Matrix Management: The path to improved collaboration

By Matrix Manager Inventory author, James Eicher

There’s little doubt that collaboration improves individual and organizational performance.

Two studies—the first conducted in 2006 and the second in 2009—conclude that collaboration has a significant impact on business performance, more so than organizational strategy and market turbulence. In fact, collaboration effects virtually every aspect of an organization, from productivity to sales and profit growth, product development, innovation, customer satisfaction, and quality.

So the next question is: What enables a collaborative environment to thrive?

Well, managing now is different than it used to be.

Modern organizations are more complex than ever, filled with all types of cross-functional, virtual, and project teams. Today’s managers are expected to lead in this environment, all while trying to accomplish the task at hand and get the job done. If that’s not challenging enough, they’re also being asked to do so without direct report accountability—and sometimes in and amongst conflicting loyalties. And that’s stretching the capabilities of even the most talented managers.

Building a collaborative organization requires more than the traditional leadership skills of the past. It requires matrix management.

In the recent article, “Building a Collaborative Enterprise” published by the Harvard Business Review, authors Charles Heckscher and Laurence Prusack make the case for matrix management as a core skill set:

“The matrix structure has been tried by many firms during the recent decades, and its failures rate is high, so people often assume it’s a poor model. But matrix structures actually offer a huge competitive advantage precisely because they are so hard to sustain. They both support and are supported by…features of the collaborative model…”

So what is this skill set all about and what’s driving this change?

As the world of business morphs through changes in workforce globalization, customer insistence, and technology fluctuations, organizations are advancing from a traditional top-down hierarchy into a sort of web-like structure that includes horizontal, non-hierarchical, virtual, and/or networked teams.

Matrix Manager Inventory: Leading in a Collaborative Environment

Employees who once served as individual contributors are evolving towards team member status. And it’s these shifts that are forcing managers to move away from the use of “Command and Control” techniques to the more dynamic “Influence and Collaboration” strategy, which includes strong decision-making and interpersonal skills.

Effective Command and Control leaders have a core focus on activities expertise:

  • Knowledge of content
  • Correctness of information
  • Consistency of Image
  • Evidence of Regulation

Effective Influence and Collaboration leaders have a core focus on building relationships between individuals and groups:

  • Empowerment so that workers can know better
  • Risk Taking to foster tolerance of ambiguity
  • Participation so that workers experience inclusion
  • Development of others skills and abilities

When paired together, these two skill sets create a spectrum of competencies drive performance in the matrix management environment:

  • Knowledge balanced with Empowerment
  • Correctness balanced with Risk Taking
  • Image balanced with Participation
  • Regulation balanced with Development

Matrix management couples Influence and Collaboration with only the most essential elements of traditional management to achieve the optimum balance. How each of the skill sets is applied depends on the business context.

How do you know if you’re a matrix manager?

Take this two-minute quiz to find out.

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