The Terror of the Matrix (and how to avoid it)

Oct 16, 2019


If you want to strike fear into the heart of a business, suggest that it moves to a matrix organisation. 

If you want to meet confused, unhappy, frustrated people go and talk to an organisation that has already moved.

There are exceptions that prove the rule but for most organisations what should have been
one of the best ways to manage a business in today’s increasingly complex world becomes a management nightmare.

What has gone wrong?

In this blog I want to talk about a couple of things:

1. Why move to the matrix?

All our research has shown that the matrix makes real business sense for companies that are large and complex.

They have:

a. Multiple countries/regions/markets

b. Multiple product lines available to most of their countries/regions/markets

c. More than £100 million revenue

d. A significant number of employees in multiple locations

If you don’t fit this then a matrixed organisation will probably add complexities that you are better off without.

2. What can go right and what can go wrong?

Done well, the matrix organisation can give you real competitive advantage:

  • It allows your company to scale fast without adding excess cost
  • It aligns your senior management team around the key objectives of the
  • It allows your organisation to become truly global
  • It creates real focused expertise within your company
  • It will help you build talent, clear career progression, and commitment

Done badly, it can be a recipe for chaos:

  • There is a lack of transparency and accountability
  •  There is no clarity on priorities
  •  There is endless scope for political squabbling over

Too many companies change organisation charts and think they have moved to a matrix. Too many companies try to “change the wings in flight” and fail miserably.

How to succeed in moving to a Matrixed organisation.

This is not a quick fix – nor should it be. This is about the future of your organisation. The benefits are great, but they will only be realised if the whole organisation is committed. To make a successful move to the matrix the senior team must be convinced that this is what the business needs to meet its strategic objectives. It needs to invest significant time and effort at the beginning of the process so that the whole organisation can move forward effectively. Simply  deciding to change the organisation and then leaving it to others means the senior team is walking away from its responsibilities and the process will fail (NB, not
might fail, WILL FAIL).

The senior team need to:

  • Develop a vision for the future organisation, define what success would look like and understand what needs to change to move to that vision. This needs to be a concrete vision, not an interesting set of fluffy wishes. 
  • Assess the skills available within the organisation, identify gaps and look at ways of filling them.
  • Look at the systems and processes that are needed to measure success and identify the work needed to make the necessary changes.
  • Develop an implementation and communications plan. Understand that people cannot just do their day job while they make major organisational change.
  • Realise they cannot do this by themselves. They need help from people who have done this before and can guide and manage the process. Otherwise you will just have overworked, demoralised staff and your business is at risk.
  • Be realistic about the cost and time this will take and get behind the plan.


Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash


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