Challenges and Strategies of Matrix

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Challenges and
Strategies of Matrix
Organizations:
Top-Level and Mid-Level
Managers’ Perspectives
Thomas Sy, College of Business Administration, California State University, Long Beach; Laura Sue D’Annunzio, A.T. Kearney Inc.

U

sing surveys, inter-

views, and workshops with 294 toplevel and mid-level
managers from seven major
multinational corporations in
six industries, we identified
the top five contemporary challenges of the matrix organizational form: (1) misaligned goals, (2) unclear roles and
responsibilities, (3) ambiguous
authority, (4) lack of a matrix
guardian, and (5) silo-focused
employees. We also provide
managers with the best practices that will improve their
matrix organizations.

Interest in matrix organizational structures peaked during the 1970s and 1980s. Since that time, research and literature on the
noticeably.
matrix
have
dropped
Simultaneously, organizations continue to
adopt the matrix as a viable alternative to
deal with their increasingly complex
H UMAN RESOURCE PLANNING 28.1

39

Overview of the Matrix

EXHIBIT 1

Matrix Forms

Functional
Matrix
s

Employees remain
full members
of functional
departments.

s

Processes and
procedures instituted to ensure
cross functional
collaboration.

Balanced
Matrix

s

s

Employees move
between functional departments
and projects and
respectively retain
membership with
those units during
the same period.

Strives for
equalized power
and authority
between organizing dimensions
and equal pursuit
of multiple
business objectives.

s

Permanent project management
overlay.

s

Project managers
have primary
control over
resources and
project’s direction.

s

Project managers
are responsible
for defining what
needs to be
accomplished
and when.

s

s

s

s

Classic model by
which the matrix
form is known.

s

Employees are
officially members of two organizing dimensions.

s

Project
Matrix

Functional
managers define
personnel staffing
and how tasks
will be accomplished.

Functional
managers serve
in a support or
advisory role and
retain control
over much of the
team responsible
for carrying out
plans and controls established
by project managers.

Project managers
are limited to
coordinating
the efforts of the
functional
groups.
Functional
managers are
responsible for
the design and
completion
of technical
requirements.

By its simplest definition, the matrix is a grid-like organizational structure that allows a company to address multiple business dimensions using multiple command structures. The matrix organizational form emerged in the aerospace industry during the 1960s as government contracts required a project-based system linked directly to top management (Knight, 1977). While the matrix can take many forms, three common variants are the functional matrix, balanced matrix, and project matrix (see Exhibit 1) (Burns, 1989; Galbraith, 1971, 1973; Kolodny, 1979; Larson & Gobeli, 1987). Matrix organizational structures are comprised of multiple business dimensions. Basic matrix structures have two dimensions (e.g., function by product matrix, geography by product matrix). More complex matrix structures could encompass three or more dimensions. For example, a company could be structured not only to focus on product and function, but also to deal with geographic differences. In this study, we focus on organizations that operated in a two-dimensional matrix structure.

The matrix boasts many traits that are necessary in managing global organizations (Bartlett & Ghoshal, 1998; Galbraith, 1994; Kramer, 1994). Exhibit 2 highlights the strengths and weaknesses of the matrix organizational form.

The matrix allows companies to leverage vast resources while staying small and task-oriented. The matrix encourages innovation and fast action, and speeds information to those who know how to use it. Conversely, the matrix...
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