The matrix organization is an enterprise structure introduced in the 1970s in which two equal and different management systems are combined. Functional areas such as (marketing, finance, logistics, research, production) and objects ( products A, B, C, sales, etc) form the two equal dimensions of corporate management.

The matrix organization appears brilliantly on paper! Absolutely reasonable, logical with a highly efficient structured. Despite its wide distribution, however, it is quite controversial.

So that joint work can be carried out, clear organisational rules between the different dimensions are established and agreed upon, such as: who is in charge, who is responsible, who must be informed about decisions and who is consulted. The basic prerequisite for the organisation to function is the need for a jointly developed vision anchored in the organisation’s philosophy and which has a clear orientation and focus.

Working in the matrix is always difficult for everyone involved, despite the rules and clear structures. On the one hand, the way in which an organization is formed determines how different views are taken into consideration and conflicts are dealt with (which can be quite fruitful), and on the other hand, besides numerous inflationary coordination meetings, an often inflexible and slow decision making processes, how these different views can result in the employees always having to deal with several superiors and teams from both dimensions. This often leads to conflicts of interest and disputes. Focus and  vision can then easily become secondary!

“Matrix is when you have several chefs with each the best recipes”!

The organisational system is increasingly unable to withstand today’s ever growing global development and complexity. If this system collapses on any one level, alternative strategies are then used to avoid the “inner bottleneck”.

Innovation, development, service or production are outsourced and the “missing, outsourced part” is compensated by start ups, specialists or innovation centres that may work on a crowdfunding basis. But the challenge is just around the corner again as soon as the “externally acquired knowledge or good” is reintegrated into the matrix system! At this point there is a threat that the system fails again in the value chain.

1. Value Your Employees

On the one hand, matrix organizations often fail because of people who do not identify with the common values and vision, but pursue individual values and goals. They do not act in public interest. On the other hand, interpersonal cooperation is always about questions of power. Again and again discussions are held about who is “right”. And every employee naturally wants to be seen and recognized for his/her competence in content, opinion and organizational position.

Actually, managers and decision-makers want a different situation, but they are bound to take all sides into account and it often follows that ultimately none of the employees takes responsibility. In the worst case, no clear decisions are then made and the matrix system practically “eats” itself up.

At the present time, many managers who have grown up in these matrix structures and are in the relevant decision-making positions are still afraid of new community models. With the gradual retirement of the “Baby Boomer” generation from active working life, however, the next generation X, Y and Z can now realign the system with new structures and newly defined values.

These generations have the chance and task to introduce corporate cultures that are more community-oriented, in that people become active for people again and also create structures and corporate rules that make it worth living and implementable for people.

2. Build Common Values, Vision & Focus

The solution could be to let the actual work and the original task take a step back and instead bring the responsible managers and employees together and ask them to find and define common values, focus and a shared vision. It requires a high level of competence to develop a dream and a vision in which the employees and all players of an organisation can pursue in order to enjoy their work. An ancient saying relevant to these ideas and which still holds true today:

“If you want to build a ship, don’t round up people to get wood, assign tasks and divide up work, but rather teach people the desire for the vast, endless sea”  Antoine de Saint-Exupery

3. Communication Competence ” Listening to each other at eye level”

Aren’t we already so shaped and conditioned by our education that we believe that a person of  authority (teacher or parents) is always right? This conditioning then runs the risk of bringing up feelings of being a child in the adult person that is not heard, perceived and appreciated. In meetings and discussions, the situation often arises that everyone involved wants to assert their own beliefs of doing things, especially in cross-departmental meetings and not consider other beliefs. Everyone wants to be seen with her or his opinion. This can often lead to a power struggle between individuals and the departments meaning that there will have to be a loser! For if one is right, the other must be wrong and does not feel valued. Teams narrow themselves down by trying to be right.

It is therefore important to change the culture of discussion in such a way that employees can actually listen more, set new impulses and take up new views. A culture in which they do not discuss who is right, but in which they can open themselves to all sides and in look at different perspectives of the situation in order to achieve the greatest possible knowledge and the greatest possible solution potential together.

4. Live Human Competence

In order to be truly successful in this area, it is important to have the elemental ability to trust oneself as well as the other person.
It is also important to exercise maximum compassion for each other, have the ability to serve each other consciously within his potential, his work force and experience, and have the ability to be a friend to the colleague by seeing, what the other needs and be ready to be there. These ingredients are important the employee can find fulfilment in the cycle of giving and accepting, through recognition and belonging.

5. Live Corporate Social Values

Managers are always asked to account for their efficency and productivity of their teams.
Here, too, it is necessary to recognize that economic efficiency can no longer be measured solely in terms of financial profit, but also in the well-being of a company, its employees, those responsible for management, customers and business partners. And here, instead of training the individual more and more to optimize the profit, it would be important to train the individual employees to approach each other, to seek the common focus and to find the mutual support and not just the competition.

6. Employ & Develop Conscious Leaders as Role Models

Title, intelligence and excellent specialist knowledge are not all!

“What have I done for my employees today”?

Beyond professional competence, it requires clarified and conscious leaders who rest in themselves and do not use their power as a source of energy to nourish their ego.
It takes creative pioneers and leaders in the leadership of people and companies who are truly and passionately to serve their employees better. Managers with the ability to lead on a situational basis by recognizing people individually and picking them up where they stand. Who leads, serves!
 If a company manages to consciously focus its organization on people and to shape it with heart, with values, clear focus and vision, then the organization is not only successful in all areas of the company, but also equipped for the next revolution!
It is therefore important to remember that the qualities of mutual appreciation and compassion as a human being can never, never be replaced by any artificial intelligence!

7. Develop a Learning Organisation

Organizational intelligence = degree of learning ability of the organization
How strong is your company’s learning ability?
A learning organization is constantly on the move, is adaptable and consciously enters new territory. Just as the individual learns, reflects and transforms experiences into new options for action, so the collective learns from experiences together.
Employees experiment, gain experience and see what is working, what is not working and are always willing to learn and learn from each other. And still one must be in charge!
The learning organization lives in a culture of open and individual reflection through all levels. Innovative, creative and transparent problem solving is promoted by the organisational culture. Employees are intrinsically motivated by active thinking and find a sense for their work. They work like it’s their own company.
The advantage of the learning organization is the use of common development processes in order to constantly adapt the knowledge base and options for action to the new situations and challenges, reflected and transparent. This increased problem-solving competence automatically results in an enormous increase in the value of human capital.
The problems caused by the matrix organization can be solved by the new management style, a shared vision and real cooperation!
If you are keen to apply this thinking into real life situations, then please do email me to find out more information. I would be delighted to work with you in the “new” future!


Autor: Victoria Hess in cooperation with Susanne Sonnenschein & Silke Freudenberg

Contact: Victoria Hess, or +41 76 778 5700


Send this to a friend