— October 30, 2017
If you are someone who works in a matrix structure, you likely already understand that there are many complexities that must be navigated each day. Having two or more reporting relationships in lieu of a single boss, and working with colleagues from other functional areas, a matrix presents challenges and issues that include conflicting loyalties and authority, confusion about responsibilities, roles and goals, and delayed decision making processes.
However, matrix organizations also have many benefits, and the structure has worked well for a number of the world’s most successful companies, including IBM, Cisco, Procter & Gamble, and General Electric. Some of the key advantages of this cross-functional approach include faster decision making and an opportunity to share resources and expertise quickly and efficiently.
Because a matrix organization requires a horizontal sharing of information and interaction, responsibilities are not handled through a vertical channel of accountability. Instead, they are coordinated across multiple departments or disciplines. As a result, a matrix structure rewards collaborators over “lone wolves.”
So how can you prepare matrix partners to face these challenges and realize the potential benefits of their matrix team? The key is to provide leaders and members of matrix teams with the skills and knowledge they need to ensure a few fundamentals are in place. Use the list the tactics below as a checklist to assess the extent to which the cross-functional matrix teams in your organization are set up for success.
Coordinate And Improve Communication
Strong, clear and transparent communication plays a key role in the effectiveness of any organization or team. Given the challenges and issues that can occur in a cross functional matrix, it is especially important for team members to share information and to ensure complex or conflicting messages are addressed quickly. Developing a communication plan that outlines who has and needs specific information, when they need it and where they can find it helps ensure that team members have the resources and knowledge they need to be successful. Doing so will also help to reduce confusion, prevent distraction or misinterpretation, and increase employee performance.
Set Shared Goals
One of the most difficult challenges to overcome in a matrix is gaining and maintaining collaboration among people across the various departments and groups. To make cooperation and collaboration among matrix partners desirable, it is necessary to identify shared goals for which the cross-functional team will be held accountable. It’s not enough to encourage people to cooperate; without shared goals, matrix team members are more motivated to attend to their functional goals, which could undermine the matrix team’s ability to meet its objectives.
Clarify Decision Authority
Another challenge that inhibits the performance of a matrix team is the uncertainty that is created by a lack of clarity about who is responsible for making the final decision when there is not agreement on which alternative to choose or how to proceed. One of the keys to navigating and working successfully within a matrix structure is to clarify decision authority. There are many tools available to help accomplish this objective, including the RACI Model, which serves as a template to document in what ways matrix partners are involved in decisions and who has the final authority for specific decision and activities.
The RACI model clarifies when cooperation is needed and what it looks like for the critical few decision and activity the matrix team is accountable for. It is a helpful way to frame the conversation and to ensure that no one is left out of the decision making process.
Another important step for matrix team leaders and members is to establish trust by demonstrating that they know what they’re doing and are true to their word. Building trust is not something that can be done overnight — it takes time, effort and dedication. We have outlined four ways leaders can build trust, which include demonstrating credibility, reliability, intimacy, and self-orientation.
Acknowledging your limitations and “speaking the truth” with teammates can help you establish credibility. Reliability, essentially, is demonstrated by following through on your commitments and by keeping your word. You help to develop intimacy by demonstrating empathy and by making yourself someone to whom others can confide. Lastly, self orientation is helping others to see that you have their best interests at heart and what matters to them also matters to you.
Influence is one of the most important tools in any leader’s toolbox—whether they work in a hierarchical or matrix structure. In a matrix, influence is about gaining commitment to your ideas and proposals when you don’t have position authority.