Two Bosses Are Better Than One: Thoughts on the Virtues of Matrixed Organizations

When I was new to the workforce, I was violently opposed to matrixed organizational structures.  “They’re bullsh*t,” I thought, “people will always favor one direction over the other, making one of the two managers superfluous.  And, if that’s the case, then why bother at all?”

It was only as Business Objects grew, and me with it, that I realized matrix structures weren’t an “if” but a “when” and the ability to work within such structures would become a defining attribute of someone who “could scale” within the organization as it grew.

As the head of worldwide marketing, the defining question to me was simple — say, for example, the French country marketing VP came to me and said, “which is it, am I French or am I in marketing?”

The answer was, inevitably, both.

  • You are supposed to be a right-hand to the French country manager.  You are supposed to worry about the French pipeline and the French sales number.  You are supposed to work on French go-to-market strategy.  You drive French public relations.
  • You are in marketing.  So you are supposed to be consistent with the positioning and messaging that use worldwide.  We want you to use programs that have worked elsewhere to improve cost-efficiency and we want you to contribute back to the worldwide marketing community by attending leadership meetings, sharing best practices, and leveraging common systems.

Like it or not, you’re both.  And, more importantly, if you can’t handle that, then perhaps you’re not the right person for the job.

But given my historical views on matrices, we didn’t do the classic “solid one-way and dotted the-other” reporting structure.  We created a double solid-line matrix that, to me, more accurately reflected the business reality.  It also gave the matrix some teeth.  I thought the model worked quite well, balancing local empowerment with global consistency and scale economy.

That’s how I, a dyed-in-the-wool anti-matrix person, became a big fan of matrices.  The fact is, as a company grows, certain leaders in the organizations will inevitably need to have dual allegiance.  For example:

  • The head of product marketing for a business unit owes allegiance to both marketing and the product business unit.
  • The head of sales engineering for a country owes allegiances to both the country and the worldwide sales engineering organization
  • An head of overlay sales for a given product owes allegiance to both the product unit and the sales organization

In fact, in a perverse way, as either the head of marketing at Business Objects or the head of a product business unit at Salesforce, I have noticed the following law:

The more a local leader treats me like a virtual boss, the less I care about reporting structure.  And conversely.

That’s my take on the matrix.  What’s yours?

4 responses to “Two Bosses Are Better Than One: Thoughts on the Virtues of Matrixed Organizations

  1. Influencing without authority definitely becomes important as an organization scales. You’ve hit the nail on the head.

  2. I think you are on the money here. I think you need clear 1 single line of reporting structure for junior to mid-level employees, and above that we have to work in not just a matrix but a networked organization. In fact, I am going to add this to hiring criteria for senior hires – you must be able to simultaneously work with and for more than one managers.

    The part that I would add is that its not just matrix but even within your management chain, you often have to report to your manager and manager’s manager (if not further up) – often with different strengths and viewpoints.

  3. Hello and Happy new year,
    I have read this article on LinkedIn web site and would like to comment. Matrix Organisation can only work if Management changes :-) Relations between people must change from what Delavallée calls a Top-Down relationship to a bottom-up relationship. Managers must act as support for employees (bottom-up) much more than taking decisions to be executed anymore (top-down). Setting this kind of matrix is purely strategic (multiple company objectives) and must be seen very carefully as it generates uncertainty zones that employees can play with (Erhard Friedberg I think).

    Wish you a happy 2012

  4. Love your description of the matrix world Dave…especially as I’ve worked with the requirements of various and ‘often-changing’ matrixes. I would take your concept even further and say that EVERY job in the company is at the service and at the intersection of many internal and external matrixes.

    On one end, the job of a product marketing leader is at the intersection of the product, sales and marketing orgs, and on the other hand, it is at the intersection of its partner and customer constituencies. I think the key here is not to obsess to much about the dotted or straight-line (maybe only at review time ?) :) but rather to think about the business and what’s required in a job to deliver a full-product that meets the demand of a market (customers/partners) and the demands of a business (sales, marketing, product).

    I don’t want to sound too philosophical but frankly, I tell my team to stop worrying about the title on the business card and the protocol. If it’s consistent with the company values, the bottom line and drive customer sat up – just get it done! :)

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