Matrix Management is an organizational structure in which some individuals report to more than one supervisor or leader, relationships described as solid line or dotted line reporting. More broadly, it may also describe the management of cross-functional, cross-business groups and other work models that do not maintain strict vertical business units or silos grouped by function and geography. Matrix management, developed in U.S. aerospace in the 1950s, achieved wider adoption in the 1970s.
Matrix management is a technique for managing an organisation through dual-reporting relationships, as opposed to a more traditional management reporting structure. It combines functional and product departments in a dual authority system. In its simplest form, a matrix configuration may be known as a cross-functional work team, which brings together individuals, who report to different parts of the company in order to complete a particular project or task (Malonis, 2000).
Origins of the Matrix Management Structure
The matrix organizational structure came about as a business response to the rise of large-scale projects. They needed fast-track technology applications and required the ability to process great amounts of data in an efficient manner. Project organization was needed to respond quickly to interdisciplinary needs, without upsetting the functional organizational structures already in place.
Matrix organizational structures were first developed in the aerospace industry in the U.S. as projects grew in complexity during the mid-century. Until that point, they had been using a single hierarchical organization, which was fine when there was only one very large project. However, with more and more projects having a variety of sizes and complexities, there was a need for expanding beyond one discipline. So, as time went on, the use of one discipline to structure a project become increasingly rare. But there remained a need for a single source of information and responsibility for each project. Therefore, instead of creating many autonomous projects, a matrix of projects was developed.
The Matrix Organization
It has been recognized that the matrix organizational structure has applications far beyond that of project (program or product) management. However, it's most highly developed application is that of project management.
The term “matrix project organization” refers to a multidisciplinary team whose members are drawn from various line or functional units of the hierarchical organization. The organization so developed is temporary in nature, since it is built around the project or specific task to be done rather than on organizational functions. The matrix is thus built up as a team of personnel drawn from both the project and the functional or disciplinary organizations. In other words a project organization is superimposed on the conventional functional hierarchical organization.
The matrix in its simplest form is shown diagrammatically in the figure above. It represents a general organizational structure. The matrix is a multi-dimensional structure that tries to maximize the strengths and minimize the weaknesses of both the project and the functional structures
The Matrix Middle, The Matrix Mindset and The Matrix Skillset
Many organizations are finding that work no longer fits into the neat vertical silos of function and geography. We need to serve global customers, run more integrated supply chains and internal functions, operate consistent processes and get more out of the resources that used to be locked up in the silos. Many have moved to some form of matrix structure in which people have more than one boss, often reporting to the function and also to the business, region or product line. This form of working has varying effects on different levels within the organization: one of them being the Matrix Middle.
The Matrix Middle are the people who sit between the other two groups, and usually penetrate only two or three levels down into the organization. They have more than one boss and have to translate the strategy from the top into the operational practicalities of the bottom. This was, of course, always the role of middle management but now we have introduced the complexity of multiple bosses, competing goals and an environment in which accountability without control, and influence without authority, have become the norm. Unsurprisingly, this group of people are critical to the success of a matrix because they are where the day-to-day trade-offs and resolution of dilemmas happen. If we don't equip these people with the skills, authority and information to manage these trade-offs and make decisions, they will either make the wrong choices or they will constantly escalate issues to the global group for decisions. What do the matrix middle need in order to be successful?
The Matrix Mindset
The matrix is complex and can easily become a scapegoat for other issues. Many articles and blog posts about the matrix focus on its disadvantages but there are significant advantages as well, otherwise most major organizations would not use it. The Matrix Mindset is defined as having five key elements:
- Self-leadership: Taking control and ownership of your goals, role and skills. Seek out and engage the others you need to be successful and push back against unnecessary control from others
- Breadth: People who are successful in the matrix think beyond their role and function. To get things done, they take ownership of the delivery of results that cross organizational boundaries, external suppliers or other partners
- Comfortable with ambiguity: The ability to bring clarity, structure and control to bear when necessary, coupled with the confidence to move beyond this to work with ambiguity, flexibility and trust
- Adaptive: Flexible and open to new ideas and new ways of working. They know that today's solution to dilemmas may not be the right one for tomorrow
- Influencers: People who don't fall back on traditional power and authority to get things done. They use a wide range of influencing techniques and sources of power. They see recourse to hierarchy as a failure.
The Matrix Skillset
We can't expect people to adopt a matrix mindset unless they have the skills to back it up. Here are a few of the things that are different when working in a matrix:
- Multiple bosses mean competing goals, divided loyalties and more complex management relationships
- Cross-functional connections can lead to far more invitations to meetings and conference calls and also to being swamped by unnecessary emails. More teamwork and communication is not the answer and, in fact, we have to be much more selective about where we co-operate and where we don't.
- Inclusive decision-making can become too slow to be effective. We need to be clear about decision rights and build trust so that not everyone needs to be involved in everything
- Control becomes more difficult to exercise in the far-flung organization and central control may be too slow to be effective. Successful matrix leaders realize they can't be the experts in everything and, instead, become facilitators and coaches, making sure that they have the right people in the right place to make decisions, rather than trying to do it themselves
- Goals and roles become less clear so we need to make objectives and jobs clear where we can, but higher levels of ambiguity will mean that trade-offs, dilemmas and even managing conflict become a normal part of our work
- We need to align goals and roles across functions and geography rather than just within our own areas of responsibility
- Accountability without control, and influence without authority, become the norm. Different sources of power and influence become more successful and hierarchy and traditional positional power are undermined
- We need to set up, and sustain, networks across traditional functional boundaries in order to be successful.
In complex organizations, we need to exercise these skills in an environment in which we are working across barriers of distance, cultures, time zones and organizational complexity and where most communication is done through technology rather than face to face. If we don't update our skills, we will tend to fall back on outdated tools that may even make problems worse, for example in encouraging more teamwork, communication and control in an environment in which they are already more of a problem than a solution.
Applying Matrix Management
Where Matrix Management Makes Sense
Matrix management is ideal for sharing talent and skills across departments. It's an especially handy system when developing new products—it allows individuals from different functions within an organization to work under a project manager to create something new and unique. This gives the team the ability to draw upon diverse skill sets from multiple disciplines, strengthening the project team. It's a great way to cut costs as well—a matrix approach to projects is typically less expensive than establishing dedicated project teams. The diversity of the team members makes the team superior to many purely functional teams.
Where Matrix Management Is Not Ideal
While there are many potential benefits to this flexible style of team structure, there are some circumstances where it is not ideal. These include:
- A project predicted to be long term. A dedicated team with a permanent assignment may be optimal
- Situations in which one employee's skills are mission-critical to a particular function. Sharing this individual may reduce the effectiveness of that function
Types of Matrix Management
Matrix management refers to the organizational structure used by companies to distribute employee responsibilities and have them report to multiple managers. The two main chains of command within matrix management are the project manager and the functional manager. Because of the various matrix management styles, it’s important to understand what they are trying to determine if this form of management will be beneficial for you and your company. There are three types of matrix management styles:
- Weak Matrix: In these matrix systems, the project manager has a limited amount of authority. This could mean they have no one reporting to them. In a weak matrix, the power shifts to the functional manager, and project managers take on more of a project coordinator role.
- Balanced Matrix: In a balanced matrix, project managers and functional managers have equal authority and power. Project managers determine the skills needed for a project, whereas functional managers assign employees to meet those needs. Team members are required to keep both managers informed on their progress and priorities.
- Strong Matrix: Under a strong matrix, project managers have the most authority and team members are required to report to them.
The Benefits and Downside of the Matrix Management Structure
Any organization planning to implement change can benefit from the matrix management structure for the following reasons.
- Project teams are set up on a temporary and finite basis for the fulfilment of customers’ needs: Once a project is completed team members are reassigned to other work. Knowledge and expertise is retained by the organization.
- Project teams are highly suited to people working on a common task or project such as the introduction of new business processes and the associated information systems.
- Project teams are dynamic and innovative structures that can view problems in a different way because specialists are brought together in a new environment: Individuals are chosen according to the needs of the project.
- Project managers are directly responsible for completing the project scope within a specific time-scale and budget: In uncertain times, the project manager will need strong leadership skills to make sure the organization pulls in the same direction. Empowerment, through decision-making responsibility, makes it easier for the project manager to accept and make a success of the project.
There are a number of potential problems with matrix organizations. These problems include:
- a feeling of ambiguity caused by employees moving from one project to another as required by their line manager,
- a conflict of loyalty between line managers and project managers over the allocation of resources — for instance, where groups neglect their usual duties and responsibilities,
- the outcome of dual reporting is the loss of unity of command, which can lead to problems of coordination and prioritization,
- project managers may experience problems of authority over their team members, especially if they are from another department or team,
- project management may fail to gain the support of other functional managers,
- if teams have a lot of independence they can be difficult to monitor, which is why the agreements between project and line management are essential, and
- costs can be increased if more project managers are created through the use of project teams.
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