The Disadvantages Of A Matrix Structure As It Grows

Matrix management means having more than one boss.

Matrix management structures a business or organization around two or more areas, such as region, function or customer, and allows two or more people to share authority. Many types of matrix organizations exist, from the functional matrix – a more traditional, hierarchical system – to four-dimensional models. Working in a matrix organization can be confusing and stressful for managers and employees, especially as it grows in complexity.

Risk of Duplicated Effort

As Marvin R. Gottlieb points out in his book, “The Matrix Organization Reloaded: Adventures in Team and Project Management,” operating within a matrix can risk duplicating effort. For example, Gottlieb discusses Harley-Davidson and its information systems department, which is organized “around three overlapping circles – manufacturing, sales and support.” A chief information officer heads each circle, and the three CIOs share responsibilities such as staffing and departmental goal setting. To minimize possible duplicated effort, Harley-Davidson also adds a vice president of information systems to the team, which Gottlieb sees as “a true matrix manager … his primary function is to encourage and monitor collaboration and coordination with the total company’s goals and objectives.” Therefore, if an organization won’t or can’t put such extra measures into place, duplicated effort may become a problem, especially as the organization grows.

Lack of Performance Tracking

In 2005, Thomas Sy and Laura Sue D’Annunzio published a study of 294 top- and mid-level managers from seven major multinational corporations in the journal “People and Strategy.” The study surprisingly found that few of the companies tracked the performance of their matrix structure, prompting Sy and D’Annunzio to conclude that, “Without performance metrics, leaders will find it difficult to spot problems and take the necessary steps to fix them.” Problems not addressed as the organization grows will continue, possibly escalate and become more difficult to resolve.

Misaligned Goals

Sy and D’Annunzio also found that 47 percent of mid-level managers and 67 percent of top-level managers cited misaligned goals as a common problem in a matrix organization. As Sy and D’Annunzio point out, aligning goals among various “functions, products, customer or geographic regions, among others” can be a primary and increasing challenge for matrix management.

Vulnerable to Reorganization

Gill Corkindale writes in her blog, “Surviving Matrix Management” on the “Harvard Business Review” website, that matrices are vulnerable to constant reorganization, which can disrupt the relationships that make a matrix work, such as “knowledge, experience and organizational know-how.” And as the organization and matrix grow, their success relies on organizational knowledge and experience.