Leading in a Virtual Matrix: Part One

| By TMA World

How to Make a Matrix Organization Work

Matrix organizations are often complex and confusing; they defy the traditional ‘unity of command’ principle, i.e. each employee being answerable to only one person.  The move to matrix organizations was understandable given the highly competitive nature of the global business environment; an environment that demanded greater organizational agility as well as greater accessibility to global talent.

Matrix organizational structures are multidimensional.  Aiming to integrate expertise across functions, products, and geographies, they face many challenges, including: increased bureaucracy; communication blockages; higher levels of politicking and ‘turf wars’; and increased confusion over roles, responsibilities, and decision making. 

Where leaders in a matrix often go wrong is trying to solve matrix problems by adding additional structures.  Structures become piled upon – and interwoven – with existing structures which makes navigating them a highly challenging task.  Structure-building is an important leadership task, but in a matrix, it can lead to additional layers of complexity and confusion.  Leaders need to take a more holistic view of how a matrix works to identify best possible solutions.

The Challenges of a Matrix Organization

Matrix challenges are amplified by the fact that many matrix team members are distributed across geographies, and the relationships are by necessity technology-based, i.e., virtual.  Virtual matrix team members may never meet – except via a computer screen – and that can add to matrix problems.  Technology changes how we interact with others and with projects.  If a leader is unaware of the impact technology can make on our ability to work together there can be serious consequences, such as:

  • Virtual team members feel isolated and lose trust and commitment.
  • Team suffers a lack of alignment with project purpose and priorities.
  • Team productivity falls and decision making becomes fragmented.
  • Collaboration is ineffective because expertise is not leveraged across the distributed team.
  • Increase in misunderstandings due to communication mishaps.
  • Reduced awareness of cultural differences and their impact.

Managing the Challenges of a Matrix Organization

Despite these challenges, research has shown that virtual teams can be more productive than face-to-face teams, if the virtual matrix leader focuses on:

  • Cooperation:  Maintaining frequent and regular communication to build team spirit.
  • Convergence: Maintaining clear purpose, direction, and a shared set of priorities.
  • Coordination: Aligning work by clearly defining roles and responsibilities and shared processes.
  • Capability: Providing opportunities for knowledge sharing across the team.
  • Communication: Maintaining a climate of constructive dialogue and positivity.   
  • Cultural Intelligence: Increasing awareness of cultural differences and appropriate adaptations.

Click here to read part two of Leading in a Virtual Matrix.

Interested in how introducing a cultural intelligence tool in your business could help to create a more borderless workforce? We’d love to show you our groundbreaking platform.