Matrix Monday – The cultural ambience of the matrix organization

The cultural ambience of the matrix organization by David I. Cleland (AMA Management Review, November 1981) is an interesting article on some of the cultural aspects of matrix management.

David makes the point that in a traditional family unit and at school children are familiar with multiple authority roles. This continues into the world of work. The answer to “who’s the boss” always depends on the situation. Matrix management then is familiar to all of us from an early age, so why do we often encounter resistance to the matrix at work?

The major challenge seems to be an ingrained assumption of authority flows down from the top, a rather old-fashioned, feudal idea.

The article proposes 12 characteristics for organizations likely to be able to overcome the cultural ambience that come from a matrix. He does tend to equate matrix management with introducing project management across the organization, which is only one form of matrix management and arguably the simplest.

Some of these characteristics, a predisposition towards teamwork and consensus decision-making, for example, mirror, a common assumption about matrix management that we have to challenge extensively in our clients. Too much teamwork and a “descent to consensus” are common problems in the early stage of implementation of a matrix organization and we would recommend being very selective about where it adds value to be a team and to minimise the number of people involved in decisions in order to be effective.

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