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Making Your Operating Culture More Productive: Five Tips You Can Implement Today

Making Your Operating Culture More Productive: 5 Tips You Can Implement Today

Your operating culture can drive company growth—or it can hold things back. The most effective operating cultures presume collaboration, enabling employees at all levels and across all functions to drive the organization’s goals.


Author and leadership expert Michael Watkins describes culture as an organization’s “immune system.” Like the human immune system, a strong operating culture protects companies from harm. Built on a foundation of realistic goals and common priorities, it helps a company and its people thrive—ensuring resource allocation is standard, and employees aren’t over-allocated. Put simply, it focuses on end-to-end work across the company’s horizontal dimension—not on the parts inside functions.

But, as with a human immune system, an unhealthy operating culture can cause damage. Damage results when leaders are held accountable for driving their divisional goals first—prior to (and at the expense of) cross-functional goals. The result—a top-down, silo’d culture that, however informally, encourages internal competition and hinders productivity. This can be very difficult to change.

The good news? You can nip it in the bud by changing the (unwritten) rules. The change doesn’t occur overnight. But it’s possible—and in this article, we’ve compiled five tips that will facilitate the journey.

1. Define the Culture You Have

The first step is to understand your existing culture. When you can pinpoint this, you can work to improve or change it. If you don’t first identify what’s currently holding it back, your company is doomed to repeat the same mistakes again and again.

Executives are not always aware of the company’s operating culture, and cultural surveys often don’t provide the information you need. Instead, consider conducting an organizational operating survey. This will give you insights into team productivity, allowing you to find out whether it’s your employees or teams that are being optimized.

Diagnostic assessments are a clear and useful tool for identifying your organization’s operating culture and matrix maturity. You can complete a diagnostic assessment quickly and easily online. It will help you with the next step.

2. Focus on Team Productivity

A matrix-delineated organization needs to focus on team productivity. After all, teams are the main unit of structure for driving goals. They can deliver exceptional results—but first, they must be optimized.

Poor productivity results from individuals being optimized over teams. An individual cannot operate as part of a productive team if they are allocated too many initiatives and face competing priorities. When this happens, it takes them longer to get the work done. Unnecessary stress and unhappiness follow.

Optimizing teams eliminates these problems. With each individual aligned to the same priorities, they can operate more productively, and won’t become burned out in the process.

For your teams to deliver effective results, they need to develop a toolbox of collaborative tools—and to understand what true collaboration means. Everyone must participate and work towards consensus. This creates a healthier operating culture—one that supports shared priorities, and gives teams time to plan so that they can negotiate their commitments.

On their part, leaders need to gain an understanding of what their teams are able to deliver. This perspective allows them to set realistic priorities—meaning work can be completed efficiently, and to the high standard the company requires.

Operationalizing Your Matrix white paper

3. Help Leaders Let Go of Control

Letting go of control can be difficult for take-charge, type A leaders. But in order to keep work moving forward, you need to empower all employees. Otherwise, you end up with an executive bottleneck that impacts productivity and morale.

By letting go of the need to control every decision, you can create a powerful culture of fruitful collaboration. Leadership training workshops help leaders with this, teaching them how to size their teams properly, empower team members to make decisions, and ensure those teams contain the right people for getting the job done.

4. Re-focus Your Accountability System

In a vertically focused culture, the accountability system often results in finger-pointing and passing the buck. This is not productive for driving horizontal goals.

Instead, it should be possible for employees at all levels to talk to their stakeholders to clarify accountability, make commitments, and provide updates. Part of this involves removing a damaging praise-and-blame system aimed at individuals. The accountability system must be aligned with cross-functional goals—if it isn’t, it will only hold teams back from driving them.

5. Avoid Sudden, Drastic Changes

One of the most damaging things you can do to your operating culture is spring a drastic change on your workforce without any preparation. Sadly, this is often what a company restructure does. The result? Confused team members who don’t know who is accountable for what now that they’ve been realigned to drive new functional goals. Disenfranchised employees who no longer feel they “fit” under the new structure. Chaos that impacts every element of the work being done. The unfortunate truth is, restructures often miss the human elements—pigeonholing people by skill sets alone.

People are naturally resistant to change. Instead of working against the current, work with the structure you have and improve upon it.

Avoid a vertical restructuring effort altogether. Instead, ensure leaders across the organization are committed to strengthening how functions work together horizontally. This allows you to shift focus and alignment to the most important strategic goals—without disrupting the processes that are working. It is improvements to your organization’s horizontal operations that will lead to a smooth and positive shift in your operating culture.

Think of it like an immune booster. With a healthy culture supporting your company’s operating system, your company can have a clean bill of health.

If you are considering a drastic change like restructuring to make this happen, take a step back and consider a smarter approach. To find out more about the leadership and collaboration workshops and training that we offer, arrange a free assessment or consultation today.

Cathy Cassidy

As the Managing Director of the International Matrix Management Institute, Cathy helps organizations and practitioners adopt the skills and methods they need to succeed in today’s complex, dynamic environment. She is a Matrix Management 2.0™ Master Consultant and the author of several books on matrix management, including her most recent publication, Managing Projects in a Matrix. She is a key contributor to the Matrix Management 2.0™ Body of Knowledge, co-developer of the Matrix Management 2.0™ organizational operating system, and a lead developer for the company.