Robert M. Galford, Bob Frisch, Cary Greene

When organizational structures were relatively uncomplicated, the pyramid worked well. But as they grew in complexity (for example, as domestic businesses went global and/or diversified), it became more challenging for information to move smoothly up and down and more difficult for top managers to “see” what was going on many layers below, much less convey relevant insights and make informed decisions.

Enter American consultant and professor Jay Galbraith, who in 1971 introduced a construct— the Matrix Organization—to “cure” the shortcomings of the pyramid. It was one of the 20th century’s greatest gifts to the inadvertent organizational saboteur. Take a good-sized company with a matrix structure, where some managers oversee functions, and others managers oversee groups of people from different functions. Some relationships will be formal; others not so much. The mixture of solid line-, dotted line-, and influence-based relationships means that accountability will be hard to place. There is an illusion of accountability, but really, what you’ve got is a fertile ground for saboteurs.

The matrix will allow people who aren’t inclined to take responsibility to commit sabotage by avoid responsibility almost indefinitely, delaying processes and projects. Sabotage will also occur when a member of one group answers to the wrong boss at the wrong time. In a matrix, a person can commit sabotage against one group by doing the right thing by another group.

We’re not knocking the matrix, but if it’s going to work well, we have to be proactive about attacking Matrix Sabotage at the source.

We have to create explicit paths and time expectations for issue resolution and for immediate escalation and resolution for the thornier issues where the path is not clear. If a situation isn’t resolved in the allotted period of time, we need to push the people involved to move to the next level of escalation. We need to understand the give and take—and the stress—that is inevitable when you’re giving people accountability for something without necessarily giving them authority to make decisions.

We also need to get rid of dual solid lines, and give people a first-call ‘boss’ relationship along with one or more secondary relationships so that they know where priorities are. And we need to link actions and requests to greater goals. We need to demonstrate how specific actions tie into strategies and objectives beyond the immediate request. Doing that will help people prioritize.

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