This interview covers the advantages and disadvantages of matrix management and some of the key matrix management challenges? In part one Kevan defines the matrix organization and looks at why organizations choose to use matrix management.
Kevan Hall is CEO of Global Integration, author of Speed Lead – faster, simpler ways to manage people projects and teams in complex companies – and a matrix management specialist
So Kevan, perhaps a good place to start is to define it. What is a matrix organization and how is matrix management different?
This is a good question because I think there is some confusion about what I call different levels of matrix management.
Historically companies were organized into functional organizations, typically within a geography. There was always a risk in that kind of organization, because power was aligned vertically, that you would get silos – functions or locations that didn’t cooperate, didn’t talk, didn’t share resources across the organization and a matrix structure was a mechanism that was used to try and connect up across these vertical organizations.
As organizations became more integrated, they needed to share resources and expertise. At the same time the development of information technology meant that we could connect up these complex organizations in a way that we couldn’t in the past.
Some organizations started to look for structural ways to connect horizontally across the organization in addition to the vertical structure and they called this a matrix organization.
Matrix management is just the way we manage people in these matrix structures. Matrix management requires a move away from a simple linear view of management towards something that recognizes and helps managers cope with the more complex world of the matrix structure.
There are several ways to create these horizontal matrix management connections. The most simple way of doing it is just to use virtual teams where you set up temporary teams and projects that span the vertical parts of the organization for specific projects.
This isn’t really a matrix organization structure, it is just a virtual team structure but very often people refer to this as a matrix and some of the matrix management skills required are the same.
Increasing the levels of structure in the matrix leads to multiple formal reporting lines – one of the biggest challenges in working in a matrix. The solid line, which is the strongest reporting line, often initially remains with the function or the geography and an additional, dotted or weaker line of reporting is introduced horizontally across the organization. You might have a dotted line into your product group or into your geography or whatever it may be, so that you will end up with two reporting lines to two different strands of matrix management. However, with solid and doted lines it is still clear who is the primary boss.
The more complex form of organization is where you have two solid lines. Matrix management becomes more complex when you have two equally strong reporting lines to managers in different parts of the organization.
That sounds pretty complex, why do companies choose that kind of structure?
Well there are some clear advantages to matrix management, otherwise they wouldn’t do it. It helps to share resources and learning across the organization and particularly if we are serving global customers or if we are using a technology that goes across several product groups, it allows us to connect into that expertise and to use it across the organization. If matrix management is done properly these benefits can certainly be delivered.
I don’t think that a matrix organization of some kind is really optional for a lot of organizations. They are just a reflection of the internal and external complexity of their world. The flexibility of a matrix organization is required by global customers and as a response to global competition.
Some organizations, I must say are still in denial about matrix management. They do operate some kind of informal matrix but they tend to avoid using the M word because they think the matrix structure has had a bad press.
Do you think matrix management has had a bad press, and if so is it justified?
I do think matrix organization structures have had a bad press in some areas and I think often unfairly.
We see too much focus being put on the structure and to be honest the structure solves nothing.
When we construct a matrix organizations with multiple reporting lines, what we say is actually, yes you are right it is complex, yes there are multiple things you need to take into account, good luck!
The matrix is a structural recognition that we cannot make a once and for all choice – so we need effective matrix management and skilled and empowered people to find the balance on a day to day basis
It is the way people operate that structure that makes it work or fail and I think this aspect of matrix management has had far too little emphasis.
There are a lot of practical differences in managing people in a matrix organization and I am going to focus on the three matrix management challenges that we see most often in our consulting and training work with major companies (in the next part of the interview.)
Note: original links removed September 2012 due to site update. For more about matrix management, see the Global Integration matrix management pages.