Why Does Leading in a Matrix Take Double the Effort?

Matrix Leadership

Many organisations are moving towards shared services/matrix environments for hard economic reasons, but are finding it hard to get their people to change mindset into this new, complex, ambiguous, collaborative environment. HFL Principal Associate, David Morley, explores why the change is so difficult, and what organisations can do about it.


Rapid globalisation and single digit margins across many market sectors has seen organisations looking for ways to leverage every ounce of collaboration to optimise business results.  This has seen the rebirth of the matrix style organisation which, in principle, is designed to do just this through well crafted areas of cooperation that allow for value added work to take place.


Whilst a matrix structure can look simple on paper, the reality is that making it work is not so easy.  Organisations often struggle with making the transition to the matrix or shared service model and, when they eventually arrive, face even greater challenges in making the new structure work.  The challenges vary in type and intensity, but usually evolve around the following key factors:


Poor matrix organisation structure design in the first place (usually using an outdated approach that is not customer centric);


Lack of understanding of the matrix or shared structure model, leading to …


Misunderstood roles, priorities and relationships;


Leaders having to learn how to lead differently in the new structure, which represents a huge culture change for most leaders;


Silos becoming (remarkably) more present than ever before;


Innovation and entrepreneurialism increasingly stifled by politics and bureaucracy; and


Lack of specialist HR, OD or leadership training in how to work, engage or lead in a matrix environment.


Accompanying these blockers to matrix success is the fact that a matrix or shared service way of thinking is not a natural mindset. In many respects it works against our very nature, and demands a unique set of behaviours and values to ensure it works.  The ability for individuals and teams to make sense of the ambiguity of matrix models, and at the same time deal with the pressure of achieving more (after all, that’s why the new model was introduced), is not easy and often leads to failure at many levels of the organisation. In particular, a failure at various levels of leadership.


Making a matrix structure work is about finding ways to address the issues mentioned above, and in parallel, address the depth of cultural change and business transformation needed to make the new organisational model a success.


HFL can help your organisation on this first step along the journey of matrix maturity and success.  We are conducting a major study that can help you determine the level of maturity of your matrix model, and to what extent the geographical and functional complexity of your matrix structure is supported by the right organisational capability and culture needed to execute the model. Beyond assessing your level of matrix maturity, HFL can work with you to:


Assess the effectiveness of your matrix design;


Develop the values and behaviours needed for all layers of the organisation to execute in a matrix;


Ensure strategic alignment between functional, business line, regional and global priorities;


Enable and foster the growth of innovation and entrepreneurialism in your matrix;


Enhance the skills of your HR and OD team so that they can partner with, and support, the business in embracing a matrix mindset.


For more information on this topic, and our research program, please contact Alistair Gordon.

please contact Alistair Gordon

Matrix Leadership
HFL Leadership www.hflleadership.com

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