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. 

Picking up Speed in Matrix Decision Making

One of the biggest complaints I here from people in matrix roles/teams/organizations is that it takes forevvvveeerrr to get decisions made.

“What can we do to pick up speed?”  They ask.

Decision-making is but one of seven essentials I cover in Master the Matrix:  7 Essentials for Getting Things Done in Complex Organizations.  But in reality, getting decisions made in a complex organization is really the culmination of all the skills, approaches and other practices I describe in the book.

Decision-making is the litmus test for matrix masters—can you make decisions and get decisions made in this web of stakeholders?  It takes nothing less than your best in the other six essential in the book: Continue reading Picking up Speed in Matrix Decision Making

Making Sense of Solid and Dotted Lines

Matrix roles are less like sand boxes (which is exactly what many of my interviewees called them), and more like a Venn diagram (the overlapping circles used in the study of logic and probability).  There are circles that represent people’s roles, but there is always overlap with other roles or roles that are common.  Here are two examples:

Those overlaps are your intersections, it’s where good stuff can happen—collaborations that led to better solutions and outcomes.  It’s also where things can get tricky in a matrix.  Knowing the individual circles is good, identifying overlaps is great, but knowing roles within those overlaps is even better. Continue reading Making Sense of Solid and Dotted Lines

Free Webinar: April 13, 11:30 AM CST

What’s keeping you from getting things done?

Your role through the lens of the 7 Matrix Essentials

Through participating in this webinar, led by Susan Finerty (Author, Master the Matrix: 7 Essentials for Getting Things Done in Complex Organizations), participants will:

  • Understand the four building blocks for organizational matrix mastery
  • Understand the essence of each of the 7 Matrix Essentials
  • Identify key shifts that will help you gain traction in your role
  • Receive a copy of Towards Matrix Mastery and The Matrix Mastery Assessment

Click here to register!

After registering you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the training.

Free Webinar: March 16, 12:30 CST

What’s keeping you from getting things done?

Your role through the lens of the 7 Matrix Essentials

Through participating in this webinar, led by Susan Finerty (Author, Master the Matrix: 7 Essentials for Getting Things Done in Complex Organizations), participants will:

  • Understand the four building blocks for organizational matrix mastery
  • Understand the essence of each of the 7 Matrix Essentials
  • Identify key shifts that will help you gain traction in your role
  • Receive a copy of Towards Matrix Mastery and The Matrix Mastery Assessment

Click here to register!

After registering you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the training.

Towards Matrix Mastery: Essentials & 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. Continue reading Towards Matrix Mastery: Essentials & Building Blocks

If you want to communicate, listen

To communicate without assumptions, you need to listen without assumptions. For assumption-free listening, keep these four techniques in mind:

Ask two more questions. Even when you think you know a person, find two questions to ask them about themselves. Think you know all the nuances of the problem, or get all the ramifications of the solution? Ask two more questions.

Ask questions like a 3-year old. Why, Why, Why. Any parent of a young child will tell you that the “Why” stage is both exciting (because it shows their intellectual growth) and frustrating (because it can be all-consuming, and you don’t have the all the answers). Asked with genuine curiosity, the question of “Why” is a great assumption breaker, especially when you think you already know the answer. Just make sure you ask the “why” without the “whine.”

Don’t match their defense with more defense. People are not used to being asked questions—they are used to people assuming and doing. So when you start asking questions, they may get a little defensive. That’s ok; the only thing you can do is to keep your tone non-defensive and express your (genuine) appreciation for taking time to answer your questions.

Absorb it. All of this inquisitiveness doesn’t do much good if you don’t absorb and apply the information you acquire. The first step to absorbing information is simply restating it, which helps you mentally register the information (far more than just hearing it) and tells the other person that you heard them. As a further step, add a “so that’s why” to connect the dots between their answer and your experience. For example, if you ask a person in your hub how requests are prioritized, respond to their answer by adding: “Ok, so that’s why when I ask for customer return data I hear back pretty quickly, but the lead time on contract changes are longer.”

Seven killer communication assumptions

So, here’s how it goes. In a matrix role, you are moving fast and in order to pick up speed you assume:

  • They know.
  • They don’t know.
  • Somebody else already told them.
  • They don’t need to know.
  • I’m the one to tell them.
  • I know how to tell them (or it doesn’t matter how I tell them).
  • I know the whole picture.

These assumptions—and all their variations—cause us to make a number of blunders. We often find ourselves:

  • Under-communicating
  • Over-communicating
  • Communicating to the wrong people
  • Communicating in the wrong way
  • Not listening

And the result is:

  • Perceptions of information hoarding, politicking and other suspicions
  • Confusion
  • Lack of information or misinformation

These outcomes all lead to lack of trust, which means slower decision-making, decreased decision quality and less influence for you.

Think about the key people you depend on to get results.  What communication assumptions are you holding on to?  What behaviors do those assumptions lead to?  How do they affect your credibility, trustworthiness and effectiveness?

As the Fonz says (ok, it was Henry Winkler), “Assumptions are the termites of relationships.” Assumptions stop us from hearing anything that doesn’t match up with what we hold in our heads, being curious, or asking questions. When you ditch the assumptions, you’re automatically going to be a better questioner and listener.

The power of patience and perseverance

Patience may be a virtue, but in a matrix role it is a necessity. You will go home most days feeling like you didn’t accomplish anything in all of your attempts to mold and shape those in your matrix. But you did, and if you persist you will see progress. According to one survey respondent “It is frustrating to go to work, engage in something I have a lot of passion and pride in and yet have so few victories.” I knew from talking to him that he had mastered the matrix more than he realized. But without patience and perseverance, he won’t be able to see the progress that he is making.

I was pretty oblivious to the need for these traits well into my career in matrix roles. Then I had a boss, Mary, who changed everything. Mary was a bit of a Zen Master. Often I would find myself in influence mode and try to force things—convince the senior leadership team to invest in a project or induce my dotted line corporate boss to change a priority. I would run up against walls over and over again and land in Mary’s office frustrated and bruised. “Susan, you are planting seeds,” Mary would say, “If you measure your success in days and not months or even years, you are going to go crazy in this role.”

One of my upper management interviewees put patience into a great perspective:

“You have just got to do what is within your control to find the issue, shine a spotlight on it, frame it, present it. What someone else chooses to do with this information is truly above your pay grade—you can’t control the big picture, only your role in it. Propose what needs to change, then pin it to somebody’s chest, work through it with your boss, whoever. But just keep shining a spotlight on it.”

Get good at influencing in a matrix and you can influence anywhere—its like New York, if you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere. You are going to see so many things that need to change, improve or go away when you sit at an organizational intersection. Don’t let the purview frustrate you—appreciate it and learn to pick and choose where you will make an impact. Your influence abilities, mixed with strong partnerships, underlie every skill and success you will have in your role.  When joined with assumption-free communication, your influence will pack a powerful punch.