Making matrix organisations work: some tips

Matrix organizations are a reality for employees in today’s globalized, multi-cultural and customer-focused businesses. The traditional functional-based, hierarchical organization is a thing of the past. Today, meeting customer needs require multifunctional teams working together to ensure all customer requirements are addressed during product design, manufacture and delivery and this means a different work organization. This new organization is a matrix because it requires functional managers organized vertically to provide resources to project leaders whose teams cut across the functions horizontally.

The benefits seem to be obvious: companies can focus on multiple business goals while remaining lean, customer requirements are met more effectively, silo mentalities are eliminated, economies of scale can be generated, lessons learned and best practices are shared throughout the organization, etc.. The possible disadvantages are numerous: conflict of loyalties for team members torn between their functional and “matrix” managers, power struggles between the latter, unclear priorities and confusion as to who does what, where, when, how and why.

Matrix organizations tend indeed to generate a lot of tension and are often blamed for poor results. Not to mention the stress for employees dealing with the confusion. However, matrix organizations can work if you focus on a certain number of key points. Below are some tips to make life easier for all those navigating in what seems to be a very fuzzy and unclear world. Two key initial comments: rather than try to reengineer the organization to make the matrix more effective, focus on people because your people’s behaviours are the key drivers of effectiveness. Secondly, the way the matrix impacts on senior managers is not the same as the way it impacts on middle management. As we shall see, solutions should be customized to meet key players’ different needs.

In our opinion, leaders in matrix organizations face 5 key dilemmas:

1) How to align objectives?

2) How to clarify roles & responsibilities?

3) Who decides what and who is accountable for what?

4) How to embed the Matrix organization long-term?

5) How to change mindsets from a silo to a matrix mentality?

Here are some key tips to help address these dilemmas effectively.

1. Goal alignment?

Recent studies have shown that senior management find misaligned goals more of a dilemma than middle management. This is perhaps because senior management spends a lot of time translating strategy into operational objectives. Conflicts inevitably arise lower down between functional and matrix objectives. To deal with this dilemma:

· Communicate constantly the company vision and objectives

· Publish a matrix management toolbox with examples of functional and shared objectives aligned to vision & strategy.

· Cascade goals horizontally and vertically through a suitable spreadsheet throughout the organization both functionally & horizontally

· Hold senior managers accountable for any objectives which are misaligned

2. How to clarify roles and responsibilities?

Middle management is more impacted by this dilemma because they have the responsibility of implementing the strategy directly. Middle managers suffer from unclear job descriptions for themselves and team members; have to deal with the resulting conflict and tension caused by confusion over who is boss and who decides what. To work this dilemma:

· Provide clear guidelines and descriptions on roles and responsibilities to middle managers and team members and regularly update

· Assign clear accountability for business objectives between functions and matrix roles

· Define a single point of contact for communication and/or approval for areas of responsibility in matrix teams

· Define a plan for communication and information sharing for matrix teams

· Build a RASIC matrix with matrix teams to clarify roles & responsibilities: Responsible, Approval, Support, Inform, Consult

3. Who decides what and who is accountable for what?

In traditional organizations, accountability = responsibility and managers are directly accountable for results. In matrix organizations, dual reporting means that accountability is shared. This can lead to confusion on who has final authority on what actions, who arbitrates in the event of disagreements, how to decide quickly when search for consensus creates road blocks. To work this dilemma:

· Follow a simple rule: whoever has the best information leads the decision

4. How to embed the Matrix organization long term?

All organizations measure performance but not all measure the performance of the matrix organization to deliver results. What gets measured gets managed and it’s important to measure how the matrix is performing versus how it should perform. To meet this dilemma:

· Appoint a champion reporting to the CEO to monitor matrix performance

· Define and publish guidelines of expected matrix behaviours and openly recognize & reward them

· Publish a matrix management dashboard with key MOPS

5. How to change mindsets?

Changing behaviours is the most critical challenge as matrix organizations require higher levels of cooperation than traditional organizations. Team members in the matrix need support to learn to accept the higher tension and cooperate more effectively. Above all, employees need to abandon their “silo” or functional mindset and adopt the flexible behaviours required in a matrix. To meet this challenge:

· Define and communicate expected behaviours to all

· Provide specific training on the “matrix way of working” to all matrix members

· Promote cross-functional work and cross-functional mobility

· Promote formal and informal networking

These are only some tips for making matrix organizations more effective. The key is above all people and how organizations train and develop their people to meet the challenges of working in structures requiring higher cooperation and greater resilience to tension, confusion and ambiguity. This can only happen if organizations understand that the matrix way of working places higher demands onmatrix workers and therefore they require higher and better support to make the matrix work.

Matrix dilemmas summary





Misaligned goals

Senior managers more than middle

·Conflicting goals

·Weak supporting processes

·Poor coordination

·Poor communication

· Define goal alignment process

· Communicate strategy constantly

Unclear roles & responsibilities

Middle managers more than senior

· Role confusion

· Unclear job specs

· Who decides what?

· Who holds information?

· Role guidelines

· Clear accountability

· Single point of contact

· Plan communication


Who decides what?

Senior and middle managers

· Decision making

· Information holder leads decision

How to embed the matrix way?

Senior and Middle

· Measure performance of matrix org

· Matrix champion

· Matrix MOPS

How to change to a matrix mindset?

Senior and middle

· Conflict

· Withholding of resources

· Lack of trust

· Poor communication

· Define behaviours expected

· Train all matrix members

· Promote cross-function mobility

· Promote networking


Challenges & strategies of Matrix organizations: Sy & D’Annunzio, AT Kearney Inc.

Managing chaos in a matrix world, P. Richardson, Management Services, 2003

2 Responses to “Making matrix organisations work: some tips”

  1. Jeremy Webber Says:

    Hi Joseph.

    We are moving more and more into matrix managment and our perfaormance appraisal system does not include appraising performance in a matrix organisation.

    We will be probably be moving to people soft SIRH and will need to create a form that includes evaluating performance in virtual and matrix teams. Any suggestions ?

    I operate most of the time in French: we are looking for good consultants who know what is operationally all about: I did have experience in a major professional electronics company and evaluating performance of people who didn’t “belong” 100% to someone was extremely difficult even though remuneration was geared to promoting a matrix mindset



    • josephnoone Says:


      Thanks for your comments and questions. Basically, the way we worked it was to have M1 and M2 sign off on the objectives of the team member together. One question we had was who was M1 and who was M2? In other words, who signs first? Functional or matrix? However, what we said was that if you get hung up on who should sign first, you’re missing the point as what’s important is agreement on the objectives. When we put our annual appraisal on line in a workflow, we had to decide on a flow in terms of who signed first. We defined the following general rules:

      The team member proposes his objectives to both managers on the basis of his discussion with them. If all agree, the team member then launches the sign off. This locks the form and invites both managers to sign. The M1 then signs off(functional manager) followed by the matrix. However, if the matrix doesn’t agree, he doesn’t sign and this blocks the workflow. All three are responsible for closing out the form so if one blocks, all block. The idea is to get consensus and close out the form on agreed objectives for the team member.

      A provisio is that for the system to work, the functional and matrix managers have to have a clear view on strategy and have to have had their objectives validated by their managers. Secondly, not all team members have dual reporting an those that do don’t always have all of their 5 key objectives shared between M1 & M2.

      The key is the discussion between M1 & M2 who have to have a realistic and open discussion and agreement on the objectives to be shared.

      Of course, also for the system to work, you have to set SMART goals and if the matrix manager only has 30% of the employee’s time, he must set a very SMART objective so that he is sure he will be able to measure if the team member is progressing and is able to deliver on time.

      The real key is for senior managers to buy in and to share objectives at top level. If the system is to work lower down, senior managers have to demonstrate that they share objectives or that they commit to objectives set by other executive commitee members and that their objectives are not only held by them within their function.

      I hope this is clear. I’ll send you some more details by email and feel free to reply and ask for clarification.


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