- September 23, 2016
- Posted by: David Marshall
- Category: Management
As the business atmosphere moves away from the formal, button down environments I worked in, I’m seeing more companies adopt a matrix management philosophy, which may actually be harmful to a company’s success.
Matrix management is where employees report to two or three managers. The management hierarchy is not only flat, but there are fewer direct reports and more “dotted line managers.”
On the upside, this kind of approach lets you break down silos, and bring the necessary people and resources to bear on a particular project. Everyone works together and communicates directly, rather than sending questions and requests up and down the chain of command.
But that’s only if everything works properly. There are some downsides to matrix management that you need to consider if you’re going to make this work.
In a typical business hierarchy, like you’d see in a corporation, people report to a specific leader or manager, as opposed to a group of managers or supervisors. But in matrix management, it’s too ambiguous. As a result, it can take a long time to get anything done.
The problem with this approach is that no one is completely accountable for the outcome of their work. Who do they report to? Who holds that person responsible? Who decides the consequences of failing to complete the work, or doing less than their best? If you’ve ever tried to run anything by a committee that operates on consensus, you understand the difficulties of matrix management.
Consider also that people tend to gravitate toward, and do better work for, people they like. If one person is working for three supervisors, they most likely going to do their best work for the supervisor they like best, and their least best work for theur least favorite. This means that as much as two-thirds of their work is less than their best, which is not something managers should ever want from their associates.
Finally, the people who work inside a matrix management system usually don’t stand out. You can have a superstar in your midst, but because of matrix management, that superstar won’t be easily noticed. The timeliness and excellence of their work will be covered by the results of the system.
So if an individual wants to stand out, they have to work to get the recognition they want, which can lead to more schmoozing than actually producing the work. That means high performers, who spend less time politicking get overlooked, while the low performers who are highly political can get recognized. And, if you ever have to downsize, you may end up getting rid of your superstars instead of eliminating the deadwood.
I don’t want to say that matrix management is terrible and that it should be scrapped. But it’s important to recognize the shortcomings of this management philosophy. If you’re part of a matrix management system, ask yourself how you can improve your particular situation? How can you recognize your superstars? How can you get the best work from your employees 100% of the time? And how can you hold people accountable for any shortcomings or delays in their responsibilities?
If you can answer these questions, you’re well on your way to making your matrix management system, and your company, successful.
I’ve been a manufacturing executive, as well as a sales and marketing professional, for a few decades. Now I help companies turn around their own business. If you would like more information, please visit my website and connect with me on Twitter or LinkedIn.