Cultural bias of the matrix organization

The matrix organization assumes that folks have some degree of tolerance for multiple bosses and that the source of authority can be split.

Perhaps the matrix can work well in some cultures; it surely cannot be implemented successfully in all cultures.

Luckily, “make the matrix work” in places like Taiwan, Israel, China and Spain is a great source of revenue for an OD consultant, even in bad times. Here are 3 examples where culture inhibits successful implementation of the matrix.

1-One tiger on the hill

There  is a Chinese expression which says: 2 tigers cannot share a hill. In other words, one leader creates stability, many leaders create chaos. In cultures where this is the cultural belief system, matrix organizations (often imposed by a US or European HQ) are cess pools of manipulation. Many Asian cultures come to mind.

2-I win if you lose

Many cultures which see win win as a manifestation of imperial opulence and a manipulative game of the gentry; in such cultures, organizational life is hard ball, or a boxing match. The matrix brings out the very worst of these cultures. Survivalist cultures (Israel, S’pore) come to mind.

3-Cultures where problems are delegated up, not down

There are cultures where people actually believe that problems need to shifted up, not downloaded. These cultures see the boss as having privileges, and duties as well. These duties include making decisions about conflicting demands, not “tossing them down to the man in the trench”. Many African cultures come to mind.

In all of the above examples, implementing the matrix is, as another Chinese expression goes, playing the piano for the cow.

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5 thoughts on “Cultural bias of the matrix organization

  1. Hi Alan,

    I think that you’re correct. I’ll take that thought further, though — maybe too far!

    A culture in which hoarded knowledge makes one irreplaceable and secure is different from one where hoarded knowledge makes one irreplaceable but impossible to promote.

    Cultures where matrix organizations can’t be implemented fall into the 1st alternative.

    Cultures where where a genuinely-needed matirix organization can be effectively implemented have a competitive advantage in those economic sectors where this is the case as against those that can’t. These fall into the 2nd alternative.

    I think that the “default” human organization is some form of the pater familias. Adopting more nimble forms requires a careful selection process and extensive training. The continuing training is a cost without which the new form will eventually devolve to the norm. Short-term oriented managers focused on their next bonus too often are allowed to slash the training.

    Where would cross-functional teams fall as related to a matrix organization?

    Chuck Chambers
    Atlanta, GA USA

  2. I don’t fully agree this time Allon. It depends on on what levels we are talking. At least this is my experience. If you talk about white collar vs blue collar i agree but otherwise these cultures you are talking about fully accept and work very well in matrix organizations. There is always one closer leader anyway, i.e someone “nearer” to report to so what’s the problem? 🙂 I have been working in matrix organizations for many many years and in different companies. It’s not easy to be a boss in this organizations but for the staff it’s a golden opportunity to have more people to dislike and blame for whatever mistake or problem… 🙂 People are getting “modern” also in these countries nowadays 🙂

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