A matrix without reporting lines

matrix organizaion chart
Do we really need an ‘org chart’ in a matrix?
I was working with one of my favourite clients last week. They are resolutely non-hierarchical. Reporting lines are not really part of their vocabulary. They talk about streams of leadership, and individuals cannot be compelled to take on commitments – they have to choose them for themselves.

In today’s globally connected marketplace, they need to become more matrixed to serve global customers and to deliver global projects and synergies more effectively. However, a formal matrix structure with two reporting lines doesn’t fit their culture. We spent a few days discussing how they can become more matrixed and how the concept of dual reporting could apply in their environment.

The breakthrough came when we stopped thinking about reporting lines and started thinking about “streams of leadership”. The real question in their culture was ‘what significant streams of leadership do we need to take into account in doing our jobs?’.

In this environment, we spent some time asking a broader question:”Who gets to do the leadership stuff?” There are clearly some leadership tasks, particularly those in people management, which need to be delivered. Someone needs to drive the performance appraisal process, manage communication and have an input to career development. People in more hierarchical organizations have really learned to pay attention to their bosses and feel quite uncomfortable if it’s not clear who will drive these key people processes.

So it may be useful when planning ‘who does what?’ in your matrix to forget about the reporting lines and whether they are solid or dotted, and instead to focus, as we did, on ‘Who does the leadership stuff? Who will lead the key people processes and what role will leaders and the individual play in driving these processes and dealing with any conflicts or differences of opinion?’

Once you have two bosses, you may as well have none as you can no longer resolve things by recourse to hierarchical reporting lines. Being clear about streams of leadership and allocation of tasks may be more useful than drawing lines on the organization chart.

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