The last post looked at the upsides of a matrix organization.  In the interest of fair balance, here are some downsides to consider as well.


In our interest to be fast-moving and not encumbered by hierarchical structures in business, it is easy to fall into the trap of involving too many people in the management of it.  By this I mean, I have seen many times in which leaders, being so interested in quick action and progress, will ask several people all to do the same thing.  The issue is so high on their consciousness that they tell whomever they happen to run into to “do this” or “do that”.   They get so focused on the tasks to be accomplished, that they forget about good process.

That is the leadership challenge here.  Clarity of roles and processes is critical to efficiency and motivation.

Many times they do not even realize that they have already given the same instructions to other people.  As a result, they now have several people all running around trying to resolve the same issues.  I have done the same thing myself. I simply lose track of who I have asked to do what.

Of course, the impact is obvious.

Number 1.  You get people stepping all over each other trying to get the task completed, and involving numerous people to do the job of one.

Number 2.  You often get a slightly different interpretation of the task by each person you have asked…kind of the Whisper Down the Lane syndrome…remember that game you played as a kid or in management communications seminars?

Number 3.  Inevitably, the leader will come across some new information that will lead her/him to modify the instructions or stop it entirely.  She/he will often not recall having asked several people to perform the task, and so will fail to make them all aware of the change.  Those people will continue speeding along in the original direction not knowing that the direction has changed.  Talk about confusion.  Don’t laugh, this happens!

How do you avoid this?  As a leader you must have an organized way of delegating.  You cannot just walk around barking out orders.  You must remain aware of good process at all times and be careful to remain clear on roles and responsibilities…accountability.

Only assign people tasks and responsibilities that are within their job description…clarity and accountability.  Sounds simple, right?  It is.  However, it is often violated.  Here are some reasons why…

  • If you find yourself unclear about who is responsible the task or crossing the lines between two or more jobs, then you have to re-examine those jobs for clarity of definition.
  • If you find that you are not confident in a person’s ability to perform a certain task and so you assign it to someone else whose responsibility it is not, then you have to consider making a change.
  • If it is a complex issue that requires more than one person to resolve, perhaps you can assign others to assist.  However, make it very clear who in that group is ultimately responsible for the outcome.

If you think that you do not have the time to take these steps, think about how long it will take you to fix the problems you are about to cause…confusion, inefficiency and demotivation.

Remember, it is good to be able to be flexible in the way you operate, but not at the expense of clarity and accountability.  That is the leadership challenge here.  Clarity of roles and processes is critical to efficiency and motivation.

While it can be effective to use a matrix, it needs to be well thought through and applied.  In the organization I referred to in the last post, I had once said that the matrix there worked very well.  A colleague of mine clarified my statement by adding that it was the people who made it work well because they were clear on their responsibilities within the matrix and did not cross any lines of responsibility.  She was right…and that clarity all starts with the leadership.