In a matrix organization structure, individuals are allocated to projects based on need, availability, region, and other factors. While this fluid structure has definite merits, it also presents leaders with the challenge of dealing with ambiguous budgets, authority, accountability, and performance evaluation.
Leading in a matrix structure, therefore, requires an implementation strategy unlike that of traditional management. Five core skills are necessary for leaders to be successful operating in a more fluid matrix environment.
- Building Trust. In a traditional organization design, individuals know who their direct manager is and rely on that person for their workplace needs. However, in a matrix structure, employees can be allocated to numerous managers. Building trust quickly with multiple people is crucial to getting work done efficiently across department lines.
- Influencing Others. Given that decision making is distributed in a matrix organization, it is important for leaders to develop their negotiation skills. Because resources will be flexed and shared, leaders need to know how to make a case for the resources they need—and how to accomplish agency goals through influence rather than command and control tactics.
- Understanding and Appreciating Differences. Leaders in a matrix organization have frequent interactions with people with whom they do not have a daily relationship. Therefore, it is critical for them to understand subtle variations in the way others process information, evaluate ideas, and make decisions.
- Managing Conflict. Conflict is not uncommon in a matrix environment. Resources are seldom aligned to budgets controlled by one person, which creates a need for negotiating win-win outcomes. In this regard, leaders need to know how to clearly communicate their desired results, understand the needs of others, and develop solutions that address multiple stakeholder interests.
- Having Constructive Conversations. Engaging in tactful and effective dialogue when there are differences of opinion and emotions are running high. In particular, leaders need to be more planful to exercise patience and discipline in their communication style.
The matrix organization holds great promise for those that are able to operate within it successfully. With practice, the matrix environment allows organizations to operate more effectively and cross functionally to better serve customers—or, in the case of government, citizens. Leaders who evaluate themselves and others in their organization in each of these areas will give their organization a head start toward more effectively meeting the needs of the people they serve.