How To Make a Matrix Operating Model WorkThere has been much written about how to conquer, master, lead, contribute to, manage, etc., in a matrix organization. And, most of this is well thought through and helpful to people needing to understand this kind of organizational model. Over the years I have seen organizations apply these models and observed how insufficient they can be. Intellectual understanding is just the first step. Success is dependent on the quality of interpersonal relationships.

We can shift mindsets, learn and apply new tools to clarify roles, interdependencies and decision processes. All fine. However, I often have found some basics missing elements can cause regression if not total logjams. People can understand the matrix, yet until they live in this new world with an understanding of the similarities and differences of how they and their colleagues prefer to think, decide and lead under normal times, as well as under stress, the success of the matrix is at risk of producing the sweeping change that is intended.

Consider this: Your organization has just announced a major change in the global operating model to one where country leaders no longer exist as masters of their domain. They are focused on convening and leading and/or participating in multifunctional/multi-country teams to address major strategic opportunities and/or issues that are really important to the future of the enterprise. You attend several meetings where the new model is explained, and roles, processes and decision models are detailed. Now the reality sets in. How are you going to work this new model with people you don’t really know? How will you get to know them well enough to work through the conflicts that are inherent in this new operating model? Sound familiar?

Or, how about this scenario? You are an executive who has been leading your organization through a 2-year transformation to a matrix structure. This makes total strategic sense. Over the course of this time while fixed costs are down, the number of meetings has increased, the pace of bringing innovations to market has slowed and you seem to spending an increasing amount of time clarifying roles and interdependencies with your executive team. And, at times, moderating disagreements about turf. You are wondering if this will ever really work without a wholesale change across executive ranks. Sound familiar?

Here’s a suggestion to consider. Start by learning about yourself. Next learn about your colleagues. Then apply this learning to map out specific ways to meet one another where you all are regarding preferences for thinking, decision-making and leading. Why? Simple, because you are all different and that difference can disable or enable great things for your organization in the matrix. Our differences service as filters for choosing how we lead and contribute in the matrix.

I have some simple tools that will help you. Or you can access them yourself. My top 3 are the Hermann Brain Dominance Instrument (thinking preference), Meyers Briggs (decision-making preference) and The Leadership Wheel (leadership preference under normal and stressful times).

And, the reason these are my top picks is that they provide very practical suggestions about how to build and sustain relationships in business, with colleagues, associates and customers.

Know thyself first, then seek to understand others. Finally, meet people where they are as people first, in the matrix.