Problems within a matrix organization

Haridwar Plant is relatively far away from the HO as compared to the other plants; there needs to be more clarity on the aspects of centralization, decentralization and autonomy of decision making, daily works management of plant staff etc.

Some officers at Haridwar Plant report administratively to the plant head and functionally to their respective functional heads who sit in the HO, New Delhi. The departments (mainly service departments) include IT, HR, SCM, Logistics, and Finance etc.

The roles and responsibilities of these officers is not present in the form of a comprehensive Job Description; there is no written reference on KRAs and reporting relationships etc.

There is ‘lack of clarity’ among all on the extent of authority that the plant head can exercise on these officers

There is a constant tension among all the concerned about the reporting relationships (i.e. reporting to administrative vs functional superior) and who would be the right person to conduct performance appraisals (or) whose appraisal should carry more weightage

Plant head needs guidance on developing/practicing ‘Influencing’ related and other competencies required for his position

It is not uncommon in matrix structure organizations for many employees to end up working both under a department/functional head and factory/plant head on interdisciplinary responsibilities; which creates and overlay of two chains of command, one along the functional lines and the other along plant operation lines.

Roles and Responsibilities related:

Confusion over roles and responsibilities is common within a matrix organization; a significant amount of confusion and conflict over roles and responsibilities can occur between functional managers, their subordinates working in plant locations and the plant heads overseeing plant performance. This may be manifested through angry memos to supervisors, non-attendance at plant meetings by functional managers, slowed delivery of status reports to plant heads, and lack of completion of certain administrative tasks with subsequent finger-pointing.

Traditional Functioning Style Related

A potential difficulty of matrix implementation can face is that the functional (corporate) side of the organization becomes more powerful than the plant side, i.e., functional managers do not gain a plant focus. As a result many functional managers might take a view that they will still have supervisory control of their staff working at plants, therefore no real change takes place in spite of constructing a matrix structure.

The Plant head is in-charge of all plant activities, bringing together necessary contributions and meeting objectives of the plant. The Functional Managers must ensure quality of their contributions to the project, the professional interests of their technical personnel working on the project and the medium and long-term capabilities of their areas.

Some inherent weaknesses in the system are:

While daily interaction and productivity may occur under the supervision of the plant manager, actual authority and performance decisions rests with the functional manager.

Authority is not always given equal responsibility

Dual reporting can create ambiguity and conflict

Increased likelihood of resistance to change as employees may attribute the matrix with loss of status, authority and control over traditional domain.

Functional objectives conflict with regional requirements

Employee behavior is the most critical challenge

Silo focused – confines their membership and loyalties only to a certain sub-unit – leads to an “us-vs.-them” mentality. Two reasons:

Employees used to residing in the same function and units for a long time develop an allegiance towards their groups

Matrix requires high collaboration and employees who have not developed certain interpersonal skills required may not be the right fit


Lack of experience in collaborative decision-making creates ambiguity that results in tension and conflict

Leaders used to “command-and -control” – in traditional hierarchical structures will find it difficult to perform in matrix structures

There is a large gap in employee training to deal with matrix structure

Challenges of misaligned goals and silo-focused employees are felt throughout the organization; research has shown that different problems related to this structure are faced more at different management levels. For instance, middle management finds unclear roles and responsibilities and ambiguous authority to be its biggest challenges. Top management finds the absence of a effective PMS specific to this structure to be the biggest challenge.

HHML will have to explore itself on these parameters. These are elucidated further below:

Some common problems in organizations with dual reporting and matrix structure

Unclear roles & responsibilities

Unclear job descriptions and guidelines leads to tensions among employees and confusion over who’s the boss and who to contact for information.

If roles at middle and lower levels are not established clearly, there is chance of a large expectation mis-match

Silo focused employees

Personal conflicts between leaders, Insufficient communication or Lack of trust between employees in different business units or locations hinders collaboration between units

A critical issue might be that employees used to a silo-mindset may lack the requisite skills to function in the matrix

Ambiguous authority

Confusion over who has the final authority and Lack of clarity on areas of accountability cause delays in decision making.

Further, leaders who were earlier used to performing in a traditional hierachial structure are un-accustomed to sharing decision rights

Mis-aligned goals

Structures requiring a horizontal and vertical cascading of organizations usually face the problem of mis-aligned goals. Some issues in this are:

Competing or conflicting objectives between matrix dimensions

Inadequate processes to align goals and detect possible misalignments

Lack of synchronization, coordination and poor timing of work plans and objectives

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Insufficient communication and consultation between matrix dimensions

Absence of effective PMS

Ineffective monitoring, evaluation and rewards for performance may fail to motivate employees to make the matrix system work, besides creating an ambiguous understanding of employee roles

Examining HHML Haridwar PMS:

Do the functional manager and the plant head/ manager at plant both take part in the evaluation process; is it delegated to the functional manager, or reserved for the project manager?

How do we provide the feedback over the course of the period prior to a formal evaluation?

Whose opinion of performance takes priority? Ultimately, who should actually evaluate the performance of the individual?

How does an employee know when he/she is satisfying the expectations of everyone involved?

Project managers have the responsibility of managing, coordinating roles across several functional areas of an organization; however, do they have any authority with respect to employee appraisals and evaluation?

While a functional manager is responsible for managing the employees overall, is he/she the best one to evaluate day to day performance and contribution?

Other questions:

What is the clarity of the responsibilities between the Plant head and Functional Managers?

What is the extent of collaborative decision-making processes between Plant and Functional Managers?

What is the extent of direct communication between Plant head and the members of the HHML Haridwar team who belong to different functional groups?

Managerial activities chosen to evaluate clarity about general responsibilities

1. Elaboration of the project plan, including targets, methodology, schedule and budget

2. Communication of the content of the work program to be developed with the team which will carry it out

3. Distribution of the specific activities between the personnel of the involved functional areas and the communication of detailed instructions

4. Direction of the elements of the functional areas allocated to the project as part of their daily schedule and discussion of specific technical details during the work

5. Administration of the overall time of the personnel of the functional areas involved, in order to efficiently coordinate its use

6. Development and training of the elements of the functional areas involved in the project, in order to meet the requirements of the project

7. Supply of the necessary technical support for the project (installations, equipment, technical support services, etc.) in each of the involved areas

8. Monitoring of the quality of work developed in the functional areas in order to ensure its high technical quality

9. Communication with the high administration for clarifications or to answer requests related to the project

10. Evaluation, throughout the project, of the technical results, costs and deadlines as a whole, bearing in mind the commitments taken on by the company

Decisions chosen for evaluation of the reciprocal participation between Plant Head and Functional Mgr

1. Approval of the project proposal so the company can begin to carry it out.

2. Determination of the team to be allocated to the project in terms of names and amount of time of technicians and scientific personnel.

3. Acquisition of personnel/ external bodies to fulfill the requirements of the project.

4. Determination of the suitable types of training to be given to those involved in the project.

5. Designation of the priorities within the functional areas related to the work which is being carried out within the project (relaxing deadlines in favor of quality, altering work method or sequence, substituting key technicians, etc.

6. Approval of changes in the technical content of the project (scope, specifications, methodology, etc.).

7. Approval of changes in the budget and schedule of the project.

8. Evaluation of the performance of the various elements of the functional areas which have been allocated to the project as part of evaluation system of the company.

9. Determination of promotions within the career plan of the company of those belonging to the functional areas involved in the project.

10. Approval of the final report of the project inside the company

Alternative communication channels used by Project Managers in their contacts with their technical team

1. The Project Manager has direct contact with the Functional Managers and doesn’t even informally speak to the technicians allocated to the project.

2. The Project Manager has direct contact with the Functional Managers; he will only informally talk to the technicians allocated to the project.

3. The Project Manager will have direct contact with the technicians allocated to the project, but he will keep the Functional Managers informed.

4. The Project Manager will have direct contact with the technicians allocated to the project, regardless of the Functional Managers involved.

Table 5 – Description of the evaluation criteria for the project performance used in this study

Description of the criterion Weight

1. Technical performance: the extent to which the technical specifications were fulfilled according to the best available information in the company 0.18

2. Performance in terms of Cost: the extent to which real costs incurred by the project obeyed the estimates made when it was conceived 0.15

3. Performance in terms of deadline: the extent to which the project obeys the established deadline, both in overall terms and its stages 0.12

4. Satisfaction of the High Administration: the extent to which the members of the High Administration of the company who are directly involved with the project are satisfied with the project 0.11

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5. Technical Skills Developed: the extent to which the project has made technical contributions to the company, including personnel training (new knowledge and skills) and materials (new equipment, laboratories, etc.) 0.11

6. Knowledge Development: the extent to which the project has helped in the state of the art in its particular scientific and technical area, obtaining results which are highly important in terms of the available knowledge 0.06

7. External recognition: the extent to which the project has helped the external company image (clients, suppliers, competitors, government, etc.) thereby increasing its credibility and prestige 0.09

8. Commercial Results: the extent to which the project has helped the company to better exploit its market and/or conquer new unexploited markets, thereby extending its market share 0.13

9. Economic results: the contribution of the project to improvements in the competitiveness of the company in terms of its economic and financial requirements 0.05

Critical Success Factors for a matrix organization


A study identified the need for a comprehensive control system, a coordinated plan and a new management structure to create this plan. Another report mentions identifies the need to create a team to improve the accountability for each assignment and to correct or improve the seniors’ high degree of autonomy which makes it difficult to effectively manage ‘cross divisional’ assignments. In a nutshell, these studies recommend that success of matrix structure depends on the ability to move from an existing functional organization towards a customized ‘management style that delivers’, i.e., choosing a

Functional Matrix: wherein staff involved in the delivery process remains under control of the functional head, while plant heads are formally designated to oversee the plant operations across different functional areas. As a result, plant heads have limited authority over functional staff and, therefore, primarily plan and coordinate the project. Under this form of matrix, functional managers retain primary responsibility for their specific segments of the project.

Balanced Matrix: wherein the functional head and the plant head share responsibility for the plant resources. Under this form of matrix, plant head is assigned to oversee the project and interact on an equal basis with functional managers. Functional managers and plant head jointly direct employees’ work and approve technical and operational decisions.

Project Matrix: wherein the functional head’s authority is the smallest, with functional managers only assign resources for the project and provide technical consultation on an as-needed basis. Plant heads are assigned to oversee the project and are responsible for the completion of the project.

Reporting related:

Success within the matrix structure depends on the plant head ensuring the expectations, establishes roles and responsibilities through formalized project agreements in which the functional managers commit to the scope, schedule etc. of the delivery.

Training related

The success of restructuring depends on how people react and adapt. Training modules focused on the crucial role leaders and managers play in effectively exploring change, introducing change, and helping others overcome resistance typically associated with change.

Collaborative style of decision making; empowerment

Such situations require that, rather than unilateral authority, managers use participative styles so that issues that have a high potential for conflict can be resolved at local levels, thereby avoiding escalation to head-office or higher levels.

Research has shown that in a high performing matrix organization, 80-90% decisions are made at lower leadership levels;10% at middle level and 5% at top level

Handling resistance to change:

If resistance to change involves top leaders, then the situation must be addressed quickly

No choice but to transfer/remove dissenting top management from the site/branch/org

Clarity on roles and responsibilities:

To be effective in business contexts, the structure needs a basic clarity in roles; behavioural and managerial competencies; and responsibility matrix between Plant and Functional Managers.

“in this sense, there are terms like general responsibility, operational responsibility and specific responsibility. The first indicates a situation, in which an individual provides the general lines, directing and coordinating the tasks through which people who work with him. The second type attempts to characterize a situation where one person is directly responsible for carrying out a task. The specific responsibilities indicate a situation in which an individual is directly responsible for a limited part of a wider task. “

Communication channels

This structure requires establishment of direct proximity and communication channels beyond the natural levels that are default to a work setting. Communication made by a Plant head or manager with higher round-about involvement of functional managers has a greater possibility of resulting in inefficiency,delays and resource wastage.

Complexity of the Project

Complexity of the project would determine the difficulty experienced by Plant managers administering the project. The complexity could be measured by parameters such as: number of functional areas involved in the project; intensity of the interaction between the elements from the different functional areas in the project; and difficulty of cooperation between the functional areas involved in the project.

Organization Culture

High performing matrix organizations are known to have shown greater focus on problem solving and resolution of issues rather than on power and control. This focus translates into employee selection, attitudes and behavior and eventually organization practices

Way forward/ suggested approach


In the matrix organizations, authority of both the functional head and the plant head need to be varied depending on the nature of various assignments, i.e., designing a ‘program based matrix’.

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Roles and Responsibilities related:

The solution for problems related to roles and responsibilities is creation of written roles and responsibilities for both plant and functional managers; a compilation of a list of ten fundamental tasks for each position will give a simpler solution (though this list is not ‘all-inclusive’).

Finalization of these lists and considerable amount of learning time, manifestation of confusion over roles and responsibilities could be practically reduced to zero. This becomes possible if managers teach themselves who should perform which specific tasks and ‘compromise’ depending upon individual workloads.

Reporting related:

Organizations can have a pre-established ‘project design templates’ so that the plant heads can negotiate with the functional managers and do not negotiate or impose unreasonable expectations.

This will eliminate the plant head’s temptations to convince functional managers to agree for unrealistic performance standards and prevent the temptation of the functional managers to over-inflate their estimates in order to appear productive; nor to over-commit. Thus they can eliminate bottlenecks created by poor resource leveling.

Politicization of resources related

By using a ‘prioritization protocol’, new assignments can still be added to the existing. When new or ‘priority’ projects come in, the importance of those projects shall be assessed by the plant head using flowcharts to determine whether any ongoing work should be postponed in which case clear documentation should exist for the switch in the functional manager resource’s effort and the change is at the discretion of senior executive level staff rather than the functional manager.

Training related

Training on ‘Human Relations’ shall be given to all the concerned, specifically pertaining to coping with change, communication, and working in teams with focus on the personal and practical staff needs in order for the organization to be successful in the matrix structure.

These modules should focus on the crucial role leaders and managers need to play in effectively exploring change, introducing change, and helping others overcome resistance typically associated with change. Everyone should learn skills for conducting effective change discussions that can minimize the potentially negative effects of change on morale, processes, and productivity.

Plant Head Development related

Organizations shall provide mentoring to the plant head and some functional managers. Mentoring shall be supplied in the form of direction and encouragement in performing their new tasks. Weekly mentoring sessions shall be initiated for plant heads and selected functional managers.

Traditional Functioning Style Related

This problem of traditional functioning style should be corrected by formalization of an annual project planning process. Based on a set of pre-defined project design templates, teams shall provide a labor hour estimate for each project, functional team staff allocations for each year are to be made and checked versus project performance from time to time.

Performance Measurement Related

Measurement of performance under the matrix structure will be difficult since performance can be measured at several levels by several individuals. However, attempts should be made to evaluate performance on the basis of (a) how an individual perform in terms of meeting the desired objectives in the matrix environment and (b) how the assignment progresses in terms of meeting the goals/ commitments changed since implementation of the matrix

Way forward to approach different problems would be

Mis-aligned goals

Processes to ensure goals and metrics are aligned. E.g. Cascading spreadsheet planning – setting goals and cascading vertically and horizontally; Such that goals of one function or unit would augment or reinforce those of another

Continuous communication of company goals and vision

Unclear Roles and responsibilities:

Clear guidelines and job descriptions that clearly spell out who holds accountability for each business objective

Establish a system as well as a SPOC for information or approvals


Ambiguous authority:

Org Culture plays a critical role

Negotiation and persuasion skills of all interfacing position-holders must be high

Seniors should be able to decentralize authority too by delegating decision making; Realize that best decision makers are those with most information – usually the local leaders and managers because they are at the site of action

Silo-focused behaviour of employees

Define expectations

Provide training and wherever possible encourage rotation across functions/locations/plants

Employees require different training targeted at specific matrix challenges relevant to their org level.

e.g. For top level – training and tools to deal with isseus related to goal alignemtn

Middle-mgmt – training and tools to deal with issues related to unclear roles and responsibilities

Absence of effective PMS:

Identify best practices and establish monitoring process to detect and identify matrix problems

Tools to help employers effectively evaluate their employees in a constructive and effective manner.

clear job description and corporate structure,

Review of performance by both functional and project managers.

Additionally, peer evaluations can prove to be constructive and contribute positively to the development of the employee.

The person in-charge of the performance of the matrix structure

Should be in a position of influence and have authority to take action well-respected within the org

Maintain objectivity and prevent undue pressure or conflicts

Based on research, the most effective method by which to evaluate project personnel in matrix organization is by means of a multi-rater system. This can be explored by HHML as a future course of action

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