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  • Writer's pictureMike Bensi

Insights of a Matrix Organization

Morpheus was right; The Matrix is all around us. But the matrix I’m talking about isn’t controlled by cyber-intelligence harvesting electricity from humans like in the movie. This matrix refers to a unique organizational structure set up as a grid, opposed to the traditional hierarchy.

According to a Gallup study, 84% of U.S. employees surveyed were matrixed to some extent. Forty-nine percent served on multiple teams some days (we categorized them as slightly matrixed). So what does this mean?

If we're working within these majorities, we can feel a lot like Alice falling down a rabbit hole. According to McKinsey, a common complaint about matrix organizations is that employees have a lack of clarity about responsibilities, expectations, and who reports to whom. In addition, matrix structures can slow decision making, blur lines of communication, and hinder organizational productivity and agility.

But there is a bright spot. The same research found that employees working in a matrix organization were more engaged than their non-matrixed peers. Employees in matrix organizations were more likely to say their firms helped them collaborate more effectively, do their best work, serve customers well, and stimulate bottom-up innovation. The differences were slight, but given the already low levels of engagement throughout the working world, let's take what we can get.

How can we ensure that our matrix organization is taking advantage of this difference? How do we take the red pill to see how much potential we have within the matrix?

Shape a foundation built on culture. A key success factor for any matrix organization is teamwork. Without the traditional organizational structure in place, employees are forced to collaborate across the company. While it applies with any organization, ensure the culture is defined and supports the right values and behaviors to support this need.

Operate as a network. Every employee, regardless of the type of organization, is required to communicate. But without the traditional management authority, employees who thrive in matrix organizations also have the ability to influence and coach others. Team meetings are less about presenting and more about facilitating. Your organizational structure is defined by how you operate as a network, rather than one-way communications.

Focus and create accountability. It's critical that matrix employees have a very clear picture of their goals and responsibilities. That they know who they answer to and how they are held accountable. Leadership must support the need to create clear goals, objectives, and performance metrics for all employees. Ensure you're communicating frequently, either through dashboards or meetings, to ensure everyone knows how they are aligned.

Everyone has the power to decide. Matrix organizations have a greater tendency to feel like employees are waiting for permission, rather than acting on what they know is right. Empower your teams to make decisions and resolve conflicts without slowing down the process or involving more people than needed.

Of course, you can take the blue pill. The story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe that your organization isn't matrixed and that you can continue operating the same way. Or will you take the red pill and challenge yourself to grow highly-engaged employees who thrive in a matrix system? The choice is yours.

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