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A Matrix Organisation: It’s a State of Mind:
​The matrix organisational structure has been around for decades with varying degrees of success.

However, increasingly a matrix structure is being applied to organisations, notably global companies with businesses in a number of countries. 

In the case of many global organisations, the “Country Manager’ is little more than a co-ordinator of multiple business lines and functions, the Heads of which report primarily to their counterparts at corporate headquarters. 

For a matrix organisation to work managers need to have a specific mental model which tolerates ambiguity and complexity. Such a mental model is more aligned to that of an internal consultant than to a traditional hierarchical management mental model. As an internal consultant, even in a line position, the self-image is one of “me incorporated” in which the aim is to meet the expectations of all stakeholders. A mental model driven by the concept of a “boss” and “who reports to whom” needs to be replaced by that of an individual, team or department with multiple “clients”. The successful manager in a matrix structure is able to determine and manage the, often conflicting, expectations and demands of multiple “clients”. 

In practice, of course, that is easier said than done. Someone has to sign the performance management evaluation which determines the increase or bonus – generally “the boss”. In a matrix structure the traditional performance system needs to take into account multiple expectations and whether those have been met.

Therefore the top leadership of a matrix structure have to design the organisation to resemble a network rather than a hierarchy and all management processes need to be in alignment with such a concept. It is as much about leadership style and organisational culture as it is about reporting relationships.

The most important cultural value in such an organisation is clearly collaboration. If individuals, teams or departments are going to defend their “territory” and hoard resources rather than take a view on the “greater good” of the organisation the structure will not work. In addition, if business units do not accept the legitimacy of support departments or corporate roles it will not work.

In a matrix organisation one of the most important success factors is the clarification of roles and expectations and when grey areas emerge it is essential to have processes that bring about continuous clarification. A consultant is continually “contracting” and “re-contracting” expectations with his or her clients. Organisations and roles and expectations are fluid and there will always be a need for ongoing adjustments.

Finally, organisations that wish to move to a matrix organisation need to take a systemic approach. Simply changing reporting lines will just cause confusion and conflict. The whole organisational system needs to be changed to be aligned with the concept of a matrix organisation. That includes strategy, processes, technology (especially collaborative and social technology), structure, people, leadership and culture at the very least. Even physical work arrangements need to be aligned.

Leadership SA is well placed to assist organisations to move towards a matrix organisation or improve the effectiveness of their existing matrix organisational design. This is done through a comprehensive diagnostic phase followed by a change implementation phase or by simply making a presentation to its management team and facilitating a conversation.

Terry Meyer is a strategy and leadership consultant, academic, author, blogger and keynote speaker. He is also a part time Faculty member of USB-Ed where he is responsible for the HR Executive Programme.

His areas of expertise include strategy, organisational design, leadership, and human capital strategy. He has written and edited 6 books, the latest being Strategy, Leadership and Change: A Practical Guide for Busy Executives”. 
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