Is This Matrix Management, And Is It Good?

Question:

I work in an environment similar to a Call center. we have agents, supervisors(team Leaders), Leads who have a number of teams they represent and a Manager who oversees the Lead. A new Manager has instigated what he calls “Matrix Management” by keeping the Agents reporting to the Lead staff, but having the Team Leaders(supervisor) report to a different Manager. So Agents and Leads report to one Manager, whilst the supervisors report to someone else. This is not really what I understand to be Matrix Management and is working poorly. It appears to be a divisive process which just means that the Managers of the Leads/Agents group and the Manager of the supervisor group report to the overall Manager. It seems to be an issue of one person wanting to keep all of the power from my perception. Is there a term for this type of approach and its justification that you can tell me? Thanks,

Signed,

Wondering


Answer:

Dear Wondering:

First a quick overview: Many people are puzzled by the value of Matrix Management, although many others see it as a solution for organizational problems in a new age of work. It is more likely to be used where there are multiple functions for each employee, rather than in a setting like yours.

Matrix Mangaement is a broader term than many realize, and includes a variety of management configurations, so the one you mention could be considered to fit the definition. The primary marker for Matrix Management is that it is not linearly hierarchal (there isn’t the usual chain of responsibility and command.) In fact, the lines of authority and communication can be horizontal or angular. It makes for interesting Tables of Organization!

I can understand the value of not having a strictly linear reporting chain–and have used the matrix concept for short term projects. But like you, I find it confusing and devisive, to use your word, for full-time application. However, that is my practical experience and opinion and there are certainly many management experts who would say I don’t know what I’m talking about. (They didn’t work in my organization though!)

This is an excellent article in favor of Matrix Management, (copy and paste the url into your browser): http://www.hrmreport.com/pastissue/article.asp?art=268478&issue=172 You will find other articles with varying viewpoints, on the internet. Let me note that the Wikopedia article about it is outdated and does not reflect the fact that there are new Matrix styles that are not like those of the 70s and 80s to which the article refers.

I must admit that while I can read the article above, from hrmreport, and agree with the concepts, I often see problems in application–most commonly the confusion that results when several very human managers are all trying to be successful in their own ways, and yanking employees around in the process. And, when very human employees use the confusion to point fingers and say some other manager gave them different directions so what could they be expected to do.

In fact, the one thing that bothers me the most about Matrix Management as I have seen it, is that it dilutes the relationships between supervisors and employees, and that bothers me. It is very difficult to be a mentor, counselor and leader when you do not interact with someone all the time, and may be prohibited from getting involved with the problems an employee is having in another function.

I would venture to say the two work groups described in the article above are fictional. A general guideline is that if there is no in-fighting, no scandals, no drama or grievances, and if everyone is working for the common good, it’s probably fictional! Dr. Gorden’s organizational goal of WEGO, where a group focus is created rather than the focus of individuals, is absolutely needed in a Matrix Management approach.

So, although it doesn’t seem to me that your current situation exactly fits the concept of Matrix Management, I could see that it might–according to the functions being performed and what is trying to be accomplished. Whether or not your organization is using pure Matrix Management, they are clearly doing something different. The question is, why?

Keep in mind that for a manager to institute this new management style he or she would have to have organizatonal approval at the highest level. For one thing, people’s jobs have been changed, so their job descriptions may have been changed. For another, the evaluation process will be different as a result. Those things don’t just get changed for the fun of it and without any input.

Consider what might have been some of the problems before and for which it was viewed that a new method was needed. Sometimes very drastic measures are taken to solve relatively minor problems, but sometimes the problems are tearing down a company to the point that anything will be tried to solve it. And often line employees and even supervisors, are not aware of the depth of the problems.

If you’ve been there long enough, or have the position to know–or can ask and find out–find out what problems were there formerly. Were supervisors not being effective? Maybe that is why they have been taken out of the direct loop. Do supervisors have other tasks that aren’t related to supervision? Maybe that is why a different manager is involved with them. Have the functions of any of the levels changed? Maybe there is an effort to slowly bring the organization to a new configuration. Were profits being diminished, or were there many complaints? It may be that this is an effort to analyze where the problems were centered.

If you can talk to someone involved in the change, consider doing it as a way to answer some of your questions. Likely those who instituted the measures would be happy to think that everyone understood the reasoning so they could support it. If they don’t care if the reasoning is understood, they may still be willing to discuss it.

In the meantime, keep in mind that just as a change can be made, another change can be made. It is doubtful this style will last forever. And, you may find that once everyone becomes more familiar with it, it will work better than before. One thing is for sure, keeping a focus on the work itself rather than the organizational chart, will make life easier and make any change more tolerable.

Best wishes in your work. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know how this organizational change works over time and if it is kept in place.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.