The definition of matrix working is people working in a matrix organisational structure.
Matrix organisational structure
The traditional organisational structure of a business is hierarchical. For instance, an employee will report to a manager, who will report to a team leader, who will report to a department head, who will report to a Chief Executive. However, organisations can be structured in other ways.
The matrix organisational structure combines the traditional model of a business with the kind of structure typical of project teams. If a hierarchical structure is thought of as 'vertical', then a matrix structure allows the organisation to operate 'horizontally' as well as 'vertically'. Employees are assigned to positions in teams which are project (or product) specific, and report 'horizontally' to the team leader of that project.
At the same time, the employees retain their function-specific position in their original department, and continue to report 'vertically' to their original manager. The resulting organisational chart is a matrix of horizontal project rows and vertical function columns.
The matrix structure can combine the best elements of both (hierarchical and project) structures. Matrix structures can be categorized as weak, balanced or strong.
In a weak matrix a project manager has limited authority and reports to the functional manager. The weak matrix acquires some of the advantages of matrix organisational structure, but retains many of the problems of a hierarchical organisational structure.
In a strong matrix a project manager has greater authority and independence from the functional manager. The functional manger has a supportive rather than managerial role. A strong matrix is a challenging structure which relies on good working relationships and a suitably flexible work environment.
In a balanced matrix authority is shared equally between the project manager and the functional manager. Although this model is considered the ideal combination, it is also the most difficult to maintain.
Matrix organisational structures are common, and most large organisations use matrix management to some extent. Matrix management generally refers to management which works both 'vertically' (according to function) and 'horizontally' (according to project, product, or region). Matrix management is suitable for project or product-specific work environments.
In matrix management, employees may report to more than one manager. For instance, they may report to a project manager on a day-to-day basis, but report to a departmental manager for their main function.
Examples of matrix management include:
- A sales professional who reports to a product account manager and to a regional account manager.
- A Human Resources professional who supports and reports to a decentralised branch of their company, but who also reports to the Human Resources department.
- An IT professional who reports to a central department, but who also reports to team leaders on several time-bound IT projects.
Advantages and disadvantages of matrix structures
As with any organisational structure, the matrix structure has advantages and disadvantages.
Advantages of a matrix organisational structure include:
- More flexibility
- Greater responsiveness
- Better use of skills
- Improved communication
- More cooperation
- Reduced costs e.g. shared resources
- Increased motivation
- Shared knowledge
- Working more effectively
Disadvantages of a matrix organisational structure include:
- Less accountability
- Conflicting loyalties
- Less coordination
- Increased bureaucracy
- Increased costs e.g. more managers
- Reduced morale
For more information on matrix management read Bartlett & Ghoshal's article 'Matrix Management: Not a Structure, a Frame of Mind' in Harvard Business Review.