Working in a Matrix Organization
Working Effectively With Several Bosses
Jake is a marketing executive, and, as part of his role, he's responsible for promoting a new product. His work on the promotion is overseen by a product manager.
She's an expert on this type of product, and she's responsible for coordinating people across all parts of the organization to make the product a success.
However, Jake also reports to the marketing manager, who is responsible for overseeing Jake's overall performance, his pay and benefits, and his professional development.
This example may sound complex, but, in fact, it's a highly successful management approach known as "matrix management." It's used by companies that need to maximize the impact of expert managers, while keeping the organization's staffing overhead under control.
If your organization has a matrix management structure, you're likely to participate in key decisions. And, like Jake, you're also likely to have managers with specialist knowledge, who can give you expert guidance.
But matrix management can also present some challenges. In this article, we'll explain what matrix management is, how it can benefit an organization, and how you can thrive within this structure.
About Matrix Management
A matrix management structure is an organizational structure in which people report to multiple managers, who have different roles. Figure 1 shows the matrix in our example above.
Figure 1 – An Example Matrix Management Structure
In this example, the functional manager oversees work that relates to a function, such as marketing, finance, or sales. The product manager oversees work on specific products, or for specific markets. He or she runs cross-functional teams, whose members come together to work on specific products.
Many organizations use matrix management on a larger scale. Functional managers will be responsible for functions on an international level, and country managers will oversee work in specific regions or countries.
This means that leaders can make the most of functional managers' experience, while also harnessing country managers' specialist knowledge of their markets.
Matrix management is used for a number of reasons, such as:
- If an organization has many products, but does not need to assign people full-time to each one, it can assign them part-time to several products. Each person's product-based work will be overseen by a product manager, while their overall performance will be overseen by a functional manager.
- If there is pressure on an organization to deliver on several factors, such as product quality and low cost, these factors can be overseen by different managers. For example, a person's product quality-related work would be overseen by a product manager, while a finance manager would monitor cost.
- If an organization operates in several countries or regions, a matrix structure can give consistent product or functional management, globally. Here, people report to country managers and also to global product or function managers.
- If an organization is working in a rapidly changing environment, it may need to respond quickly to change. A matrix management structure means that information can be shared and acted upon quickly.
Advantages of a Matrix Management Structure
One advantage of a matrix structure is its flexibility. You work with colleagues who specialize in different functions, so you can share information quickly. This helps people respond rapidly to challenges, and notice trends or problems that might be overlooked in a more traditional structure.
The matrix structure also breaks down the "silo" effect that some traditionally structured organizations experience. Because you spend much of your time working with people from different departments, you can share information and build good working relationships – often with people you might never have met otherwise.
It's great for bringing real expertise to play in solving problems. In our example, the team can draw on guidance from both product experts and functional experts.
What's more, it's highly efficient in doing this: just one product expert manager can manage a product globally, just one marketing expert manager can manage marketing globally, and team members can work on multiple teams, if they have time available. (This compares with many people duplicating these tasks in a traditional hierarchical company.)
When managed well, a matrix structure can also lead to a high sense of personal empowerment. You're likely to be involved in solving complex problems, meeting ambitious goals, and making key decisions, all of which can make your job very satisfying.
Challenges of Matrix Management
One of the most pressing challenges within a matrix structure is ambiguity. For example, because you report to a product manager and a functional manager, it can be confusing to know who to report to first, or how to prioritize your work.
If your managers have very different working styles, you'll need to find ways to respond to each of them. And you may even find that they give you conflicting instructions.
Working Successfully in a Matrix Management Structure
Use these strategies to work successfully within a matrix management structure.
1. Define Your Role
It's essential to understand not only your role and responsibilities, but also those of your managers.
Meet with them, ask how they see your role, and explore what they feel your top objectives should be. You may find that their views on your priorities differ, so you may need to agree a consistent set of roles and responsibilities.
These can change as organizational needs and challenges evolve, so revisit these regularly, to make sure that they are still relevant.
2. Manage Deadlines
You're likely to have multiple deadlines competing for your attention at any one time. Some of them might even conflict with one another, so it's essential to learn how to schedule and prioritize tasks effectively.
First, plan your time wisely. Use Action Programs to organize your short-, medium-, and long-term goals, and work these into your schedule. If you feel under pressure, use Activity Logs to analyze your time. Then, use your performance agreement along with your activity log and Eisenhower's Urgent/Important Principle to identify which tasks you can cut back on or delegate.
Then, learn how to negotiate scheduling conflicts assertively.
3. Communicate Clearly
Good communication is essential for avoiding conflicting deadlines or unrealistic expectations.
Talk with your managers to find out how they would like you to communicate with them. They may find it most helpful to meet regularly, or they may prefer you to send weekly progress updates, for example.
4. Appreciate Diversity
The diversity of knowledge, working styles, and opinions within a matrix organization team can present learning opportunities, but it can also lead to tension. If you find it difficult to understand others' opinions, use the Perceptual Positions exercise to see things from different viewpoints. You can also use the Johari Window technique to disclose information about yourself, build trust, and get to know others in the group.
If arguments erupt within the group, learn how to manage conflict, so that you can resolve issues and get everyone back on track.
In a matrix management structure, you report to multiple managers – for example, a functional manager and a product manager.
In this example, you work within a functional team, such as sales or customer service, and you're also part of a cross-functional product team that draws people from other areas to take advantage of their specialist expertise.
Matrix organizations can be challenging to work in. To succeed, make sure that you're clear on your roles and priorities, and negotiate any conflicts or mismatches in these assertively.
Work on your time management skills so that you can handle multiple deadlines and tasks. Last, appreciate your team members' different perspectives. By working together, you can all effect real change.