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Matrix Management: Method, Not Magic

Why do some otherwise fine minds race unproductively when presented with the concept of an organizational matrix? Why do these minds "hypercomplexify" the matrix? It may be because most organizations today—and most employees in those organizations—have considerable experience in relating to a traditional vertical management chain. Most people are hard-wired to think "up the chain:" What do the bosses above us want and how shall we organize our efforts to please and provide?

The vertical aspect of the organization is not erased when matrix management is introduced, it’s just that non-traditional horizontal management becomes as important, if not sometimes more important than traditional vertical management. This is unfamiliar and it is counterintuitive, particularly to those who are accustomed to binary, all-or-nothing thinking which holds if organizational power is not vertical, then it must be all horizontal, rather than both.

Furthermore, the matrix model is an apparent violation of the unity of command principle, which states that one should receive orders from one and only one individual in the chain of command. That was then. This is now. The apparent violation can be avoided by the use of the Basic Matrix Role Dichotomy, which attaches vertical responsibilities as to how the task will be done and who will do it, to functional management where such decisions properly reside, as examples. The horizontal responsibilities and prerogatives address team or process management questions such as what, when, why, budget, and post mortem evaluation. The successful matrix is "both/and" rather than "either/or," i.e., both the horizontal and the vertical must be in balance and alignment with one another. As we shall see later, this fine-tuning of the vertical and the horizontal is one of the most difficult aspects of matrix management.

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