It is fairly common to claim that all global firms now are “matrix organizations”.
When you examine a particular firm more carefully, however, you usually don’t find that people report to more than one boss (formally), although they of course may work for multiple managers in a variety of different roles. Yet this was the defining feature of the matrix organization when it was first conceived of.
Most large organizations today are multidimensional – but that does not necessarily mean that employees have two or more bosses.
I participated in a discussion on a Linkedin forum recently where I argued that we should reserve the term “matrix” for the situation where people report to more than one boss.
Here’s my reasoning:
- It is fully consistent with the original meaning of the term. Look up in the books from the 1970’s and 1980’s and you will see that this is the way it was defined.
- It makes it easier to communicate about organizational design with each other. If we don’t make the distinction, we will have to specify whether we mean a “one boss” matrix or a “two boss” matrix every time we speak about it. In addition, it makes it very hard to distinguish a formal matrix structure from any kind of collaborative effort.
- Third, and most importantly: Working in a matrix with two bosses and working in a multidimensional organization with one boss is very different! I have tried it myself – I have worked for the same manager, once when he was my boss in a matrix and then as an internal supplier to him. Try it and you will feel the difference.
So what I am trying to say is: We need different terms to be able to distinguish between different multidimensional organizations.
The truth is that P&G, ABB, Shell, Philips, and many other large companies disbanded the matrix in favor of other multidimensional designs during the 1990’s. This was, in my opinion, a huge change even if the official organization chart may not look very different.
The slide below is an attempt at summarizing on one page the differences between alternative multidimensional forms. See my book for an in-depth discussion and practical examples.