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How do you make a matrix environment work?

Market changes, globalisation and advances in technology all contribute to the need to redesign organisations. Business leaders must be able to anticipate or respond to changing customer requirements and market opportunities (e.g. online shopping or new lines of business), as well as create agility and/or deliver operational efficiencies implicit in new operating models.

Aligning these drivers with more traditional functional business structures (e.g. manufacturing, R&D, supply chain, IT, HR) as well as market, product or geographical considerations, mean many more companies are now operating in a matrix working environment. This usually means more complex organisational structures, dotted line reporting, and much more project and virtual team working.  Sometimes that works well, and sometimes not.

Potential benefits of matrix working

  • reduce hierarchy and empower people
  • decision making quicker and devolved to those operating at the ‘front line’
  • break down silos and discourage empire-building
  • encourage creativity and entrepreneurship

Potential pitfalls of matrix working

  • confusion and conflicting demands
  • multiple reporting lines
  • delays in decision making
  • lack of ownership and accountability

So how do you make a matrix environment work?

Given these potential benefits and pitfalls, here are some simple rules:

  • there must be a shared vision with clear strategy and goals
  • sharing information, resources and experiences – across functions and boundaries
  • team working and co-operation are needed along with education to make the matrix work
  • you require flat structures – minimum hierarchy
  • issues are resolved by individuals feeling capable if answering the question ‘what is best for the business?’, and then taking appropriate action

Above all, the key is in education and understanding.

In organisations where the matrix environment operates well, people fully appreciate that successful matrix working is about having the right frame of mind, it is not an organisation structure.

Need help on how to get your matrix to work?   Call Clive Watkins on 07760 160996 or send an email to clive.watkins@morgan-clarke.co.uk.