specifically between satellite groups and “corporate.”   We talked about it being a three-pronged solution:  (1) get used to the ambiguity and lower your expectations on how much clarity there will ever be; (2) get clarity where you can (specially outline it in written form); (3) get good at have role clarity discussions (including assuming best intent; understanding the ‘why’ behind the issue and focusing on problem solving not defending turf).

We seemed to be on the same page, these Europeans and I–the problems and approaches to the solutions seemed to make sense, to “fit.”  I reflected on this as I decided to throw on a scarf as I walked out the hotel room door.  Shooting for that effortless style that only European women can pull off.  Today the scarf fell just right for me–effortless.

My first Master the Matrix trip took me to Europe as well.  I noticed several times–most distinctly walking into an airport lounge in Frankfurt–that to all those around me, I was quite obviously American.  In a long line waiting to check in at the lounge, everyone before me got a “Guten Morgen” from the attendant.  He took one look at me and said, “Good Morning.”  Was it that obvious?  Do I just scream “American”?  Or worse yet, “American Tourist”?

My scarf and I make our way to the airport.  The taxi driver, security checkpoint and flight attendant all gave me a “Guten Morgen”.  When I replied in kind, some launched into a conversation in German (until they saw the look on my face!).  Could it be that on the last leg of this world tour I had gained global confidence?  Could it be that not only have my matrix ideas proven themselves as globally relevant but I myself am oozing with this new found global perspective?

Nah.  I think it was the scarf.

 

 

Master the Matrix Global Tour Stop #4: Singapore

I fell in love with Singapore—first the city itself and then the people.  As an Aquarian, I loved being surrounded by water.  As a Chicagoan, I loved the mix of old and new architecture, including this:

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It’s a casino and probably not a favorite of the locals, but I loved it—a ship-shaped patio on top of two skyscrapers!  What’s not to love?

My audience in Singapore was a group of 35 outgoing, energetic people from all over the world (I love the melting pot that is Singapore).  We met in an upscale break room.  People lounging on couches, window sills, and at the coffee bar.  And we chatted about all things “matrix.”

It was a Friday afternoon, but that didn’t stop people from asking questions and sharing observations.  We ran way over and probably would still be chatting if not for the fact that I was meeting a friend for dinner and desperately needed a bathroom break!

One of the themes in our conversations (especially the more private ones after the session) was conflict—the conflict that is inherent in the matrix, the need to get good at working through it and the vast cultural differences.

“In Asian cultures, if there is a conflict, we don’t talk about it—ever.”  One of the participants told me.  “Does that mean you let it go?”  I asked.  “Of course not!” she responded.

We stood in that break room a long time talking about how we would change this centuries-old culture of conflict avoidance and how we might bridge the western version of direct conflict resolution and the eastern indirect version.

If conflict is inherent in matrix organizations and the vast majority of matrix organizations are global, can we ever truly master the matrix without figuring this conflict thing out?  Is there a cultural-neutral way to manage conflict?  I think there has to be and it probably requires some middle ground.  I am biased (and acutely aware of possessing a hammer and seeing everything as a nail) but I think the Master the Matrix Building Blocks might offer a start:

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Mindset:  We need to get comfortable with the fact that conflict is viewed very differently across cultures and that in multi-cultural organizations, we will need to give a little bit on our preferences to find the best way to tackle the inevitable conflicts that come up.

Triage:  We need to get good at knowing what conflicts to let go (or let play out) and which to tackle.  Westerners don’t need to tackle everything head on, and those with more Eastern preferences avoid every conflict.

Jujitsu:  When we tackle it, we must do so with a lot of finesse and cultural sensitivity.  For some, that means going in much, much softer than is natural; for others it means recognizing the discomfort and working through it.

Zoom Out:  In order to tackle conflict in a culturally and matrix-related way, we have to see beyond our own perspective.  It will enhance our effectiveness in working through it and will help a solution present itself.

 

 

 

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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Global Tour Stop #3: Osaka

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I knew stop #3 on my global Master the Matrix tour would prove to be the most challenging: 400 Japanese colleagues in a large auditorium in Osaka, with Tokyo, Shanghai, and Beijing joining via videoconference; two interpreters in the room providing simultaneous translation.

I decided I would throw a few Japanese words into my session, including the Japanese word for nervous…which I was…very.  I was nervous about the content—would it align with their cultural beliefs?  Would it be relevant?  I was worried about my delivery–would I be able to slow down my rapid-fire style of speaking?  This worry was reinforced when the gentleman next to me on the plane explained that it takes 40% more Japanese words to say what I am saying in English.  Slowing down wasn’t necessary just to stay in sync, it was the only way the interpreters would be able to actually provide all the necessary words!

I have worked in Japanese companies and with Japanese colleagues from the start of my career.  But until this trip I didn’t truly appreciate how much it takes to make the Japanese and American working relationships effective.  I talk about trust as key to making the matrix work.  What I came to realize just how difficult it is to build trust globally.  It’s not difficult just because of the distance and the virtual nature of our work, but because of language.  How do we build trust when we are thousands of miles away and our language barriers keep us from having conversations at a deeper level?

At the end of the session, this question of building trust across the global was the first one posed.  I am not sure I have the full answer to this (or any new answers to it), but I think my view was reinforced by this experience.  Technology can’t replace an in-person meeting and group meetings can’t replace a personal 1:1 conversation.  In the end, regardless of culture, language or distance, trust is built by direct human interaction.

Towards Matrix Mastery

masterEssentials and Building Blocks

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The Matrix is Everywhere

Matrix organizational structures first became popular in the 1960s aerospace industry. Organizing people around projects, rather than into pyramids, was seen as a way to improve efficiency and productivity in complex ventures. Since then, matrix organizations have become widespread in commercial industry and even the nonprofit sector, to varying degrees of success. Nowadays, many companies that never use the word ‘matrix’ are structured around numerous informal matrices and matrixed teams.

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.

Finerty outlines four types of matrix roles. The formal project matrix is comprised of a project management office structure combined with a functional or business reporting structure. The cross‐functional team matrix brings in multiple disciplines/departments to address specific and often short‐term projects or issues. The reporting relationship matrix is most often seen as an outgrowth of globalization—it involves reporting to multiple bosses across functions, businesses or geographies. The customer hub matrix involves teams dedicated to meeting internal or external customer needs across a product line or business with a center of the hub coordinating resources.

The complexity of organizational webs has grown rapidly, but most people working within a matrix, if they are even aware that they are in one, have little guidance on how to navigate it. A matrix represents a departure from the hierarchical structure of traditional organizations. But for the most part, when problems arise in matrix organizations, “traditional” solutions are the only tools applied to solve them.

 

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Master the Matrix Goes Global, Stop #2: London

I arrived in London last Sunday to find the London Marathon taking place—what a treat and how appropriate!  London was my first stop on a three-country, six workshop, seven day tour around the world—my own personal marathon!

Like the marathon, I anticipated my first few miles (or in this case, workshops) would be the easiest.  The jet lag would be minimal compared to what I would experience upon arrival in my Asian destinations later in the week.  I would be speaking a common language with my participants.  I was in a city I had been to before.

In short – I was in my comfort zone.  And I did what we all do when in the comfort zone—I lost my edge, I got caught off guard.

It started with a missing power cord.  How hard is it to find an Apple power cord in London?  Pretty hard.  Especially when you are simultaneously teaching a workshop (and watching the battery life on your lap top slowly wind down to 0%).

It continued with a morning jog—intended to be 30 minutes, but that turned into 90 minutes.  Why?  Because I didn’t bother to consult a map—I knew where I was going.  After all, this is London, how hard can it be?  Three polite Londoners and four maps later, I realized just how hard it could be.

The sessions went just fine, and I was right to make assumptions about language and even alignment with the content—our English colleagues view the matrix much the same way as we do.  My biggest disconnect was referring to traffic circles instead of roundabouts (in my latest matrix organization analogy) and repeatedly forgetting the “u” in words such as endeavor.

But I was taken aback at what I had done.  Because I was so focused on the sessions later in the week (more on that tomorrow) I overlooked my early miles.  I was like the team that was so focused on the next team they will play, they lose to the team they are actually playing.

Looking ahead is great—often needed.  But don’t overlook what is right in front of you.  Today, the immediate, probably needs and deserves a little attention too.

“Master the Matrix” Goes Global! First Stop: Copenhagen, Denmark

Last week marked the beginning the “Master the Matrix” global initiative!  This first stop was a series of workshops for a client in Copenhagen.

I knew when I wrote the book that the reality was that many of the matrix organizations/practitioners attracted to the book would be working globally and virtually.  In fact, at one point I had an 8th essential around working in these environments.  I quickly realized that it wasn’t a chapter–it was a book!  I told an audience this and someone shouted–“Can you start working on that book now…please?!”

One group described this reality as matrix management “on steroids.”  This is so true–you have to be so much more disciplined, diligent and focused in these global matrices.

But I think the thing that stuck me was the differences in trust that become apparent across global cultures.  The Danish culture is considered one of the highest in terms of level of trust.  The American culture, one of the lowest.  In the sessions last week, we talked about differences across cultures (communicating, running meetings, etc.) but at the core of all these differences are perceptions of trust.  The differences in our basic assumptions about trust are mainfested in how we communicate, how we run meetings and projects.

So it isn’t enough to challenge our assumptions about communication and other behaviors–those are symptoms.  We have to challenge our assumptions of trust and realize when they are based on experience and evidence and when they are based on cultural bias.  And realize that different cultures start at different levels of trust.  In this case, the Danish have a high baseline of trust to start from, the US, fairly low.

All this is to say that build our feelings of  trust in others through our behaviors of trust in others.  These behaviors start with small investments as I have described previously.  When working across cultures we have to be very, very aware of trust and make trust building a top priority.  With this as a top priority, everything else falls into place.

This is a picture of one of the sessions, held in the beautiful Prisden Hotel in Roskilde, Denmark.  It is the oldest (312 years) and, if you ask the staff, the most beautiful ballroom in Denmark.  After hundreds of sessions over my career in generic hotel meeting rooms, to say this room was a welcome change, is an understatement!

 

Role Clarity: A Case Study

Role clarity can be a bit like alphabet soup–RACI, RACSI, DACI, the acronymns go on.  In this case study, a matrix manager that was part of the research for the book walks us through the process and shares the tools from a role clarity effort that was part of a larger organizational realignment.

Here’s an excerpt:

FOGACOOP – Putting role clarity at the forefront of organizational restructuring paves the way to success

The DACI matrix is a very useful framework to begin drilling down the process map, but it requires more detail, particularly to clarify who is to be consulted (C) and informed (I), in order to make sure that it is really implemented. The value of this case is that it explains how to detail these components, with valuable and tangible tools for practitioners that can be applied to a broad spectrum of reorganization initiatives.

Fogacoop is a government-owned entity subordinate to the Ministry of Finance of the government of Colombia. Based in Bogotá, the organization is responsible for insuring cooperative companies–businesses that are owned and operated by their affiliates–and managing their support or liquidation if they run into financial problems. Fogacoop supervises over 200 organizations nationwide with a staff of approximately 50 employees. Every 2-4 years, the organization revisits their strategic planning to adjust to changes in government policies and ensure that all processes remain aligned as business priorities evolve.

In 2011, Fogacoop began a major management process redesign to revise their strategy, processes, organizational structure, IT strategy and HR competency model. They needed a framework that would meet government mandates while streamlining performance matrices and information systems. It was also critical to overcome internal resistance to change, because without a top-down reorganization of roles with broad-based support from employees, the IT and HR initiatives would not thrive. By approaching this challenge with role clarity front-and-center in their strategy, Fogacoop was able to exceed their goals for the redesign. Their experience highlights how role clarity can serve as a linchpin for successful management restructuring and provide a strong foundation for implementing strategic initiatives.

Here’s the full case study:

MM7E Role Clarity Case Study

Matrix Intersections and Traffic Circles

For those of you that have read the book, you know that I often refer to matrix roles being at “the intersection.”  These roles are intended to bring together disparate parts of the organization and that can look (and feel!) like very much like a busy intersection (fender-benders and all).

But what if we thought about it more like a traffic circle?  Take a look at this excerpt from a recent workshop I conducted that positions our jobs as matrix leaders as finessing the flow of an organizational traffic circle:

Matrix Intersections and Traffic Circles Discussion

Lessons of the Chinese Bamboo for Matrix Masters

Do you know the story of the Chinese Bamboo?

If you plant the seed and water and fertilize that seed, in the first year, you will soon see…nothing.

  • The second year of vigilant watering and fertilizing will yield…nothing
  • Year three—same fertilizing and watering and the same…nothing.
  • In year four, you fertilize, you water and you see…nothing.
  • But in the fifth year, that bamboo can grow three feet a day.
  • It takes four years to grow the network of roots that can support that kind of growth.

Influence within the matrix does not happen over night or on the spot, just-in-time.  It is much like the Chinese Bamboo.  The investments you make in knowing the organization, building trust and credibility build your “roots” where influence will eventually take hold.

I often talk to people in matrix roles and they tell me that they drive home at night wondering what they accomplished that day.  If you measure you impact in hours and days you are bound to get discouraged.  If you realize the seeds you planted that day and look at your influence over months and years, you get a much more accurate view of what you are really getting done.

What to read more on influence?  See these blog posts.  What do learn more about the Chinese bamboo and how it relates to human patience and perseverance?  See this terrific video.