Today’s fast paced environment of digital disruption brings new challenges that necessitate updated systems to effectively facilitate growth. In a constantly evolving environment, workers need to be able to function in a structure that works for them. Enter: matrix management. Matrix management is an organizational structure that is highly beneficial for businesses looking to create a collaborative environment. In general, matrix management allows organizations the ability to pivot, be highly adaptable, and quickly develop new products and initiatives. Matrix management can be challenging, but if done well, it creates an atmosphere of cooperation, ingenuity and united purpose within an organization.
What is Matrix Management?
If we’ve piqued your curiosity, you may be asking yourself, “What is matrix management?” Simply put, it’s an organizational structure that allows employees to report to multiple managers (a functional manager as well as a project manager) as they work on different projects within the organization. To further define matrix management, let’s look at the three most common types:
- Weak Matrix – In this scenario, the project manager has very little authority and may not have anyone reporting to them. Thereby, they are playing more of a project coordinator role. Power lies mostly with the functional manager.
- Balanced Matrix – A balanced matrix is a blend where the power is equal. Project managers typically submit their skill and resource needs to a functional manager who then assigns resources. Team members keep both managers up to date on their progress and challenges.
- Strong Matrix – This model gives project managers the most authority, and team members are required to report to them.
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One key way to define matrix management is that it moves the organization past the typical constraints of organizational charts and top down reporting relationships. In an ideal scenario, this model helps get rid of red tape. It also keeps lower-level employees from feeling like their voices aren’t heard.
Matrix Management vs Hierarchy
Now let’s explore matrix management vs hierarchy to give you an idea of the differences and challenges of both models. The last 40 years have seen a dramatic switch from the traditional hierarchy structure to matrix management. Gallup reports that 84% of organizations now utilize matrix management, as opposed to the more traditional hierarchical system. Companies began to realize quickly that they needed to be able to respond quicker to a drastically more complex business environment. A traditional top down structure wasn’t working anymore. Thus, matrix management was born.
In a traditional hierarchy structure, there is a direct chain of command from the top to bottom of the organization. Decisions are kept mostly at the top of the organization and then passed down the ranks to be implemented. Hierarchy management also tends to create and protect a silo mentality where functional departments “stick to their own” and don’t share information and resources cross departmentally.
When matrix management vs hierarchy are pitted against each other, and matrix management wins out, the increase in collaboration across the whole organization is palpable. Instead of all ideas and decisions being generated from the top, they arise from teams throughout all levels of the organization. This structure makes it possible to share information and resources horizontally which allows everyone in the organization to be more engaged with the end product. The most successful matrix organizations manage not only to create a matrix structure but also to train their managers to have a matrix mindset – the ability to see multiple options and focus on multiple priorities at one time.
Matrix Management: Benefits and Challenges
To truly reap the benefits of matrix management, companies need to create a culture that can tolerate and even celebrate a large amount of change. The ideal culture for matrix management is customer focused, highly collaborative and full of ingenuity! Leaders intentionally break down traditional barriers that stifle creativity, innovation and teamwork. Here’s a quick list of benefits and challenges to keep in mind.
Benefits of Matrix Management:
- Build diverse skills. The matrix system allows team members to work across the organization which will only contribute to their professional development. By experiencing multiple perspectives and skills, team members will expand their knowledge about different aspects of the organization.
- A more engaging environment for employees. Having the ability to work on a variety of projects, as well as seeing the benefits of their efforts, helps keep everyone motivated.
- Creates a more unified environment. One of the greatest benefits of matrix management is a greater sense of teamwork. It becomes the responsibility of everyone to keep the organization’s mission, vision and goals in mind.
- Cuts costs and increases flexibility. A matrix system allows companies to utilize employees that are already on the payroll to accomplish new projects as they come up as opposed to having to hire a project specific team. In addition to that, giving employees the opportunity to work on a wide variety of projects creates a more flexible team that can take on new roles and grow with the company.
Challenges of Matrix Management:
- Potential conflict between dual managers and priorities. One of the largest complaints about matrix environments is that even though employees are more engaged, they are less clear on expectations. Key stakeholders and evaluators are not always clear.
- Confusing communication between projects and functions. If team members operate in both a functional and project-oriented role, communication can tend to get confusing unless specific strategies are implemented.
- Getting stretched too thin. Team members can quickly find they feel stretched in too many directions. This often comes from having their hands in too many projects. Managers need to keep their eyes open for this challenge and help their team navigate successfully.
- Loss in organizational learning. The very thing matrix management offers (flexibility) can also cost the organization, because individuals are shifted around frequently and involved in projects with short lifespans.
Matrix Management Structure Example
Now that we’re aware of some of the pros and cons, let’s take a look at a real-life matrix management structure example. You are working for a digital marketing firm as a graphic designer. If the organization is utilizing matrix management, you will most likely find yourself reporting to a functional chain of command boss – aka the head of design. This manager will focus more on helping you sharpen and hone your skills in the function to which you’re assigned.
In addition, you will also report to the project manager (or managers) assigned to the clients you are working for. Their role is to help run point and serve as a translator between you and the client. They have their eye on the big picture of the project so you can stay focused on your specific function. You can think of it this way – your functional manager is responsible for your technical capabilities. The project manager is responsible for the overall product or project being delivered to the client.
It seems that matrix management is the way of the future. If you are a manager in a matrix organization, consider MC’s corporate training offerings – specifically on the Pyramid Principle, which will dramatically increase your teams’ communication effectiveness. Our expert trainers conduct tailored training to boost clarity of communication for Fortune 1000 teams. Reach out today!
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