Matrix Management

Risk management and the matrix organization structure

Yesterday the Financial Services Authority in the UK cited a major bank’s matrix structure as a contributing factor in a risk management failure – including the phrase “a complex matrix structure for the structured credit group with multiple reporting lines which at times led to uncertainty as to supervisory responsibilities”. Read the full article here

In working with a number of financial services organizations I have been critical of the impact of increasing controls (like Sarbanes Oxley) and the proliferation of risk managers on almost every team I work with.

I think these developments led to an increase in micromanagement and complex governance structures that require everyone to be involved in everything – this is bad for business and worse for empowerment and people development.

Nevertheless, if you are subject to a regulatory regime, you may have no choice but to comply.

But does this regime work in mitigating risk? It seems from the news coming out around the credit crunch that all this regulation, risk management and scrutiny did not!

In complex organizations there is a risk in a very rules oriented structure that the focus switches from “doing the right things” to “working the system”. Very high rewards exacerbate this risk.

I understand the need to protect investor,s but I think that this is better served by working on a culture of accountability and ethical behaviour rather than an externally imposed set of rules which quickly become outdated in a fast moving business.

Unfortunately, this approach is unlikely to be adopted by governments and regulators, who prefer to write retrospective rules that deal with what already went wrong (and for whom the impact on people management is not a consideration). It feels like progress to them, but is unlikely to head off the next problem.

This balance of trust and control is at the very heart of managing in the matrix. I fear that increased regulation, in financial services in particular, is going to lead to an increase in internal regulatory control and micromanagement, but will not prevent future problems.

What is the balance of trust and control like in your company? Does regulation help or hinder?

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