managing in a matrix…..


Over dinner last night my friend spoke of having to deal with the complications of  reporting to multiple managers almost daily. Interesting topic to draw in the larger community of people for their views I thought! 

It is a fact of modern day structures where quite often we find ourselves accountable to more than one manager in organisations. Working in cross functional teams, reporting to them, interacting with them on a regular basis, more frequently than perhaps even our own line bosses. Call it the necessity of a matrix structure. Not sure if anyone is untouched by this – across levels and role types. 

Continuing with the series of thought provoking posts, I am going to discuss another topical issue that is often less debated – but so relevant to the new organisation structures of today – that it needs urgent understanding and recognition.

As the natural business environment has become less predictable, the need to manage with ambiguity has acquired the status of a major core competency. Organisations that are subject to change due to the surroundings they function in find it difficult to manage themselves in the traditional siloed structures. It is then fairly obvious that matrix is the only appropriate approach to managing such entities.

Let me give you a bit of theory just to clarify the concept. While the traditional classical models are hierarchical and focus on reporting relationships within functional entities, matrix organisations are based on the concept that horizontal relationships are just as important as the formal line based ones. The matrix structure is an intricate network of people laterally across the business focussing on multiple linkages to deliver success. Collaborative behaviours trump competitive ones. Managers must no longer focus on maximizing their own results at local, country or product level but instead must act in the best interests of the enterprise as a whole.

Complex linkages make matrix organisations difficult to manage. Collaboration is the key and sometimes that may not be the most encouraged behaviour. Clearly we require innovation and flexibility in policies of reward and recognition that emphasize the importance of behaving in a matrix manner. Performance management has to take into account the views of all those who are critical in the supply chain of the individual.

Unfortunately organisations continue to reward people primarily for executing in a functional manner. Rewarding a  techie who is not only responsible to his or her functional head but also to leaders of other projects can be confusing. So the obvious problem in such a set up of  multiple reportings is – what are the people rewarded for achieving and who all should manage performance? And what should the process be?

Normally one assumes a two level upward management for general well being – that of your boss and of the bosses’ boss. Matrix makes it far more ambiguous, complex and indeterminate.


best wishes


5 thoughts on “managing in a matrix…..

  1. 1.Draupadi was first to face such a situation and she did pretty well.

    2. Learn from history beta. i thought it was the prerogative of Govt Departmnets.

    3. Jokes apart your conviction and respect you command are the deciding factors in such situations.

  2. Its fast evolution is due to the fact that business is getting globalised at a very rapid pace and units/organisations of a parent in different countries are interwined to deliver business results in an environment of uncertainity.I think the key thing to understand is that there is no alternative to functional competence but it must reside and flourish in an overall envelope of business excellence and how to establish those linkages has been narrated well in your post including the compelling dimension of reward and recognition.

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