Because this is a complex organization with sophisticated management practices, in MBA classrooms it may be necessary to spend some time in the early discussion ensuring that there is a clear understanding of the ABB? s matrix structure and the management roles and relationships in the relays business. In executive education programs, participants are more likely to have had experience in such subtle organization processes, and the instructor can move more quickly from the basic diagnosis to the more evaluative and reflective discussion.
Executives will be interested to discuss issues like what makes this global matrix work when so many others have failed, and what value is being created in return for the substantial operating cost such organizations must bear. In order for both the diagnostic and normative learning needs to be met, I find that it is helpful to begin class not with an abstract discussion of ABB? s matrix organization but with a roleplay of how issues are being managed within it.
Prior to beginning class, the instructor may want to nominate four strong students to take the role of Don Jans, Ulf Gundemark, Joe Baker and Goran Lindahl and ask them to think through how they would resolve the Comsys problem outlined at the end of the case. It is helpful to propose that Jans may want to bring this issue to his next company steering committee meeting, where he will have the opportunity to discuss it with Gundemark and Baker.
In opening the class, the instructor may describe how ABB has created an organization that is widely admired but little understood. In an effort to get inside the matrix structure, the ABACUS system, and the complex management roles, we will explore how a single issue might be discussed and resolved within this organizational context. After introducing the role players, the instructor might then ask Don Jans: 1. At your next steering committee meeting with Baker and Gundemark, how are you going to deal with the Comsys issue that has been giving you so much concern?
In the discussion that follows, the instructor should allow the debate to take its natural course, intervening only if the role players seem not to be representing the perspective or interests that reflect their responsibilities in ABB. The most likely scenario is that Jans will push for relief from the Comsys constraints so that he can focus more development resources on his local projects. This appeal will likely meet with approval from Baker, whose interests are aligned with actions designed to maximize local profitability.
Gundemark, on the other hand, is likely to resist this request, arguing that it will set a dangerous precedent for other local operations to continue with their individual product development agendas. He will likely reaffirm the reasons behind the important commitment the relays BA has made to finding a common platform for future product development. Ideally, the debate should continue towards resolution, but if the parties seem as if they are polarizing or digging in, the instructor may intervene and ask if this is the way things work in ABB.
Since Gundemark is likely to be in the minority, the instructor may ask what kinds of incentives, compromises or persuasions he may use to shift the debate. One obvious lever for Gundemark to use is his agreement to send two of his technical managers to Coral Springs to help out Jans. He might suggest that if Jans wants to ensure continued support from the BA, he also cooperate with its programs. At some stage during the discussion, particularly if it becomes heated or deadlocked, the instructor might ask the participants if they want to take the issue to Goran Lindahl.
If so, it is interesting to ask how Lindhal might respond. As indicated in the case, he is most likely to push the issue back down for these managers to decide. One does not resolve disputes in ABB by ? delegating up.? However, even if the issue is not escalated, the instructor might call on Lindahl at the end of the debate to give his impressions on how effectively the system is working and to evaluate whether each of the managers was performing his assigned role appropriately and effectively