I have had discussions with a number of clients recently about whether you can have matrix management or matrix working without a formal matrix organisational structure.

In my mind there is a clear distinction between matrix working and a matrix organisation structure. Matrix working is very common, I might even say inevitable in large complex organisations. People are increasingly working across organisational and functional boundaries, in multi site, often very diverse teams, sometimes operating globally and certainly operating across the traditional “vertical” aspects of the organisation – this is clearly matrix working. It is matrix working because we have multiple, competing priorities to take into account.

Whether this dynamic is reflected in your organisation chart or not is a wholly separate issue. Companies introduce matrix organization structures (characterized by formal dual or more reporting lines on the organization chart) for many reasons. In many cases these same objectives could have been met by matrix working – through the use of cross functional or virtual or matrix teams.

A formal matrix structure gives a reporting line to back up the multiple priorities, but sometimes that is just not necessary and just adds complexity. Perhaps we use the matrix structure too easily to compensate for managers not being successful at finding new ways to exercise power and influence in matrix working. We fall back on traditional hierarchal reporting, which may be irrelevant to the performance of the task.

Matrix organisation structures are a further step in creating a traditional hierarchy around what have become much more flexible ways of working, and may actually be counter productive.

A lot of organisations have found is that, once they have reached a structure with two solid lines or more then the structure ceases having any real contribution – we are back to influence when priorities compete.

A matrix organisation is a recognition that there isn’t one fixed answer, it is just a competing set of priorities that need to be balanced on a daily basis. Whether the structure helps you do that is another question.

Do you think the matrix structure helps in matrix working?

About the author:

Kevan Hall Kevan Hall is a CEO, author, speaker and trainer in matrix management, virtual teams and global working. He is the author of "Speed Lead - faster, simpler ways to manage people, projects and teams in complex companies, "Making the Matrix work - how matrix managers engage people and cut through complexity", and the "Life in a Matrix" podcasts, videos, cartoons and blog. He is CEO and founder of Global Integration. Company profile: .

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