In the 1999 sci-fi action thriller The Matrix, Keanu Reeves’s character has two choices: the red pill or the blue pill. Either choice he makes will take him down a very different path.
In a matrix structure, project management teams combine multiple organizational structures, often resulting in teams responding to two separate chains of command. When done correctly, however, all managers function under the same reality.
This organizational structure is a specific hierarchy or flow that clarifies expectations surrounding tasks and responsibilities.
What is a matrix organizational structure?
The matrix organizational structure is a way of organizing your responsibility flow without a fixed hierarchy. Employees may answer to separate bosses who have no fixed authority over each other. These separate chains of command allow for employees to receive both functional and traditional feedback on their work within a project.
Rather than tightening restrictions around team members, the matrix organizational structure is flexible yet clear, allowing team members to be creative while understanding what the next steps are.
If you’re interested in implementing a matrix organizational structure within your team, read on to learn how it can be done.
How does a matrix organizational structure work?
In a matrix organizational structure, two or more structures are combined to create a system that works best for your team.
The chain of command could go something like this: an executive is in charge of both the traditional project manager and the functional project manager, while the project team members answer to the traditional project manager and the functional project manager.
In other words, team members answer to two managers who have distinct responsibilities. These positions are fluid, not fixed, and there is no predefined balance of power.
This organizational structure is especially beneficial to teams trying to create or provide multiple products or services at once. Instead of creating a separate team to build out a project, existing teams can be split up and assigned their own specific managers who then guide them through a project that runs in tandem with their existing tasks.
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Why should you use this structure? Well, many project managers find that it’s a good way to handle difficult projects that have a large scope.
With two project managers working side by side, as opposed to one having authority over the other, problems can be solved tangentially.
Let’s discuss the pros and cons of using a matrix organizational structure.
Pros of the matrix organizational structure
The following are just a few advantages of the matrix organizational structure.
Project objectives are clear
Keeps an open line of communication and fosters a collaborative environment
Combines functional employees with generalists, meaning help is never far away
Structural environment provides employee stability which reduces turnover and increases employee satisfaction
Uses employee time more efficiently
Project managers are able to act as trainers for those looking to become functional managers
Team members do not have to wait for their next assignment after a project’s close and can immediately return to functional tasks
Cons of the matrix organizational structure
Below are some cons of the matrix organizational structure, or reasons some organizations have found it to be a difficult strategy.
Conflict of which authoritative figure to trust
Employees often take on more work in this structure, which can lead to stress
more complex and requires more strategic planning
Disagreements between managers cause tension
Decisions have to go through multiple people for approval
Managers have to be willing to compromise, especially in times of high stress, otherwise the structure will crumble on itself
Can be more expensive than other strategies
The choice is yours
There are a multitude of project management approaches, styles, and methodologies to be discovered in addition to this organizational structure. Every interested company should analyze their team, needs, available resources, and timelines to determine whether a matrix organizational structure is the right way to lead your employees.
Interested in discovering whether a project is right for your organization at all? Learn how to conduct a feasibility study.
Grace Pinegar is a lifelong storyteller with an extensive background in various forms such as acting, journalism, improv, research, and content marketing. She was raised in Texas, educated in Missouri, worked in Chicago, and is now a proud New Yorker. (she/her/hers)