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So much of the content in Manager-Tools is, quite rightly, focused on making yourself as Manager, and your Team more effective. But what if you don't [i]have[/i] a team?
Our (IT) organisation has implemented a 'resource pool' model, where analysts and developers are selected from a 'pool' for the duration of the project, then they either migrate to another project team, or go back into the 'pool'.
This means that coaching, mentoring, etc. can only be based on a manager's recent knowledge of that individual, as they are not around long enought to really get to know them. So called 'Practice' managers have been created to facilitate the career guidance, run the appraisals, etc.
The results of this are two-fold -
1) The individuals get limited feedback, as their managers feel that they have a limited responsibility since the staff member isn't going to be around for longer than a few months anyway.
B) In my view, this has resulted in at least a partial loss of the effectiveness of teams. No longer are they "greater than the sum of their parts". There is no sense of belonging, no camaraderie, no competitive spirit.
Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating the effects a little; it's not quite as desperate as that, but do you see my point?

Has anyone else had this experience or seen this model in operation?
If so, do you agree with my opinions of the effects?
And lastly, how do you convince senior management to change things?

Regards
Chris

cincibuckeyenut's picture

I would argue that the situation you describe is MORE critical to apply MT than others because if you want to be more effective, you have to build those relationships more frequently.

That and it is much less likely that your peers are doing it, which will in turn make you look that much better to your boss. But that is really an aside. :)

chaser's picture

This sounds like an application of treating human beings like machines. The reality is that even on IT projects where it appears from a high level that programmer A is the same as programmer B, the reality is that the interaction of these team members with each other and the rest of the group has a huge impact on the overall business.

I have seen this work to a certain extent but this seems like an extreme case. Some of the things that have worked in the past are to quickly kickoff and generate excitement and team spirit. Even on a short term project you can do some team building things that bring everyone together. Don't ignore the social aspects.

Mentoring needs to occur, but this can occur with the type of structure you describe. One technique is to set up technical team leaders that lead this aspect of the business regardless of reporting structure. For example all C++ coders are part of a pool led by John Smith, John doesn't direct their day to day activities but has responsibility for the coaching and mentoring of all C++ developers. He works with them on career path and is likely the major input into the performance management. So what I am saying is rather than having the current project leader be this person, you can develop the long term manager relationship with the functional expert and the project expert directs day to day.

It is difficult to manage in this environment, but it can work.

bflynn's picture

[quote="CDavies-uk"]Our (IT) organisation has implemented a 'resource pool' model, where analysts and developers are selected from a 'pool' for the duration of the project, then they either migrate to another project team, or go back into the 'pool'.
This means that coaching, mentoring, etc. can only be based on a manager's recent knowledge of that individual, as they are not around long enought to really get to know them. So called 'Practice' managers have been created to facilitate the career guidance, run the appraisals, etc. [/quote]

I understand yoru frustration - your world at work changed and you're not in the same job anymore.

This is called a matrix organization - I have some experience with it. There are well recognized issues, but there can be some great benefits too.

Cinci is correct - it is important to apply the MT principles along both axes of the matrix. Employees can get lost in the matrix and need to maintain relationships along both sides. Unfortunately, it can be easy to push off the interpersonal side (ie, not do o3s, talk about mentoring, work on promotions, etc).

[quote="CDavies-uk"]
The results of this are two-fold -
1) The individuals get limited feedback, as their managers feel that they have a limited responsibility since the staff member isn't going to be around for longer than a few months anyway.
B) In my view, this has resulted in at least a partial loss of the effectiveness of teams. No longer are they "greater than the sum of their parts". There is no sense of belonging, no camaraderie, no competitive spirit.[/quote]

Your issues #1 isn't that individuals get limited feedback in a matrix - the issue is that individuals get limited feedback. I suspect they would get limited feedback regardless of the organizational form. It can be worse with the matrix, because an employee essentially has two managers, neither of whom is likely to fully take charge of the relationship.

Issue #2 has been recognized for a while. Its true and I can think of nothing that changes it. It can help if teams stay together longer. Otherwise, a person's motivation will shift. They need their admin manager to really push for extra training and mentoring. A matrix breeds specialists who are very skilled at what they do. Individuals really need to take charge of their careers to avoid getting pigeon holed.

Matrixes can create higly utilized organizations. No one sits around for long because there is always work to do. Over time, they will tend to de-evolve into a bureaucracy and get less efficient - they need to be shook up from time to time.

Ultimately, it isn't your decision to make about the organizational form. You're stuck with it until upper bosses change it back. I recommend making positive suggestions - but you should realize that a matrix is a very valid form of organization. It will get the job done, which is really what the bosses care about most.

Brian

Cdavies-uk's picture

Thanks for the advice, everyone.

Mark's picture

Chris-

Sorry this has taken me so long! Here are my thoughts.

What you're talking about is the latest incarnation of the matrix organization, as Brian noted. It's used widely, but much more so in project- and technology-based firms.

To answer your questions:

Yes, I've had LOTS of experience with matrix orgs.
Yes, I agree with your opinion.
You don't convince senior management to change things.

To elaborate:

I don't like matrix orgs at ALL. I could talk for hours, but it boils down to this soundbite: if in non-matrix orgs the vast majority of folks don't have a good, developmental, professional communication relationship with their boss who writes their review, what makes anyone think things will get better with TWO bosses?

You're not going to get very far getting senior management to change things. They're invested in the new way.

What I'd recommend is being a great boss, and behaving as if you have full responsibility for anyone who is assigned to you, as if you were their "normal" boss. Yes, you only have them for 3 months, but that doesn't preclude feedback, coaching, one on ones, etc. Each time you get someone new, have a welcome meeting (future cast), and each time you lose someone, have a transition meeting (future cast).

Here's the great secret of this approach. Everyone else will be cutting back on "manager stuff". They won't develop, they won't manage their teams. They'll start behaving as if the people are interchangeable at some level.

And, at some point, they're going to come back to work for you, and word will get around that you're someone they WANT to work for.

I've recommended this to hundreds of matrix managers... I wish I knew how many of them had gotten promoted, but it's big.

Keep us posted!

Mark