This is a response to a LinkedIn question. Forrest Christian suggested in a comment to another post that I post my responses here as well. Those of you are LinkedIn members can read the whole question and all other answers here .
My answer was:
No matter how a company is organized formally, for stuff to get done people need to communicate and work across boundaries. Researchers have done social network analysis in organizations and have seen that some bosses cannot handle this; they force everything to go through them, so of course they end up being bottlenecks.
My belief is that matrix organizations were “invented” to address the non-cooperation between unit managers. But we still have a lot of turf wars and alpha-male behavior. We also see organizations apparently in endless committee meetings.
My opinion is that matrix organizations were a “quick fix” to a larger and more deep-running problem. If we “solve” those problems we will not need matrix organizations. Managers needs to be selected ,trained and rewarded for abilities to:
The matrix is an organizational mystery to me. So popular, so reviled, so dysfunctional, so often suggested by the major consultancies.
My first encounter with the matrix was in the eighties when one of the major consultancies had suggested a matrix to the big international chemicals company where I was working. Fantastic product company, but they needed to know about marketing and markets, to which the matrix was the answer. The new region to which I belonged got a forceful manager who quickly made his mark, pushed the right sort of issues and quickly got the product division to hate and undermine him. A “war” in which we in our market had to do our best to survive, while keeping customers happy and churning out plans and reports in all directions to keep the matrix happy. Good job that chemicals were so profitable then that they could afford using 20-25% of our resources for planning and reporting.
Not so long ago I did a specific organizational audit in an exceptionally profitable company. They had been wrestling with the issue of emulating their one-product/one-market success to more products and more markets. The big consultancy had solved this by implementing a matrix. Now everything seemed to be decided in committee, where all participants appeared to have the right to veto decisions for their particular market/product. Accountabilities were vague and unclear and role descriptions inflated. Good job they have all those profits so they can afford all those people sitting in meetings.
In one organization where I worked the combination of the matrix and Parkinsons law led to the proliferation of jobs. On the product side of the matrix they started adding people to deal with market areas and on the market side people to deal with product areas. The least one could say is that we did double our efforts.
My most absurd encounter with the matrix was in a major government agency, interviewing a manager with a vertical responsibility. Being a seasoned bureaucrat used to sitting in headquarters issuing edicts he was concerned with his mandate. “Look here”, he said pointing to the intersection between his vertical and a specific horisontal responsibility. “Look at that box”, he said, “could one not draw a diagonal in that particular box, so that I am in charge of that resulting triangle, and the horizontal manager in charge of the remaining triangle”.
I believe that the matrix was an honest attempt to address the fact that people need to cooperate to get stuff done and that drawing the matrix was the quickest way of fixing that. However, the nature of people does not seem to have changed. We still had the same issues with power, office politics and accountabilities. The managers on the top team more concerned with making their mark and jockeying for pole position.
More about what I think matrixes are attempting to solve and alternative solutions will follow in coming ports.
New York City, USA
The Argentine Human Resources Association
The European Organization Design Forum
Canadian Association of Management Consultants
Human Resource Professionals of Ontario
Human Resource Planning Society
An institute for advanced human resources professional development
An association of academics, business users and consultants headquartered at Aarhus University in Denmark
A USA based association
A Toronto-based association of advanced HR practitioners
An Argentine Society for Quality Improvement
The Argentine Society for Training and Development
The Argentine Human Resources Association
Federation of Human Resource Associations in Latin America
The Buenos Aires Technological Institute
An professional association for public service employees in Canada
Buenos Aires, Argentina.