Sunday, 19 February 2012

Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place?

Matrix Management is a style of management where an individual has two reporting superiors – one Functional and the other Operational. Matrix management brings in some interesting dynamics to the work place that you wouldn’t see in the traditional organization where each person reports to one boss. With many companies going global, matrix management is more prevalent these days.
I would like to define the 2 terms for the purposes of this blog:
Functional/Line manager is a person who directly manages employees and is responsible for the administrative management of the individual as well as the functional management.  They control the compensation and evaluation of the employee. They also control the vision, strategic goals of the team.
Project/Operational managers, are responsible for directing the work of employees, but are not responsible for the administrative management of those individuals. They do not discipline the employee, promote/demote them, do salary adjustments, etc. but have inputs
Matrix Management works very well at senior levels where the Functional,Operational and their senior manager are all in synch with the same Vision, Goals and Project priorities for the team. Having been both a manager and an employee in matrix organizations, I have seen interesting, Complex Dynamic Scenarios in the work place when it is not set up right.
Think of the individual in a matrix organization whose two bosses cannot get along with each other. The two managers could push and pull the employee in different directions and make the employee work life very difficult. In such a situation, the employee can align with:
a)      The Functional manager
b)      The Project manager
c)      Do the right thing for the company and team and not align with anybody for the sake of aligning
d)      Try to align with (or appear to) both of them
e)      Take advantage of the 2 bosses and not get any work done!

Typically the Functional manager controls the compensation and evaluation of the employee. The employee can align with the Functional manager but tactically he/she has to spend most of the time working with the Project manager. Day to day activities could become a problem as the Project manager might not be supportive. The Functional manager is not aware of the employee’s accomplishments unless the manager puts in extra effort to understand and evaluate the accomplishments of the employee. Most of the time, due to the lack of good working relationship between the 2 bosses, the evaluation will be incorrect.
If the employee aligns with the Project manager, day to day activities will work fine. Since the Project manager is not responsible for the long term interests of the employee, they will not ensure that the employee morale, career aspirations are met. The Functional manager may not like the employee working well with the Project manager and could retaliate.
Employee can go about doing the right thing for the team, project and company and choose not to align with either of the bosses. But when it comes to time for promotion and bigger responsibilities, both the managers may not be supportive of the employee. They would rather support someone who is aligned to them.
The employee can try to align with both the bosses one for strategic decisions and one for tactical decision. I would think this situation could be compared to a kid with divorced parents who are pulling the kid in different directions. I believe this is not a long term solution either.
The worst case is where an employee takes advantage of the situation and does not get any work done. This is bad for the company and for everyone around.
Senior manager to both the bosses – who is responsible for the matrix organization, needs to be very aware of the dynamics and ensure that the team is fine even with the conflict between the two bosses.
The 2 bosses need to take the responsibility of ensuring that their differences do not hurt the employee or the team. The onus is on the managers, especially the Functional manager to make things right for their employee and this is the only right and ethical thing to do. But if such is not the case, I personally do not believe that any options that I have mentioned from an employee point of view will work in the long run. What do you think?