Managing in a Matrix Organization

Collaborating With Other Managers

Managing in a Matrix Organization - Collaborating With Other Managers

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You need to tread carefully when managing in a matrix organization.

Roberta is a sales executive in a multinational luxury yacht business. She reports to two managers – Fabio, the Italian country manager, and Sara, the US-based global product manager.

Fabio looks after Italian-language sales and marketing, while Sara teaches her the details of the product range, and co-ordinates product delivery. Fabio also manages her from a local employment perspective, but Fabio and Sara together conduct her performance reviews.

Roberta is working in a "matrix management" organization. Fabio and Sara need to know how to manage her so that she gets the benefit of both of their support, without being driven mad by conflicting priorities.

About Management in Matrix Organizations

Large, complicated organizations use matrix management to organize themselves efficiently. With it, they can co-ordinate business units effectively without a huge management overhead.

Different types of manager – for example, functional managers, and regional managers – share responsibility for leading key individuals, teams, and business units. This means that an individual may have two bosses.

On one hand, this means that people can draw on a richer range of management expertise, and organizations are better coordinated and more competitive. On the other hand, it can be difficult to work for two different people, and this can have a knock-on effect on team members' morale and productivity.

There are many different ways that organizations can set up matrix management structures, however, common forms include product/function matrices, product/region matrices and function/region matrices:

  • Product/Function Matrices: Here, for example, an accountant within a cross-functional product team may report to a product manager and a finance manager. This means that he can support the product team effectively, at the same time that he follows company accounting standards and benefits from centralized professional development.
  • Product/Region Matrices: This is the example of Roberta, above, where a sales manager may report to a global product manager and a country manager. This allows her to develop a high level of product expertise, combined with an approach tailored to the needs of her local market.
  • Region/Function Matrices: Here, for example, a country compensation specialist reports to a country HR manager and a global head of compensation. This means that he can draw on expertise in local employment law, while still implementing a globally-coordinated approach to executive compensation.

These are some of the benefits of matrix management. In the rest of this article, we'll look at how you can overcome the challenges that come with it.

Challenges of a Matrix Structure

If you're a manager in a matrix organization, you may face several challenges.

First, managers' roles and responsibilities can be unclear. For example, a functional manager may wrongly assume that a product manager is responsible for monitoring progress, or for setting up new processes.

If managers fall victim to this "someone else syndrome," essential tasks may not be completed, problems might not be addressed, and vital information could be lost. Ultimately, this limits managers' accountability.

Team members may also become confused if managers' instructions conflict, and they may not know how to prioritize work from different managers.

They may even align with one manager and ignore the other, especially if one manager is more easily accessible than another. (Country managers are often more accessible than remote, global managers, for example.)

Finally, team members may become overworked if deadlines clash, or they might feel anxious if they don't know which manager has the final say over assignments and deadlines.

This can lead to reduced productivity, increased stress, and higher staff turnover.

How to Manage Successfully in a Matrix Structure

It's your responsibility – whether you're a functional, product, or regional manager – to ensure that your team members are clear about which manager will oversee different aspects of their work, and who they can approach if they have problems. You'll need to work closely with other managers to do this.

Follow the steps below to make sure that your people understand the matrix structure, and that they're happy and productive.

1. Clarify Management Responsibilities

Make sure that your plans will work alongside those of other managers, and that your instructions and deadlines won't conflict.

To do this, discuss your approach with the managers whose responsibilities intersect with yours. Outline what you want to achieve, and how you'd like do it. Include busy periods and key deadlines in your discussions, and negotiate a way forward that suits you both.

You'll then need to talk though how you can accommodate one another's needs, and agree how team members should prioritize their tasks to meet these.

It's also important that you agree which manager your team members should approach for guidance in which circumstances. Lines of responsibility can be confusing for team members, so make sure that they know who to ask for help in different situations.

What's more, you'll need to decide how you'll conduct performance reviews and deal with recruitment. For instance, does it make sense to hold joint interviews and performance reviews?

2. Define Team Member Roles and Responsibilities

As part of your discussions with intersecting managers, you'll need to make sure that you're clear on the roles and responsibilities of everyone on your team. This will ensure that there is no crossover of work, and that all key tasks have been assigned.

Use work breakdown structures to analyze the tasks that you need completed, and make sure that all of these can be allocated and addressed.

Then, working in conjunction with the intersecting manager, update team members' job descriptions to ensure that everyone understands what their roles are, and what tasks they will work on.

You could also create a team charter for each team to outline people's roles, the team's mission and objectives, and the resources and support available.

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3. Communicate Clearly

Good communication skills are essential in a matrix management structure, because you need to share so much information with fellow managers and team members.

Keep communications simple, and agree with your people how they can best share information within the team to keep everyone up to speed. (Good team briefings will help, here.)

You may want to set up shared documents, coordinate projects with shared tracking tools such as Gantto, and arrange regular, face-to-face meetings with intersecting managers to discuss progress and problems.

4. Listen Well

However carefully you work with other managers, it's likely that, at some point, team members will feel confused about instructions that they've been given by different managers. It's also likely that your team members will be first to realize when there is a problem.

You'll want them to approach you for clarity or guidance before the situation escalates, so make sure that you build a good relationship with them, and listen actively and empathically, so they feel that they can ask for help.


Conflict can arise in matrix management structures, particularly where roles aren't clear.

Wherever possible, deal with conflict face-to-face, over the phone, or over a video call. Use win-win negotiation to agree how you can make the most of team members' time, and try to meet everyone's needs.

5. Encourage Proactivity

With their specialist knowledge, your team members are well placed to come up with solutions to some of the challenges of a matrix environment.

Coach them to look for solutions, and encourage them to be creative about improving the way their teams work.

Also, ask for regular feedback, and ask how you can help them.

Key Points

In matrix organizations, teams can be managed by two or more managers. While this offers useful advantages, it can lead to problems as well.

To avoid these problems, take time to define team members' and managers' roles clearly. Agree on how information should be shared, and listen carefully to your people if they hit problems. Encourage them to use their own expertise to come up with solutions.

Also, strengthen your communication and conflict resolution skills, so that you can diffuse difficult situations quickly.