Corporations are consistently seeking ways to improve their overall organizational performance and consumer's perceptions of their quality service and innovativeness. Over the last several years, the matrix structure of management, where an employee has a direct report manager but also is influenced and heavily directed (and sometimes funded) by another manager/organization has become a major organizational trend. Matrix management is rapidly becoming popularized and adopted by corporations seeking solutions to budgetary, manpower and productivity issues.
To the individual a matrix management type of strategy presents the challenges of serving two masters. To managers, it presents challenges in directing the behavior of employee's that do not report directly to them and that they cannot directly reprimand or fire. For matrix teams, members also often struggle with varying agendas and incentive plans, thus management is faced with a challenge when attempting to coalesce the team. Power struggles and employee conflicts have plagued many organizations that have sought out matrices and incorporated this system as an integral part of daily functioning.
Thus, the problem that managers are faced with is determining whether the faults of a matrix management style outweigh the benefits. The aim of this research study is to examine the nature of the matrix structure of management and the problems inherent in it, in order to attempt to propose a better solution or organizational paradigm for management success.
The preliminary research review suggests that inherent in any matrix management style is the potential for inter-group conflict; thus this paper will also seek to determine whether or not solutions to this negative aspect of matrix management can be determined.
Matrix management styles, much like other management programs including total quality improvement (TQM) and customer relations management (CRM) is rapidly becoming an increasingly popular style of management. Its potential for success and failure are explored in greater depth below.
Hayden, Kaya and Wood (2002) suggest a model similar to the matrix style of management that may actually prove beneficial to organizations. Called the 'power bloc' theory, Hayden, Kaya and Wood suggest that the boards or management teams of two different corporations can effectively coordinate plans and decisions "by interlocking directors through toe boards of two other corporations." The idea is that by networking firms can build density and extend their influence and power.
Similarly, within any given organization, when used beneficially, more than one manager or director can oversee the operations of a single group of employees in order to facilitate greater productivity and influence. However, when dealing with employee behaviors and attitudes, having more than one manger to report to can also prove challenging and cumbersome, particularly when substantial thought is not put into the process of defining each manager's roles and functions.
Burns (1989) conducted a study of 315 hospitals utilizing matrix management programs several years ago. His study verifies that matrix management "involves several distinctive elements" that can be used to develop lateral coordinative devices within an organization. When first developed the concept of matrix management was viewed as the last step of a series of lateral coordinative mechanisms, ranging from 'liaison roles and task forces' to the pure matrix (Burns, 1989). Burns suggests that matrix management systems provide new venues for strategic team making and productivity. Most organizations are interested in building teams and improving their productivity, thus the concept of a program that will facilitate team working traditionally is eagerly adopted.
Gobeli, Gray & Larson (1991) describe a matrix organization as a "hybrid structure" where personnel are assigned to a basic functional area and one or more projects. Each project subsequently has a designated project manager. The influence of this project manager will vary according to the matrix type. Gobeli, Gray and Larson go on to describe different types of matrix management. In the first, a "functional" matrix the project manager has the role only of coordinating and expediting the project; functional managers should be responsible for the design and completion of the technical requirements of any one project in an organization (Gobeli, Gray & Larson, 1991). The next type of matrix that can exist is a "project matrix" where the project manager has primary control over the completion of the project. In this setting the functional manager responsibilities are limited to providing personnel and technical advice only. Lastly, in a balanced matrix, the functional managers and the project manager work together and share joint responsibility for all aspects of a project (Gobeli, Gray & Larson, 1991).
Larson and Gobeli (1987) note that though all three matrix structures (Functional, project and balanced) are commonly used, most managers prefer the "project matrix" model. Matrix management systems are popular due to the efficiency of resource use they promote and the idea that personnel can be shared across differing projects. Despite these facts, Gobeli, Gray and Larson (1991) point out that among the problems related to multi-boss management networks include the following: slow reaction times, power struggles, and dysfunctional conflict.
Project matrix structures have the ability to alleviate some of these problems however, by assigning the project manager primary control over the project and employees. Evans (1992) notes that in today's global marketplace the role of management is developing. He suggests that matrix structures in their simplest forms may offer promise of a combined centralization and decentralization of processes, but notes that manager must also acknowledge the limits of any matrix system. Too many forces involved with thwart the efforts of any matrix structure according to the researcher.
Macy (2002) states that despite the tremendous enthusiasm for models such as Matrix Management and similar systems, surveys suggest that "about three out of four managers end up disappointed" with the outcome of such systems. He suggests that the philosophy of matrix management is much like that of a "silver bullet" for solving production and management problems, when the real solution lies in practice and planning.
Opposing this notion however, are supporters such as Walker (2000) who states that agencies, particularly government agencies, "need to employ matrix management principles" in order to bring the right skills to the table to address organizational development issues. Matrix management according to Walker, when used correctly, can serve to increase productivity. To address the obstacles that organizations have faced when employing basic matrix management principles, Walker (2000) suggests that organizations consider minimizing management layers and avoiding redundancies, in order to create more vibrant partnerships between officials and communities. Further, Walker suggests that organizations need to align their mission and vision with a matrix management approach to work, thus focusing on succession planning and mentoring, training, and paying attention to employee performance issues and feedback from across the agency.
Nurick (1993) suggests that matrix management models have the potential to increase the flexibility in organizations. Further he states that "technological complexity and specialization have increased the need for flexibility." One of the challenges matrix management systems present is "melding the talents" of individuals with diverse backgrounds and skills in order to bring people together cohesively to work toward successful completion of the larger task at hand. This process collectively might also be referred to as team building.
Nurick cites Wilemon and Thamhain (1983:73) stating that team building is a "process of taking a collection of individuals with different needs, backgrounds and expertise and transforming them by various methods into an integrated, effective unit." Task and relationship factors are responsible for defining the parameters of a team, and these factors one might assume may also play into defining the parameters of any well thought out matrix management system.
The majority of researchers (Nurick, 1993; Wilemon & Thamhain, 1983; Walker, 2000) do acknowledge that power struggles have the ability to undermine even the most well thought out matrix structure. Perhaps managers would do better as Nurick (1993) suggests de-emphasizing task functions and instead emphasizing the group's inner workings and relationships. By improving internal relationships, conflicts are inherently reduced, and matrix systems should naturally as a result improve and result in greater productivity.
Role conflict and power struggles are perhaps the two most severe problem areas related to matrix management systems. Role conflict has the potential for example to create and perpetuate ambiguity, when team members are serving multiple roles and reporting to different leaders (Nurick, 1993). Such actions may result in conflicting loyalties as employees struggle to gain footing and decide which need they must satisfy first. Role conflict typically occurs across units, whereas power struggles more commonly result in vertical conflict, where different authority levels are represented on a team and certain individuals try to influence or exercise more power over a group than others (Nurick, 1993).
Nurick (1985) uses the example of a team set up as a collaborative employee management group whose mission was to improve the quality of work life among one division of an organization. Midway through the project more top managers were included in the team, and rather acting as team members they took on the roles of individual managers, such that meetings turned into 'meetings' rather than…