Managing the Matrix: The Non-Negotiables
Managing the Matrix: The Non-Negotiables
It is through finding common ground at the need and interest level that both parties can reach mutually acceptable conclusions.
If you were to survey almost any professional group and ask who is working in a formal or informal matrix organization, chances are you'd see most hands in the air. Even if their companies have a formal organization structure aligned to market segments, products, or functional groups, most people have to contend with satisfying competing needs from multiple constituencies. All too often, the result is finding the "least worst" option rather than building agreements and reconciling the differences to serve all parties' needs and interests.
During the recent Best of OD Summit in Chicago, organizational design guru Amy Kates commented on this pervasive challenge in her keynote address. She pointed out that while collaboration and teaming skills are important to success in traditional non-matrix structures, when an organization adopts a matrix model these skills become essential. The ability to build lasting agreements and to reconcile differences between seemingly inconsistent demands is the operating system of the modern matrix organization.
So how do these operating systems elements work? We often say that agreements are the currency of collaboration. What distinguishes agreements that stick is the clarity and explicitness with which they are built. Unfortunately, this essential ingredient is often glossed-over or skipped with unfortunate results.
How to Build Agreement
The agreement-building process starts with someone making a proposal. A proposal is a suggestion or an offer made for the consideration of others. It may be a problem statement, an idea for a solution, a list of next steps and who will take them.
The second stage - which is too often skipped - is to check for shared understanding of the proposal. Parties may ask questions or paraphrase their existing understanding of the proposal to test what they understand of the intent and content of a proposal. Without understanding, it is impossible for team members to genuinely agree.
The third and final stage is checking for agreement. Parties indicate clearly they concur with the final version of the proposal and are willing to support implementation. Team agreements are the foundation of a collaborative approach to work and result in concerted, aligned action.
When Agreement-Building Goes Wrong
Most attempts at agreement building stop after the first stage, and parties may assume an agreement been reached because no one expressed an objection. Our own experience with this approach shows how this leads to disappointment and poor outcomes. Building shared understanding and checking for agreement don't guarantee that you've got an agreement, but you'll certainly know if you don't!
If you haven't reached agreement, there are a number of steps to take. Reconciling differences starts with an appreciation that the existence of differences is a positive sign that everyone is engaged and cares about the outcome. Reconciliation comes from inquiry to uncover the needs and interests that gave rise to the positions. Inquiry can increase understanding of the intent and content of a proposal. Without understanding, it is impossible for team members to genuinely agree.
A second step to reconciling differences is using evaluation and advocacy. In this step, parties assess the merits of a proposal and then urge the team to accept or decline the proposal. Some may even advocate for a new proposal. This stage requires team members to honestly and clearly express their opinions.
Reconciliation involves settling or resolving differences. During reconciliation, team members merge the best elements of differing options or points of view. It is through finding common ground at the need and interest level that both parties can reach mutually acceptable conclusions.
As companies move to customer-centric strategies, the need for innovation, organic growth and global expansion will result in new business models, ever changing portfolios, and intricate matrix relationships within the organization. In this environment, mastering the skill of agreement-building is a necessity.
Published on 06/30/08 11:41 AM