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The matrix organizational structure is a management tool which has become more popular in recent years, but which is not appropriate for use in every company. This device is utilized to organize complex companies and to save time and effort in product and project development, while properly considering the collective and individual needs of the different company units which are ultimately affected.

The accompanying diagram shows how workers from various functions of an organization might be assigned in a matrix management configuration. Product managers and team members borrowed from these functional units may be involved full time or only part time in a specific product development project.

Key players in a matrix environment are upper management (those in charge of major business units), functional managers (team members line supervisors), the product manager (the person directly responsible for ensuring the commitment of team members and for the ultimate completion of the project) and team members (responsible for successfully completing their portions of the project).

The benefits of such an approach are that teams can be gathered quickly, scarce expertise can be expended only as needed, consistent procedures can be applied to similar projects, and team members functional units can more easily commit to the results.

Possible problems are that team members may need to respond to two different managers, may have to juggle competing demands for their time, and may focus more on their individual assignment than on the teams objectives. Also, they may not be comfortable with the abilities and behavior of teammates with whom they have never before worked, and may not be willing to modify the systems and processes of their functional unit in order to develop common procedures which can be used by all product team members.

Stuart Crainer, in his recent book The Management Century, discusses one successful matrix organization, Swiss engineering company ABB. He points out that Natural or not, the truth is that ABBs structure is complex, paradoxical and ambiguous. As a corporate role model ABB is a complete nonstarter.

Percy Barnevick, who reorganized ABB to incorporate a matrix organization after its merger with Asea, his Swedish company, goes further in saying, I do not believe that you can mechanically copy what another company has done.

I agree; matrix management is certainly not for everyone – but now you are aware of some of the arguments both for and against the use of this somewhat-faddish management tool.

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