Many of today’s organizations have adapted to the rapidly shifting demands of the modern business environment by doing away with hierarchical structures in favor of flatter, more adaptable structures. Although matrix organizations are certainly not a new concept, they are becoming more popular, especially for large companies looking for ways to leverage the diverse resources and expertise available.
What is a Matrix Organization?
A matrix organization differs from more traditional, hierarchical management structures. Rather than taking a “top-down” approach, matrix organizations are flatter and feature multiple, overlapping reporting relationships. The actual structure of reporting authority resembles a grid rather than a ladder, which is where the approach gets its name. Information and decisions flow horizontally rather than vertically, which makes matrix organizations much more flexible and adaptable when it comes to dealing with complex challenges.
Matrix-based teams are comprised of individuals with differing operational perspectives who also have different reporting relationships. There may be a specific project manager for a team even if members still report to other functional managers. This structure allows information and resources to move across functions quickly, which helps organizations to respond to shifting circumstances and collaborate more effectively.
Cross-Functional Communication Challenges
While there are many advantages to a matrix organization, they are heavily reliant upon good communication. Poor or ineffective cross-functional communication and cross-functional team leadership can quickly undermine productivity and create a number of problems for people working in a matrix environment. Some of these problems include:
Lack of Clarity
Since team members report to multiple managers and receive information from a variety of sources, so it can be very easy to lose track of what’s happening and who needs to be informed about what. When it comes time to make decisions or take action, there may be some uncertainty about who has the authority to do so. Without clearly defined structures and processes in place, matrix organizations will struggle with cross-functional team leadership.
Lack of Trust
With so many reporting relationships criss-crossing matrix organizations, some amount of conflict is inevitable. Whether it’s a dispute over resource allocation or priorities, it can be tempting to withhold information in order to benefit one department over another or avoid taking accountability for a problem. As trust breaks down, secrecy becomes more pronounced and further undermines productivity.
Lack of Productivity
Matrix organizations can bring a lot of knowledge and expertise together, but without a system in place to manage all of it, they can quickly become chaotic and unwieldy. Having multiple functional managers involved in a project can make it harder to share information and allocate resources effectively if all of them insist on having a hand in decision-making. These delays have a way of compounding, leaving less time for people to complete important, interrelated tasks and undermining overall productivity.
How to Improve Cross-Functional Communication
Fortunately, these problems can be avoided by taking a few easy steps to improve cross-functional communication. While it’s best to implement these measures from the beginning, they can also be used to get a dysfunctional matrix organization back on …read more
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