An, often unintended, consequence of matrix organization structures is that the real decisions about trade-offs and priorities are made where reporting lines intersect – at middle management levels (what I call the matrix middle). This means that matrix organizations are effectively led from the middle. The matrix management skills of middle managers are the most important factor in making the structure really work.
Now delegating responsibility is fine, providing we also give these middle managers the information, skills, authority and confidence to make decisions. If we do not then we can expect to see high levels of escalation that will lock up the matrix and make progress slow and hard to achieve.
In a previous post I wrote about why senior managers underestimate the impact of a matrix, for them the primary loyalty is to the “global”; priorities, objectives and perspectives are usually aligned to the central organization’s goals. At the other end of the scale most people have local jobs (even in the most global companies 80-90% of people look after local customers, work in factories, offices, stores etc.. with a local focus)
The matrix middle sit between these two groups and have to find the right balance between the global and the local on a daily basis.
Number 1 tip on making your matrix organization structure work? Invest in the development of the the matrix middle.
What does your company do to make the matrix middle’s life easier?