Matrix overloaded.

This topic cuts close to the heart of my book "Mittelmaß und Wahnsinn" (Mediocrity and Madness). I am a strong believer in takers of responsibility. Only those who take responsibility stand a chance of achieving something. Consequentially, the design of organisations needs to foster taking responsibility. Yet with responsibility alone, you will still fail in trying to achieve something. You also need the means to act. Thus, any organisational design should strive to give proper means to those who take responsibility. Yet with all the means and the burden of responsibility, the question remains: why should I even try to achieve it. The answer is: because you have the opportunity to earn the merits for your achievements. Thus, any organisational design should align responsibilities, means and rewards. Wouldn't that be the essential design principle?


Then we would also be close to what Dan Pink says truly motivates us: purpose, autonomy, mastery! There would be a lot more to say about responsibilities (eg, individual vs. group) and rewards (eg, bonuses being overrated and underrated at the same time) but these are topics for another post. For today, let's have a glance at how organisational designs deliver on the principle of aligning responsibilities, means and rewards. Here's another starter from the book:


“The Matrix is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth“

Morpheus, The Matrix


"... The 'Global Head of Digital Customer Interaction' is -- amongst other things and at the same time -- responsible for sales in Southern Europe as well as member of the 'I-tribe' that is to drive innovation cross-functionally and across countries. In his capacity as 'Global Head', the 'Regional Heads' are reporting into him whilst he has a dotted reporting line to the 'Chief Digital Officer' and somehow also to the 'Chief Marketing Officer', both -- of course -- 'global'. In his role as regional sales manager, he is reporting to the regional CEO but is also related to the 'Global Sales Officer' whilst the local 'Chief Sales Officers' report into him, at least 'dotted line'.

The i-tribe eventually is supposed to be self-organising but reports on a monthly basis to a steering committee whose primary constituents are the 'Global Chief Innovation Officer', the CEO, the 'Chief Digital Officer' and the 'Chief Operating Officer'. In addition, a group of local Members of the Board from different functions act as a 'sounding board' ..."

A dialectic transformation

You see where that takes us (and there is more in the book). We dilute responsibilities across the entire organisation, we do not dedicate means  at all and the merits for success can be claimed by everyone whilst the pain of (don't use that word!) failure is comfortably diluted again. Not really what our design principle of aligning responsibilities, means and rewards demands.

From its very first day, everybody knew that the matrix would be a tradeoff. Yet with a world growing ever more VUCA, it assumed a life of its own. In a dialectic transformation, its apparent weaknesses were turned into alleged strengths. Eg, it would foster the need to communicate ... in order to make it work. Communication today is regarded as a value as such but if you look at it from another angle, the need for communication also makes rather inefficient, especially when you look into your calendar and have to schedule the next point of interaction in two weeks' time.  The matrix continues being fixed and patched. Eg, by adding even more committees and new relations.

An agile ornament

Software developers always hated the matrix. If you want to develop working code, you need firm requirements (at least temporarily), you need a stable environment (task switching kills), you need questions being answered quickly and you strive for pride in your creation (with no little sense for aesthetics by the way). That's why software developers invented "AGILE".

At the heart of agile are small autonomous teams that can dedicate their full effort to one goal (ie, delivery to the customer). Compared to this, the daily standup is rather ornamental. This is also what makes or beaks agile. Do I organise work around products being delivered by autonomous teams? Or do I just add fancily named patches to old structures and habits?

The other day, we talked about The Answer (and the desire for it) and I refused to give the definite one. I also refuse to fully bash the matrix. The world is complex indeed and there are definitely more lines connecting the dots. But at the same time I would strongly argue that striving to find an organisation that is built on the principle of autonomy instead of dilution, around products instead of relations as such would be a major part of any answer.


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