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Part 2: Challenges in Matrix Structures that can be addressed by Executive Coaching

Posted on October 11, 2010 at 4:12 AM

This paper was writtenby Lina Nangalia PCC as part of her doctoral work at XLRI, Jamshedpur.

 

Part 2:  Challenges in Matrix structures that can beaddressed by Executive Coaching

 

     According to (Wellman, 2007), the matrix structurediffers from traditional organizational structure in three ways: it disregardsthe unity of command since individuals report to at least two managers; itencourages integration of labour rather than division of labour; and finally itchallenges traditional hierarchies since technical experts are viewed as starathletes and management is viewed like the coach of the team.  This means that the culture in matrixorganizations would differ from that of traditional organizations.  Wellman explains that the matrix organizationexerts a powerful influence on culture in the following ways: 


First, ambiguity is afact of life as individuals are assigned to more than one program and are movedbetween programs as required. 


Second, there isongoing confusion about who their boss is in terms of the program manager orthe functional manager.  There iscontinual conflict over resources and continual changing of priorities.  Thus the leadership in matrix organizationsmust acknowledge and continually work to contain such anxiety.


Another aspect ofmatrix cultures is the time spent in discussion rather than quick decisionmaking.  It seems that each decision requiresa series of meetings.  Thus, consensusbuilding and the role of influence is a part of the matrix culture.  Leaders need to develop capable andexperienced managers who have the judgment and maturity to make decisionsthrough consensus and using influence. Leaders must also continually share organizational strategies andpriorities so that management decisions can be make within an appropriatecontext.


This author feels thatin many Indian IT organizations, many in the leadership team have not had adequatetime and exposure to develop the maturity required to manage large teams.Companies try to run short management development programs to develop theirmanagers but such quick fixes often fail to achieve results. A study by (Dunn, 2001) clearly brought outthat project managers had a significant responsibility of project teammembers.  They found that in a matrixstructure functional managers have influence over hygiene factors while projectmanagers have significant influence over the motivator factors.  The hygiene factors and motivators were asdeveloped by Fredrick Herzberg.


Explaining the impactof the human side of organization structure, (Sy& Cote, 2004) point out that it is not the organization structure that leads tobusiness success but the implementation of the interpersonal components;neglecting the interpersonal components contributes to a failing organizationalstructure.  They too point out that theinterpersonal challenges of managing in the matrix include misaligned goals andsilo focused employees.  They explainthat misaligned goals increase competition and therefore conflict amongemployees.  The inability of team membersto resolve conflicting goals leads to polarization of groups and impacts theentire unit’s performance.  The ambiguityabout roles and responsibilities creates discomfort and confusion amongstemployees.  Management is often not ableto clarify the employees’ roles and responsibilities due to the changingenvironment and expect that the employees would make the necessaryadjustments.  However, because employeesseek clarity, they find it difficult to make the necessary adjustments. 


The dual reportingstructures also lead to tension and conflict as leaders are unaccustomed toworking collaboratively and jockey for control and power.  This tension and conflict delays and impactsthe quality of decisions.  The quality ofdecision making is also affected by the prevalent silo focus.  While frequency of communication in matrixforms is high, the quality of communication is low. 

Often cooperationlevels are low because employees behave in ways that benefit their subunit butare detrimental to the organization as a whole. Traditional organization structures do not require the high degree of collaborationthat is required in matrix structures. Therefore, employees have not developedthe interpersonal skills that are necessary to work in an interdependentenvironment.  


Even leaders who arecomfortable operating with a ‘command and control’ mindset that works well intraditional hierarchical organizations are unable to use influencing skills andbuild networks for cooperation that are essential in a matrix structure.  The authors recommend that developing theemotional intelligence of team members will enable more effective functioningof the matrix as concerned individuals learn to develop and manage their socialrelationships at work. 


Emotionallyintelligent individuals are able to manage their frustration and stress as theydeal with misaligned goals; they have the ability to prevent their frustrationsfrom making their discussions unproductive. Emotionally intelligent individuals are able to remain calm andaccurately predict how anxiety can impact discussions by noticing the tensionin themselves and in others.  They manageanger and other unproductive emotions which can affect the quality ofdecisions.  Their strong empathy enhancesthe quality of their social relationships and helps reduce their silo focus.  According to the authors emotionalintelligence can be improved through training and development programs such ascoaching and 3600 feedback.


This author has hadconsiderable success in improving the behaviours of senior leadership teammembers through executive coaching. However, getting the matrix organization tofunction effectively needs more than just development of a few key executives,it needs a culture change. The importance of culture is explored next in Part3.

 

 

 

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