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Matrix management evolved to enable organisations to deal with more complex issues. While it can be effective at improving information distribution and managing multiple aspects of product distribution, matrix management can also lead to increased conflicts.
Research typically points to several conflict sources including ambiguous goals, uncertainty regarding decision making rights, and mixed employee loyalties.
The graphs below are Profiles from the Extended DISC set of psychometric tools. These Profiles (two people from the same matrix organised facility) are both showing the affect on employees under pressure and uncertain what is expected of them in their current role and work environment. These profiles are typically the result of uncertainty in the workplace – this evidenced by the small profile on the left (Profile I, their adjusted style).
Additionally, for both employees, Profile II (on the right) is “pushed up”, i.e. there is very little of the graph below the mid-line, this tells us that the person is feeling “pressured”. This is likely the emotional response to the uncertainty demonstrated in Profile I.
While conflicts may be natural in matrix settings, they do not have to lead to dysfunction.
Some conflicts can be prevented by leaders taking time to clarify the organisation’s larger goals. This can help prevent confusion over which goals take precedence, as well as how to deal with confusion that may subsequently arise. A similar approach can address who owns the right to make which decisions; and how disagreements over decisions can be managed.
If the above action was taken, we would expect the size and position of both Profile I and II, in the graphs above, would grow in size (top to bottom) and also become more balanced (top to bottom) in the graphs. Management would then able to see clearly the impact of management issue had on their staff.
While some conflicts can be managed in advance, issues will still arise. Differences are a part of life and can actually benefit groups when they are managed effectively. To do this an organisation using matrix management will want to train its managers to see conflict as a natural part of doing business and as a potential source of creativity and improved decision making.
This requires creating norms for handling conflicts as they arise and developing constructive communication skills that managers can use to search for solutions instead of persons to blame.
The question of mixed loyalties can be harder to resolve. Does an employee owe more allegiance to a project team or to their functional department? This issue not only can cause confusion for the employee but it can also create dissension within a team. Although it would be nice if the problem didn’t exist, it often does.
The tight Profile I and high Profile II in the Extended DISC profiles above represent the pattern you would see in a team suffering distension. Extended DISC tools are often utilised by business and human resource consultants to diagnose team and organisational problems, and provide guidance in implementing appropriate corrective action.
One approach for leaders to take is bringing people from both groups together to stress the super-ordinate goals of the organisation. This can help create a sense of unity and loyalty to the bigger organisation.
While conflict is inevitable, it can be managed and can lead to better results when leaders take time to clarify issues and stress unity of purpose.
The Becoming Conflict Competent course workshops help people improve communication skills and processes that are crucial to engaging conflicts effectively. The course provides opportunities to safely practice techniques to manage emotions, discover the root causes of conflicts, and develop creative solutions to address them. Call 1800 768 569 or email us for more information.