Judy Dobles, General Management Consulting


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  • In today’s business world, almost every organization is a matrix.  This structure provides both benefits and frustrations to staff.  The benefit to an individual is that they get to participate more broadly in a business. This makes work much more interesting and creates a learning environment.  The frustration comes when, as an individual, you are responsible for getting a piece of work done that requires input and participation of others from different organizations.  Many times it feels like your work is not very high on someone else’s to-do list, even though you are being held accountable for the result by your boss.

    Here are 4 tips that have worked well for me and my teams.

    [1] Give something to get something.  With deadline pressures constantly looming, it is hard to think about carving out time to help others.  Whenever you ask someone for their input or participation always follow up with this question: Is there anything I can do to help you?   By asking you acknowledge that their time is valuable.  You show them that if they need help you are there for them.

    [2] Let managers participate in prioritizing the work.  The best example of this is the time when the finance team I supervised supported a large manufacturing organization.  The organization had 10 departments, one superintendent and one assistant superintendent.  All day long people would walk into our finance office and ask for information and analysis.  The deadlines  would always be tomorrow.  None of it was superfluous.  However, it absolutely overwhelmed the finance team and the manufacturing organization felt finance was not supporting them properly.  So, the finance team and I made a wall chart that listed all the items on the to-do list and their deadlines.  Then we asked the superintendent and assistant superintendent for help prioritizing.  By having a visible list, everyone finally saw the entire picture.  The manufacturing leaders helped us set priorities.  As a result, the client got the information and analyzes they wanted and finance had a balanced workload.

    [3] Communicate realistic deadlines and provide as much lead-time as possible.   There is a cartoon periodically circulated that goes:  Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.  Way too often, an individual waits to the last minute to ask someone for the information or participation required.  You owe it to anyone that is helping you to give them as much notice as possible.  That allows them to work it into their schedule easily.

    [4] Know when to play the help card.   Every so often, you know will need your supervisor’s assistance.  For example, asking finance for help right in the middle of quarter close will not result in finance dropping everything to help you.  In this case, more senior leadership needs to be involved to either get the help that is needed now or re-set the timeline to a later date.

    In a matrix environment, I think the benefits outweigh the frustrations.  A few simple guidelines make  it  possible to be efficient and effective.  What has helped you personally to manage in a matrix environment?

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