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Help! Managing the matrix is messy

The Management Centre

Working in a matrix should make us more flexible, productive and effective. So why am I finding it long-winded, hard and messy?

Matrix management is when reporting operates along both task and people lines. We are hearing from more and more people in the NFP sector that their organisation has developed a matrix structure. This can be either a formal matrix structure or an informal structure where people need to work in a matrix fashion. The sort of thing we hear from managers is:

Working in a matrix organisation can be hugely effective. I understand that by delegating authority to and empowering others I will have a more adaptable, flexible and resilient team. And that we can achieve more as an organisation through sharing knowledge and resources and creating self-managing teams.
However, in reality, it often feels frustrating. When I am a task manager I don’t know what I am allowed to do when it comes to dealing with performance. And as a line manager I have no idea what my direct reports are working on and I don’t know how to help them with their work. I feel like an imposter. I have to consult and consult and consult. There are far too many meetings because everyone has to be involved in every decision.

If that sounds familiar, help is at hand: we’ve put together five top tips to help you manage your matrix, and move it from messy to meaningful. These tips come from own experiences, our expertise in leadership and management, and from the discussions we’ve had with participants on our training courses:

  1. Be clear on Goals and Priorities. Understand the outcomes and results that are expected of you, and the people you manage. Make sure you are clear about decision-making and responsibility boundaries and that you review them on a regular basis. Don’t ignore any clashes, and work with other managers to ensure priorities are clear.
  2. Provide effective Leadership. Working in a matrix organisations means delegating a high level of authority and trusting your direct reports to work autonomously. That said, everyone needs direction and/or support at times. Don’t ignore requests for help.
  3. Involve other managers in assessing performance and developing staff. Build trust and work with each other to ensure staff concerns are addressed and praise is given. Encourage other managers to be open with your direct reports, and vice versa.
  4. Feedback. Give regular, balanced, specific feedback to your direct reports. Help them to see how they are progressing and make changes where needed. Be open to their feedback too, and listen to their requests/suggestions. Gather feedback from other managers that work with your direct reports. Get concrete examples, clearly linked to the goals and priorities you have agreed.
  5. Build your network. Get to know what other people are doing, and what their priorities are. Share what you are doing and what your priorities are. Find out how other people connect to your work and how you and your team can support others.

You might not be able to do this all in a single pass, but by addressing these key areas you should find that working in a matrix can be hugely effective. Have a look at our top tips on working in a matrix too.

What’s next?

We can help you and your team navigate your matrix in a range of ways – from consultancy, to team away days, to skills development programmes. Contact us online or call us on 020 7978 1516 to discuss how we can help you and your teams sort out your matrix.

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Yvette Gyles

About Yvette Gyles

Yvette specialises in leadership, personal effectiveness, change and innovation. Before joining =mc, she worked in HR for several years in both the private and charity sector as an HR...