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Making “Digital-Driven” Matrix Organizations Work
May 17,2017 [ by Larry Chao ] 1884 Read and 0 Comment

Matrix organization teams are larger and more difficult to manage today than ever before, writes Larry Chao. But by creating a disciplined mindset for execution, leaders can boost performance.

Thanks to digital technology, matrix organization teams have increased in size and complexity. 24-hour global communication has allowed more team members to participate in business planning and operations. Matrix organization teams have become diverse, geographically spread out, and culturally mixed.

Furthermore, agile competitors and fickle consumers create constant disruptions in the marketplace, which make it hard for matrix organization teams to execute smoothly. Oftentimes, integrated commercial masterplans designed to turn strategy into reality and orchestrate matrix activities are obsolete even before they are implemented.

To ensure large matrix organization teams can cope with rampant change, leaders need to create a disciplined mindset for execution. Put it another way, they need to distill and simplify what it takes to execute successfully.

Our work with over 100 multinational matrix organization teams in the past five years demonstrates the wisdom of disciplined execution. Paradoxically, the bigger more complex the matrix team, the more important it is to simplify. Leaders who create this single-minded focus on disciplined execution achieve the best results.

To create a disciplined mindset for execution, leaders need to ensure their matrix organization teams accomplish three tasks: [1] Define a few explicit objectives and show what success looks like, [2] Clarify expectations and roles, [3] Build trust and a sense of urgency for results.

Let me illustrate these three tasks with highlights from a recent workshop we conducted with a multinational consumer products client in Singapore.

This Asia-Pacific matrix leadership team was composed of leaders from five business units as well as six functions. The objective of the workshop was to accelerate performance.

After an honest discussion, we discovered there were three core problems: too many priorities, no ownership for results, and low trust.

To fix these problems, we came up with three solutions:

First, we identified and agreed on a few team objectives, based on original plans, market realities, and gaps in performance. We then described what success looked like for each objective, so the targets were sharp and there were no misinterpretations.

Updating plans to reflect market dynamics and establishing a few explicit team objectives ensured the team understood what was expected, and eliminated distractions.

Second, using explicit team objectives as a benchmark, we identified only essential work and clarified team member roles’ including accountabilities for results. This further coordinated effort on high impact tasks.

Third, we spent time building trust. With diverse team members communicating digitally, people worked at their own pace without a collective sense of urgency. Vital information was often poorly exchanged. This slowed decision-making and undermined trust. The solution was to develop a simple set of rules that guided how team members needed to act and treat each other.

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