Institute of Transformational Coaching LLC
  • 10 tips to master the Matrix
    July 26 2017 BY Vishwanath P

    10 tips to master the Matrix
    Having been insiders in a matrix organization and watched several others from close quarters, we’re often besieged by questions from both nostalgic old timers and overwhelmed newcomers on how to navigate these seemingly complex and confounding structures. And as if Matrixes were not complex enough, there is now talk of Spaghetti structures (yes, you heard it right) and Velcro organizations!

    The long and short of it is that if you are among those reporting to multiple bosses across functions and geographies and have team members who report to you as well as others, you are smack in the middle of a Matrix organization. Here's our prediction - these organization structures are here to stay. Our intent in this article is to provide you with crucial tips to being successful in such a context.

    Tip 10: Ignorance is not bliss know thy context 

    Context is king and if you haven't heard that before, it's worth repeating over and over. An organization, if anything, is a complex web of relationships and information flows. And like any network, there are `busy nodes' through which a lot of the traffic passes and there are the `isolates' which are not privy to much traffic. Be a busy node and stay `tuned in' to the organizational context. It's important to be discerning and learn to differentiate the real from the chaff. Your success often lies in being able to hear and act on the ‘unstated’. And always remember that isolated nodes eventually drop off the network. `Being in the know' is not about politics, it's about survival.

    Tip 9: Stay on the radar and own your airtime 

    As with public memory, organizational memory is short. That you exist is a fact that should be known to more people than you. Do your own media planning. Airtime is in short supply. Make sure you are visible on the social media. Blog. Comment. Like. 

    Never miss an opportunity to address people or harp on your exploits. Occupy people's mind spaces. Get invited to meetings and parties. And remember, if you repeat the right things long enough, even you may veer around to believing it! 

    Tip 8: Find Godfathers, sponsors and ambassadors
    While one Godfather was enough in the pyramid, a matrix structure requires you to create multiple sponsors (yes, you need to hedge your risks). Ensure that they benefit from your progress. Stay connected. Let your left hand know what your right is doing. All your sponsors must know positive information about your doings. Also, create your ambassadors. It helps to have others re-substantiate your claims! If you have a team working for you, they could be a great means to disseminating positive information about you.

    Tip 7: Identify, escalate and solve problems (not necessarily in that order)

    There is this classic fallacy that exists in organizations that solving problems is the biggest challenge. We beg to differ. We think identifying a problem and then defining it is often the most difficult part. How many books have you read on how to formulate problems? Organizations obviously have scores of problems, but the best are able to pick the critical ones (the 80:20 rule) and then not only provide a solution, but also
    ensure that everyone knows about it. Remember, often you don't have to solve the problem, you have to enable a solution.

    Tip 6: Pick your battles

    There are two kinds of battles fought on organizational turf - low power wars of attrition fought over long periods and the highly visible quick thrust and parry battle. Choose your battles. Engaging in the longer versions very seldom yield positive results. If you opt for the shorter version, be careful who you fight with. And remember, winning doesn't matter always. Sometimes being bloodied and wounded makes for a great photograph and oodles of sympathy and the general sentiment is always to identify with the underdog. But while being a martyr guarantees you friends, it may not
    guarantee your job! Our advice? Always pick `causes' and `principles' to fight for and make that known. And it's obvious that if you can focus your energies on fewer battles, your chances of making something out of it are better. 

    Tip 5: Letting go

    One of the lessons my juggling instructor always emphasized was that juggling is not about catching the balls; it is about letting the balls go. We find that a true metaphor for life and especially so in matrix organizations. You do not own your resources, whether it is your people or material resources. So be prepared to let your people go whether it means their moving to other departments or other functions or geographies. Top it by
    being magnanimous about the whole thing. A similar attitude is a big help when you allow for sharing your other resources as well. Everything returns. Somebody said that about the rules of gravity, but it certainly applies to organizations as well. And often, they come back with a great deal of good will. 

    Tip 4: Cultivate networks

    You must have heard this often enough, but it needs greater emphasis. It is not enough to know people. It is important to be able to help and ask for help. Cultivation means investment in it and also reaping the rewards. People in positions of power like to help. So ask for it and be prepared to help in return. A favor exchanged makes for a much stronger network than just knowing each other socially or professionally. 

    Tip 3: E-mail quick, short and often

    In this highly virtual world, perceptions about you are often based on your responses to e-mails. This is a no brainer be quick to respond. Writing shorter mails gives you the advantage of processing a greater number of mails a day. More importantly, leverage the medium to stay connected. A colleague , often drops a mail just saying a `Hi `to stay in touch. It has kept the person's multiple relationships alive and people appreciate that
    you think about them. These short notes are great ways to manage how you are perceived.

    Tip 2: Personalize, personalize, personalize - a little extra care goes a long way

    Whether it is in your mails or one-on-one meetings, be sure to personalize your response and treat everyone as a human being who also has a context outside the professional one. Your association acquires greater depth when you connect to people in both these contexts. 

    Our grandmothers and mothers were right - people like being fussed over and taken care of. Go out of your way to do simple and unexpected things. Gift a book or piece of music that the person likes. Send them a cake on their anniversary. Wouldn't you feel positively inclined towards someone who got you invites to a play you may otherwise have missed?

    Tip 1: Remember, your influence is boundaryless

    This is the matrix mantra you must never forget. Organizations are full of white spaces that belong to those who lay claim to them. That somebody does not come under your department tree does not exclude him from being `influenced' or `persuaded'. While we do not recommend coercive persuasion (do read Edgar Schein's research in the area if the concept interests you), you have to leverage your influence across your organization's boundaries. Like most influential leaders, you must have an opinion about most things and state them, whether it is on organization strategy or the Kyoto Protocol. You shouldn't be `territorial' and keep your influence restricted. So claim your space, especially when it comes to crucial decisions. Never feel shy of deploying your influence even if it is outside your departmental tree. 

    The more you engage with other parts of the organization, the more they start engaging back with you. In short, your "circle of influence". Remember, not all influence is derived out of expertise - it can often be built with just pure lung power. 

    We swear by these rules. They are fairly commonsensical, but then you know what they say about common sense being fairly uncommon. We hope they will be of some value to you. For those already grappling with matrixes, feel free to add your own insights and for the uninitiated, who are moving towards matrixes, enjoy the ride.

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