Monday, February 27, 2017
How do you succeed when your team does not report to you ?
The review meeting was getting hot and interesting; the function head was being questioned on the lack of leadership and ability to influence business units to follow defined standards; after all he had defined the standards and formulated implementation guidelines. Then why was he not able to get the business to follow them ? Weren’t the standards touted as industry benchmark, leading edge best practices, and emerging technologies that would put the group in leadership position locally and among the best globally ?
Matrix organizations have interesting group dynamics; there is functional reporting normally a dotted line to the department head and a straight line reporting typically to business unit in a diversified business group or geographical unit like a country head in a multinational company. In almost all cases the straight line drives the agenda for the person with the dotted line is left to drive synergies, cost optimization, standards, governance models, and the unified agenda across business units/countries.
For the newly inducted CIO it was not the first time working in a matrix structure, his earlier avatar had clearly defined boundaries for each role. At every node of the matrix the accountabilities were commensurate to the authority vested and influence expected. He had thrived in the position that helped bring value to both sides; his managers – straight line and dotted – acknowledged the contribution and maturity. Teams within his span of control as well as the matrix into which he reported enjoyed good relationships.
He took the role for its larger span of control, a different industry and domain, the challenge and the opportunities the new role presented and off course monetary value. Overall it appeared to be a great jump from his prior assignment which had reached a plateau. Reality hit him hard on his head when he met his peers and collective boss – the CEO in the first management meeting. The structure was unique to him and the dynamics hitherto unknown, made his skin crawl on his ability to create professional success.
Each group function head played two roles: the first to set strategy, direction and define standards that the group was expected to follow. This part was easy for most of the CXOs and function heads who were knowledgeable and well recognized as high performers in the industry. The group of experts thus depended on the partner ecosystem to help them craft the solutions and processes that were expected to be followed by business units; implementation was also left to the respective business unit functional heads.
Business functional teams were not obligated to follow directives or policies defined by the group; they could almost get away with anarchy. Matrix reporting had created a structure that the straight line manager could override the dotted or define alternate path for his business unit. It would appear to be a ceremonial position with a lot of responsibility but no authority to control outcomes, a fact that did not surface during the interview. Results were expected from the titular heads to ensure that the group has synergies and commonality.
The specific case really did not matter, it required a different structure and approach to solve the problem at hand. The Group CIO reasoned it out with the Group CEO and other peers in the room to highlight limitations the structure imposed; he also pointed out cases where mandates were followed, the group heads had ensured that respective members were subservient or underqualified thus open to listening and following diktats. The problem it created was larger than the current issue being discussed with suboptimal talent.
Making some sense to those present, the CIO pushed forth the agenda to unify the team; while the structure could be amended over a period of time, he gained acceptance to the idea and way of working. Step by step he worked on the antagonists to the idea, nudging, pushing, helping them win, he brought them to neutral ground within 6 months. A surge of activity followed with the group now harmonized and working with agility and synergizing effort, they reduced individual budget allocations and time to market.
Is the model replicable ? The answer is yes though requiring significant effort beyond normal for the leader to bring everyone to common and shared objectives. Instances can be found widespread of failure to capitalize on such an opportunity, accepting destiny and remaining an Advisor whose knowledge and expertise stays underleveraged by enterprises. Power struggles are always detrimental to progress, it would serve leaders and corporations well to recognize these before they become a malaise for the company.