Managing a Matrixed Organization

Question: I was looking for some advice around best practices in effectively leading/managing in a matrixed organization. – Asked by Rob F

Answer: I’ve managed a few matrixed organizations. I think that the term “matrixed” is a fancy way of saying that most of the work will be completed by teams, working horizontally within (and sometimes without) the organizational structure.

Managing successfully is always easier when you’re working with smart, competent and success-driven people. Unfortunately, laggards have bills to pay too. I’ve learned that every member of every team is aware of who the stars, laggards, incompetents and no-shows are but I am always amazed by how reluctant people are to expose a co-worker’s poor performance to the people that are identified as being able to make a difference.

Strong leadership is important and it is equally important to realize that real leadership may not come from upper management but from one or more of the team’s members. And if you’re lucky enough to benefit from the support of strong leaders within your team(s), get out of their way and let them lead.

Empower the team to make decisions that include the removal of a team member and don’t just give lip service to such a policy. Explain to your managers that you expect them to find ways to enforce the policy.

One-on-one time with staffers and associates is important. Use it, at least in part, to gain valuable and objective information from all team members, not just the managers. You’ll be surprised to learn how many members of your team think that a manager is playing favorites instead of managing objectively.

Employees know how to do their jobs better. It’s their bosses that fail to let them by forcing them to follow tired and unproductive processes because it’s the way “things have always been done”. Give your people what they need to get their jobs done and reward/recognize them for innovations and forward thinking. Have them document the innovations and present them to the entire organization.

Lastly (this starts off-topic but bear with me), in one of my favorite Star Trek episodes, Dr. Beverly Crusher pulls rank and relieves Captain Pickard of duty because she deems that he is unfit for command. He disagrees but Star Fleet regulations leave him no choice except to comply.

If you have folks on your teams that are more knowledgeable and competent than their managers, you need a reasonable and effective failsafe that will allow them to circumvent management without fear of retaliation.

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