Ice Cream and Matrix Management

HiRes 4Mummy and Daddy need to talk.

The Ice Cream. It was a warm Sunday afternoon in England. One of those rare ones, where summer seemed to get it’s head around what is was supposed to be like.

I was slobbed out on the sofa watching F1. My favourite sport, and nothing gets in the way of my concentration when the race is on. So when my eldest, then about 5, came and asked “Daddy, can I have an ice cream?” my brain allocated a couple of cells only to the thought and reply.

“Sure, hot today isn’t it, oh and get one for me while you are there.”

About ten minutes later the only thing that can get my attention away from the race (yes guys, you all know who that is) came in like a tornado. I’m not going to try and repeat the exact conversation, but it hinged around stupidity (mine) the idiocy of giving ice cream to children on a Sunday afternoon half an hour before their dinner, spoiling appetites, thoughtlessness (mine again), etc, etc.

But I’m not completely daft. I learned. So the next time the child came and enquired about ice cream (substitute chocolate, playing with water, getting a puppy) I smiled and enquired “What did Mummy say?”

“Doh!” said child and went away resolving to catch me out next time.

The Matrix. No question, in an international organisation, the ever growing presence of matrix structures is a good thing. It is the most efficient way to utilise resources across geography. Unfortunately, no one gets taught how to lead or follow in the matrix.

We tend to think and behave according to the traditional hierarchical rules of organisation structure.

At the simplest level we often see an individual reporting in two directions. For example a product specialist reporting in to their country head, and to a regional or global product specialist. The phrase I hear is “Actually it’s rather difficult, no-one really report direct to me, they are just a dotted line. They report to  .  .” And, I hear this from BOTH of the leaders!

Just imagine the confusion for the subordinate in question. Who is managing their performance? Who is developing their abilities?

Those of you who loved the movie will remember Morpheus saying “You can’t describe The Matrix. You have to see it for yourself.”

The same is true in the organisation. Everyone’s position and relationships in the matrix is different.

So here is a guiding principle. There are no dotted lines. All matrix connections are solid. An individual reports to someone on the aspects of their work that impact that persons results. The two or more people the individual report to need to agree, and communicate to the subordinate, how they will handle the situation. Who deals with what and based on what priorities. And they must keep communicating.

Yes, Mummy and Daddy need to talk.

About Tony Latimer

Master Executive Coach in Singapore and Asia to Leaders in Transition. Bringing Profitable Leadership to international organizations. Expert management and leadership coaching skills training. Co-Author of The Handbook of Knowledge Based Coaching: From Theory to Practice & Coaching in Asia: The First Decade.