Five ways to make a matrix organisation structure thrive

A matrix organisation is a company in which the reporting structure is set up as a grid or matrix, instead of the typical hierarchy, made popular by tech companies

Bhavna Dalal
Updated: Sep 18, 2019 02:36:55 PM UTC

Bhavna Dalal ( www.bhavnadalal.com) is the Founder and CEO of Talent Power Partners [www.talentpowerpartners.com] a Leadership Development company based in Bangalore, India. She is a Team Leadership Coach with ICF PCC Certification, IIM Calcutta Executive MBA, and B.E.(Electronics). Also, the author of the book Team Decision Making [https://www.amazon.in/dp/B01MXF5QEM] endorsed by former CEO's of Target, Lowes, LimitedBrands,bank of Baroda, 3M , Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, Dr. Manoj Pardasani (Associate Dean Fordham University) and many others. Bhavna has been serving on the Board of Directors of Bodhi Education Society (A not-for-profit that supports schools in rural Andhra Pradesh in India ) for the past 5 years.

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

What is a matrix organisation?

A matrix organisation is a company in which the reporting structure is set up as a grid or matrix, instead of the typical hierarchy. It leads to multiple managerial responsibility and accountability situations. Individual employees may report to more than one boss instead of a single chain of command. For example, a person is responsible for their functional manager as well as the product manager. They could have a dashed line to one manager and dotted line reporting to one or two others. What makes it even more complicated is that they may be sitting at different geographical locations. The technology industry made this structure popular, as multidisciplinary teams collaborated on individual projects in the interest of sharing and conserving resources.

While there are many benefits to a matrix structure, this kind of working environment also comes with its own set of challenges. The advantages are the ability for teams and individuals to focus on multiple business goals simultaneously, accelerated response to functional needs, flow, and exchange of information both across and up, and more significant innovation, among others.

People who are accustomed to a more traditional organisational structure find it quite challenging to maneuver such an environment; matrix organisations are complex, difficult to monitor and often experience conflicting goals and guidance from leadership.

Surviving and thriving in the matrix
This new environment has a more modern set of rules of engagement. Specific leadership skills are necessary to thrive as a leader in a matrix structure. Things that worked well in hierarchy structures may go against you here. Following are five competencies you can develop further to navigate the matrix well:

1. Curious questioning
Having assumptions while making decisions can backfire in a matrix structure. Get comfortable with staying curious and asking even the most basic questions. The more questions you ask, the more you will be able to learn about the different geographies, functions or people. It is essential to be cognitive of any conscious or unconscious biases or judgments that may arise.

2. Leverage technology
Technology plays a vital role in matrix organisation structures. Any lag time arising due to geography or functional diversity can be overcome using instant messaging platforms like Slack and video conferencing platforms like Zoom, BlueJeans, and Webex. Using technology effectively, teams can communicate and share information in real-time, without always going through the hassle of scheduling meetings. It ensures that everyone is on the same team even if they are not. It maintains clear channels of communication.

3. Openness to learning from others
In a matrix, you will be forced to work with people from other functional areas. You may be an expert in your domain, but you will do well if you stay open to listening and learning from specialists and subject matter experts from other teams. Clear communication and deliberate collaboration are the need of the hour. Not doing so can lead to several issues, such as information stove-piping and loss of productivity. As a leader, it becomes your duty to prevent the formation of silos, and if they exist to break them down.

4. Have a clear vision
For leaders, having a clear vision forward and using that to develop a broader strategy leads to designing concrete business goals. It can stabilise the organisation from lost or misplaced focus. It makes it easier and more effective to manage multiple cross-functional teams because there is a singular, organisational goal. When everyone is aligned to understand the big picture, management functions such as decision making and execution becomes smoother.

5. Help develop leaders at every level
Traditional organisations typically have a top-down leadership approach, where the level above delegates and approve tasks. However, in a matrix structure, employees at every level must be empowered. Teams have to work autonomously and also collaborate. Decision making has to become decentralised. Leadership at every level is required.

The author is Founder and CEO of Talent Power Partners, a Leadership Development company based in Bangalore, India.

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