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BIG Trouble: The Dual-Hatted Role in a Matrix Organization

Author: ; Published: Dec 30, 2009; Category: Cross-Functional Teams, Matrix Management; Tags: , , , ; No Comments»


What about the "dual-hatted role" in a matrix organization? This is a situation where a professional is assigned both vertical leadership as well as horizontal leadership responsibilities.

Short answer, bad idea.

It may be used on a very brief and temporary basis because of a talent shortage provided that thorough justification has been provided. In those instances where a dual-hatted role is approved for temporary use, it must be with the provision that another individual will be cultivated quickly to assume one of the two roles. Exceptions could be a short-term project, a truly extraordinary financial or geographic constraint, or a discipline specialty so rare that it would be folly to invest in developing bench strength in that particular functional subspecialty.

Why does all this matter?

  1. Potential confusion. Staff and management get confused about the exact role that the dual-hatted individual playing: Is s/he making a decision based on project or goal imperatives or on the basis of functional perspective? In extreme cases, this can escalate into staff confusion about whether the company is serious about implementing matrix management or whether it is reverting to its old pre-matrix ways.
  2. Dilution of synergy. Project Managers need to maximize synergy among functions to execute the project. Gaining and exercising a multi-disciplinary perspective is critical to success, but if we embed the Project Manager further into his/her native discipline in the dual-hatted capacity; we weaken cultivation of a seamless, synergistic project management viewpoint.
  3. Fear of loss of status. One source of resistance to matrix management is the sensation of a loss of status, power, and control to which some managers may cling. They once made all decisions—horizontal and vertical—relative to their work and employees. Now they must collaborate and consult with others. This is real change; it takes them out of their legacy comfort zones. Some will seek escape routes wherever they can find or invent them. These managers are actually gaining power in the matrix organization but it takes a while for them to figure that out. Top management enforcement of new matrix roles is critical to reaching the tipping point of real change and releasing the real power of the modern matrix organization.

Even worse, the dual-hatted role can sometimes degenerate into a proposition where some individuals are granted special license to live by the roles and rules of the pre-matrix organization, to some extent exempt from the overarching matrix proposition of "pursuing shared objectives using shared resources."  If such arrangements catch fire, you can bet real money that the impetus to get designated as a "dual-hatted" player will snowball as a new indices of status and power.  Next thing you know., you’ll have more and more people clamoring to return to the comfortable roles and patterns of the pre-matrix past, traveling under the canopy of the dual-hatted role.  If enough of this happens, you’ll be left dealing with the unfortunate question of "when is a matrix not a matrix?" or otherwise finding yourself agreeing with the French that "the more things change, the more they remain the same."

Bottom line, avoid the "dual-hatted role" at all costs.  It’s nothing but trouble.