Do you have a solid enough foundation for the matrix?

If you are working within a matrix organizational structure, you are probably aware that optimal environments are described as being larger organizations, highly professional environments, and those requiring resources with diverse skill sets.

At first glance it may seem that many organizations should do well working within a matrix structure since they appear to meet the above criteria. Yet many organizations fail to achieve real and sustained success.  Why?

Perhaps their foundation has some cracks …

If we look back at some of the research around matrix structures, we’ll see that the above criteria are only half the picture. In addition, matrix organizations are optimally suited for environments that are highly collaborative, have people with strong interpersonal capabilities, and have appropriately placed authority to make critical decisions.

This is where it gets interesting. For example,              Does everyone within an organization have to collaborate well or just a few? What are appropriate interpersonal capabilities in the workplace and when are they considered strong?  Who should be authorized to make decisions at what level and when are they considered critical? Subjectivity will greatly influence an individual’s response.  In fact, anyone working within a matrix structure could find examples within their organization to satisfy this level of ambiguity.

To understand if your organization is well suited for a matrix structure, you need criteria that are more objective and definitive in their application. You need to take a long hard look at your organization’s foundation.

For example, how well does your organization adhere to the following criteria:

  • Documented and understood roles and responsibilities across management levels
  • Operational weekly plans in the hands of Chiefs and Managers
  • Documented business critical processes including defined standards and requirements
  • Mature issues management processes and documented escalation procedures
  • Activity time sheets in the hands of Staff
  • Performance measures in the hands of Directors
  • Dashboards in the hands of Senior Management
  • Documented and understood governance and lines of reporting

Basically, if your organization is not operating in an environment of accountability with strong governance, you may not be reaping all of the potential benefits of the matrix structure. In order to reach your potential, you may need to work on some of the fundamentals of accountable management.

You may not achieve all of the criteria on the list, but in the process, you will ask yourself enough hard questions to determine the best next steps for your organization.  It’s all a matter of timing and you may want to ensure the foundation for the house is solid before expecting it to effectively support the matrix walls.


Kathy Roy has implemented business transformation and change management projects in complex organizations for over two decades. She has worked with major companies, both public and private, and with numerous business sectors in both Canada and the United States. She is part of Systemscope's Strategic Business Consulting practice.


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