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Matrix Management


Mastering Matrix Management

Right you have your OKRs looking nice and tight in a lovely spreadsheet with lots of red-amber-greens.  Your strategic soundbites feel as silky a rich hot chocolate on a cold snowy sunday.  The modus operandi you follow is something that a Swiss train station master would be proud of.  The revenues are flowing and you are growing internationally making the Gordon Gekko on your board laugh like the joker.  And all this means your hiring is on fire with a team growing like a US College football team well into treble figures.  Life is good.

And then somebody says they have a dotted line.  A what?  A dotted line report.  You know… I am in Marketing and work for the CMO based in LA, but as I am based in London so my dotted line is to the EMEA GM.  

OK, so who is your boss again?  Well both are.  Sort of. Er... ok fine.

Sound familiar?  It’s almost inevitable that this happens.  What’s more it will happen before you know it and informally on cross-functional projects as well as with international expansion or multiple product lines.  Not in some centrally planned manner.  Look 'Charlie HR' says so, hence it is the truth.

Welcome to the “matrix” org.

It sounds like something run by Keanu Reeves, and to be honest you would not be far wrong.  Unfortunately nobody can be told what the matrix is, you have to see it for yourself as the quote goes.  Living it is really the only way of knowing all the fun it brings.

A matrix org is not actually a bad thing.  Personally I am a big fan.  The advantages hugely outweigh the disadvantages… the small print is that it needs to be set-up and run correctly.

The problem is that managing the matrix is one of those “non-trivial” things.  And doing it as your first real management job, with a business that is growing internationally with all the cultural and logistic challenges that brings ain’t easy.  They don’t even teach you how to run it in a top business school where you have paid $250k for the priviledge.  No wonder it is often a bumpy ride for most to scale-up and so the matrix structure gets such a bad reputation.

Help is at hand though.  Just some simple techniques, side-stepping a few non-obvious landmines, plus making sure everyone knows ‘where the matrix stops’ and it can be mastered.  Trust me I have got this working everywhere from 100 person start-ups to 50,000 tech giants.  95% of the game is the same… just the egos are bigger.  And the egos are pretty big in smaller startups.

Just call me Morpheus. 

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