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There are clear pros and cons to the different types of organizational structures: functional vs. matrix vs. project. What strategies are necessary to change the culture?

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We are, as I type, moving from a project-oriented to a matrix-based organisation. We are a 50-people research organisation based in Spain and the change process is as difficult as it is exciting.

Sales pitch and political movement, as you say, are necessary. Not everyone reacts the same, and not everyone is equally interested in the change. In our organisation we have a long tradition of being extremely participatory in most decisions that are made, and this definitely helps make people feel part of the change process.

You ask about strategies to change the culture. We find that using consensus building techniques as the way to make the biggest decisions is a great thing. It often takes longer than having someone make an executive decision, but the long-run effects are much better. No government body in our "new organisation" has ever held a voting session on anything; consensus building is the only mechanism allowed.

Edit. There is something that you need to bear in mind, though. We asked for expert advice during our change process and most people pointed to one of the biggest perceived weaknesses of the matrix model: the fact that, in a matrix, most individuals in the organisation end up having two (or more) "bosses". This super-complex network is not uncommon in post-bureaucratic organisations, but it definitely needs to be explained, communicated, agreed upon and thought out before you dive in into the deep end.

Hope this helps. Let me know if I can expand my answer with additional details.

  • Cesar, thanks for your thoughts. I work in a functional org and have managed to make enough noise about the benefits of a matrix or project based org. Patience is my weakness, and I realize I need to work on building more of a consensus. – CraigV Feb 11 '11 at 1:51
  • @Craig Villacorta: I am editing my answer to add a caveat. – CesarGon Feb 11 '11 at 8:46
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Cesar got this answer pretty much to the point. The only thing that I will add, is that most of the times this type of evolution happens over time because the business needs the change.

For example a mid-size functional org structure that grew and now is too compartmentalized. This organization is sick, and in order to fix it, executives need to put a strategy in place to improve communication among teams. As part of the strategy you might have converting to Matrix or one of its variant.

My point being, that the change will not happen because of the pros and cons of the structure, but for the end goal to the business and strategy.

So, yes. Politics, diplomacy, consensus, lots of selling, and most importantly make your people feel secure will help.

Have a great day,

Geo

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I work with very large organizations and the move to a Matrix structure is a big change for many. Some do it with clearly defined goals - more flexibility, more sharing of resources across the organisation etc... A minority do it because it is flavour of the month and they see other leading organisations doing it!

Many focus too much on structure, but it is the skills and behaviours of individuals, not the formal structure, that makes the difference between success and failure. The good companies invest in skills training and carefully manage the behaviour change necessary.

Politics and power struggles are common factors that constrain the success of the matrix.

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