The matrix is dead – long live the matrix

Kevan Hall, CEO Global Integration
Kevan Hall, CEO Global Integration

By Kevan Hall, CEO, Global Integration

I was asked a question yesterday: there’s a lot of information online suggesting that the matrix is dead. Is it?

Most of those kinds of articles refer to the 1970’s academic work on the matrix, which was mainly dealing with complex project management.

Today, the matrix is the organizational structure of choice for most large complex organizations, even if some are even in denial about having one!

Any company with multiple offices and/or an international presence has a matrixed way of working, unless they’re wasting resources. Global sales accounts, shared HR and legal functions, centralised purchasing: these functions all help less resources to achieve more/have access to specialised skills. Around 80% of all people spend at least some of their time working in virtual teams. So matrix working is everywhere: how far you reflect it in your organization structure is then a choice.

There is a trend towards describing matrixed structures as ‘networked organizations’. Some companies are explicitly describing themselves as ‘networked’. The qualities are the same, the skills needed are the same, but the nod is to the utterly networked lives we now lead. This is also helpful terminology as it reduces the focus on formal reeporting lines in favour of encouraging more flexible networks of people.

All of the trends are towards more complexity and more collaboration across the organization, both internal and externally with key partners, customers and suppliers.

The human elements of this remain paramount: trust and visibility, engagement and communications. In turn, the need for individuals, and middle management in particular, to develop new skills for working this way are becoming essential.

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