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Study notes

Matrix structures

  • Levels: AS, A Level
  • Exam boards: AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB

A matrix type of organisational structure combines the traditional departments seen in functional structures with project teams. 

In a matrix structure, individuals work across teams and projects as well as within their own department or function.

For example, a project or task team established to develop a new product might include engineers and design specialists as well as those with marketing, financial, personnel and production skills.

These teams can be temporary or permanent depending on the tasks they are asked to complete. Each team member can find himself/herself with two managers - their normal functional manager as well as the team leader of the project.

An example of a matrix structure is illustrated below:

Matrix structures have advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages

  • Can help to break down traditional department barriers, improving communication across the entire organisation
  • Can allow individuals to use particular skills within a variety of contexts
  • Avoid the need for several departments to meet regularly, so reducing costs and improving coordination
  • Likely to result in greater motivation amongst the team members
  • Encourages cross-fertilisation of ideas across departments – e.g. helping to share good practice and ideas
  • A good way of sharing resources across departments – which can make a project more cost-effective

Disadvantages

  • Members of project teams may have divided loyalties as they report to two line managers. Equally, this scenario can put project team members under a heavy pressure of work.
  • There may not be a clear line of accountability for project teams given the complex nature of matrix structures.
  • Difficult to co-ordinate
  • It takes time for matrix team members to get used to working in this kind of structure
  • Team members may neglect their functional responsibilities

It is important to remember that a matrix structure often sites alongside a traditional functional structure – it is not necessarily a replacement. 

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