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3 Matrix Management Myths Dispelled

Matrix Management Myths vs Facts

Some people think that matrix management is a “hot” new concept. Some think it’s an outdated management technology. Others think of it in terms of the challenges working in a matrix environment presents.

Matrix Management Myths Dispelled

To shed some light on the subject, and address a few of the misconceptions and negative perceptions floating around, we decided to take a look at three wide-spread matrix management myths. In doing so, we hope you will see that there is more to matrix management than you might think, and if you’re a skeptic, maybe you’ll be encouraged to learn more.

Myth #1: Matrix Management Means Dual Reporting

Dual reporting was introduced in the 1980s when large global organizations first embraced matrix management as a way to manage complexity in a matrix environment. What is often understood as a matrix environment is a situation where a line employee reports to both a functional manager, (e.g. the Director of Engineering), AND a regional manager, (e.g. the Head of Operations for Asia) in order to deliver a product or service in multiple locations with input from multiple functions.

Why Dual Reporting Isn’t the Solution

Dual reporting lines are based on the premise that leaders need authority in order to get things done. The problem with that assumption is that dual reporting reflects a one-dimensional vertical view of an organization, while the reality is that in complex organizations, most business processes occur in the horizontal dimension. In our example, the engineering team must contribute to the work of other functional teams across the globe in order to deliver a product.

Why Collaboration is the Solution

Modern matrix management practitioners have discovered that dual reporting DOES NOT get things done in a two-dimensional matrix. Things get done when leaders collaborate and individuals share accountability for their own work, the team’s work, and the organization’s work.

Dual reporting simply does not address the complexity of today’s global business environment, and because of that, it has become outdated. It isn’t the “definition” of matrix management. Best practices have informed new solutions that focus on a two-dimensional organizational structure, emphasizing collaborative skills for managers and team members.

Organizational Complexity

Myth #2: Matrix Management is Only for Large Complex Organizations

It’s true that large organizations were the first to embrace matrix management principles. However, the reality is that any organization where employees need input from others in order to achieve their goals operates in a matrix.

Small and medium-size organizations (up to 300 employees) may not need a large horizontal structure to run their business efficiently, but they DO still need to map their horizontal business processes in order to discover where inefficiencies occur.

Every organization needs to be able to:

  • Prioritize its goals
  • Align these goals across various teams
  • Create an accountability system to make this alignment and optimization possible

The only difference between a 50-person startup and a large international manufacturer is the SIZE of the horizontal structure with all of their processes mapped out. Otherwise, modern matrix management solutions apply to a small-scale organization in much the same way as they do for large-scale organizations.

Myth #3: Matrix Management is About Better Project Management

Using modern matrix management principals to optimize projects is often the first step on the road to organizational matrix maturity, and it’s true that for some, optimizing project work is a good place to start. However, there’s much more to matrix management than better project management. For example, for some organizations, collaborative leadership training or improving operational processes may be a priority.

The Matrix Management 2.0™ Maturity Model defines five levels of organizational maturity and provides a framework to help identify where solutions may be best applied in your organization.

Ready to Learn More About Current Best Practices in Matrix Management?

Cathy Cassidy

As the Managing Director of the International Matrix Management Institute, Cathy helps organizations and practitioners adopt the skills and methods they need to succeed in today’s complex, dynamic environment. She is a Matrix Management 2.0™ Master Consultant and the author of several books on matrix management, including her most recent publication, Managing Projects in a Matrix. She is a key contributor to the Matrix Management 2.0™ Body of Knowledge, co-developer of the Matrix Management 2.0™ organizational operating system, and a lead developer for the company.