The Move to Matrix Management (Matrix Monday)

Ford Gran Torino 1974Continuing our Matrix Monday series, where we take a look each week at some of the limited literature resources around the matrix, today Global Integration consultant, John Bland, takes a look at The Move to Matrix Management by Steven Ludwig, published in International Management, April 1970. 

How old is the Matrix?

I picked up an article this week and possibly the most surprising thing about it was the date.  The article, entitled ‘The Move to Matrix Management’ appeared in International Management and was dated April 1970.  (So if nothing else we can conclude that the matrix organization structure dates back more than 40 years.)

As I read this article I found myself asking myself how much is this still true and how much is now out of date.? Interestingly I’d say the vast majority of the article is still true!

The key reason given for the matrix remains the same, namely ‘the growing size and complexity of industry’.  And I believe that this still is the best guide to when one is appropriate.  I have always maintained that small and simple organizations don’t need a matrix; because another thing that remains true is that a matrix is difficult to make work.

This is due to another thing that remains the same  – the conflict that the Matrix creates. Forty years later this conflict is no easier to deal with for those in the ‘matrix middle’ who experience it, and whose job it is to resolve it.

In addition, the definition of what a Matrix is, and how we understand it, hasn’t fundamentally changed either:  it is still about having multiple bosses and multiple reporting lines.

However, what has clearly moved a long way since then are all the different ways of implementing a matrix. Back then, it was solely about horizontals and verticals, usually “Line and Staff” or “Product and Function”, or “Group-wide and Country”.  Today we understand that there are many, many different ways to design and create a matrix, which also include models such as the ‘Baton Pass Matrix’ or the ‘Front-Back Hybrid Matrix’ to name but two.

Finally, it is interesting to read the five problems to be addressed to make it work:

  1. Set out authority clearly;
  2. Educate and train your people;
  3. Extra book-keeping may be needed;
  4. Recognise healthy conflict from unhealthy conflict;
  5. Decision making may be slowed down.

Whilst I’d agree with points 2 and 4, I’d only partially assent to point 1 –  and disagree entirely with points 3 and 5!


Why not….?


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