I work in a company that has recently gone to a matrix environment. It is kind of a disaster because no one seems to know what that means. Trying to get anyone to make a decision so I can move forward with projects on a deadline is making work incredibly stressful. I pride myself on getting things done on time, and I am going to be late on several key deliverables through no fault of my own.
I have at least two bosses now and am not sure which person to go to for what. One of them is not at all interested in letting go of her previous unilateral authority and is resisting my efforts to get the buy-in I need from her before I move ahead with things.
I am really struggling. Any ideas would be helpful.
Dear Matrix Madness,
Yours isn’t the first (and won’t be the last) company to adopt a shift to a matrix organizing structure without properly preparing everyone. (For details on matrix organizations, click here.) It is a source of universal suffering—and until things get worked out, you will have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Essentially, your company (like many others) is trying to get everyone in the organization to be more included, which will eventually help all of you manage the complexity of your business. Moving to a matrix is supposed to break down silos and solve the problem of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing. And it can—it just causes a fair amount of chaos first.
I have a few ideas, all of which come from working with clients who have been through a similar change.
- First, try to relax. Everyone is upside down, not just you. Identify the projects you are responsible for that are critical and time sensitive. Ask yourself: Will a customer be upset if the project is late? Will other projects be held up if things are delayed on my end? Once you have identified those, communicate with anyone who may be affected by your delays. Anything you can do to avoid disappointing people and to manage expectations on your deadlines will help relieve your anxiety.
- Try to escalate the extent of the confusion to the company leadership. Your organization has adopted a massive change effort without taking the steps to educate and bring people along, which is why one boss is not onboard and is causing static for you. Maybe there is a way for you to ask for more training or more direction on what it means to work in a matrix.
- A matrix will force you to act more like a leader. Communicate in writing all decisions and all intel you have to anyone who needs to be involved in a decision. Provide deadlines for feedback along with your own recommendations. Make clear when you will be moving forward, so that everyone knows their input is needed by a certain time.
- Half your problem is that the change has been implemented as you are mid-project with many things, so that makes it harder. In the future, at the beginning of new projects, use a RACI chart so you know who to involve at what step. A RACI is a time honored way for setting up a project that clarifies who needs to be involved and how. I know a lot of people learn this in business school—it seems to be immediately forgotten, but is incredibly useful.
A RACI chart identifies the following:
R — Responsible – who is responsible for doing the work on a daily basis and making sure each item that needs to get done has an owner and is tracked.
A — Accountable – who is ultimately accountable for getting a goal or task completed, has the power to approve or veto actions or final product.
C — Consulted – who needs to have input into how the task gets done, whose opinion must be sought through two-way conversation. This step is often overlooked, which can cause a lot of problems.
I — Informed – who has an interest in the work because it will affect them in some way and needs to be kept up to date and notified of results. This can usually be a one-way communication.
Just because you are midstream with some of your projects doesn’t mean you can’t at least try to figure out the RACI now.
Dealing with your recalcitrant boss is a whole separate issue. You might want to have a one on one with her to explain why you feel the need to loop more people into decision making. Certain kinds of managers who experience having certain kinds of information and making decisions as a form of power can really struggle in a shift to a matrix. You might share this article with her and maybe even the RACI chart idea. You may end up having to go around her—which will certainly decrease her power and relevance—but you can’t really control her behavior.
You are obviously a dedicated and responsible contributor. Learning to navigate this disruption without letting yourself get upset will serve you well. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. You are going to be fine.
Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
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