Does matrix working require a matrix organization structure?

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

In my mind there is a clear distinction between matrix working and a matrix organization structure. Matrix working is very common, I might even say inevitable in large complex organizations. People are increasingly working across organizational and functional boundaries, in multi site, often very diverse teams, sometimes operating globally and certainly operating across the traditional “vertical” aspects of the organization – 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 organization 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 organization 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 organizations 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 organization 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?

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