The Frustrations of Working within a Matrix Organization

The matrix organization is a relatively new concept when it comes to an organizations structure.  A matrix organization is a hybrid between a project management structure and a functional hierarchy (Larson & Gray 74).  The exhibit below shows different types of matrix organizations.

As a defense contractor, my company is most closely aligned with the project matrix (also known as a strong matrix).  Whereas I understand the benefits of the matrix organization (promotes higher efficiency, creates cross-functional relationships, etc.), I find that many of my daily frustrations stem from this type of organization.  I often feel that I have too many bosses, and sometimes they seem to be blissfully unaware that I have responsibilities on other projects and/or for other managers.  Communication is another issue because I either receive the same e-mail from five different people, or I do not get communicated with at all.  There have been many instances where a coworker has received a piece of vital information from one of their project managers, and I hear nothing because my project manager thinks the information should have come from my finance manager.

So now that I have identified all these challenges, here are some suggestions to follow in order for the matrix organization to work successfully:

Define your role and each manager’s role

Talk with the functional manager about what is expected from you and what he/she thinks your role is within a project team.  Additionally, each project manager has different expectations, so speak with him/her at the beginning of the project.  An open dialogue about what is expected from you as a team member and him/her as the manager can be very beneficial.  Work out any ambiguous areas right away.


Communication is key!  Keep multiple managers in the loop about your work load and your deadlines either in a formal status report or informally during staff meetings.  Ask that you be included on the distribution list for vital communications.  If any issues arise, communicate them as soon as possible.  Project managers should also make sure that they have a regular form of communication with each of their team members.

Embrace diversity

Lastly, take advantage of the matrix organization.  It provides employees with the opportunity to make connections with other employees in different functional organizations.  Project managers should encourage an open team atmosphere.  As a team member you can learn about different areas in the company that interest you as well.  Who knows, you may find a new area of interest!


What type of organization does your company utilize?  Do you think it is the proper organization for how your company operates?

What are some of your personal experiences (good or bad) with the matrix structure?



Larson, E. W., & Gray, C. F. (2014). Project Management: The Managerial Process (6th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.

3 thoughts on “The Frustrations of Working within a Matrix Organization

  1. My company currently operates in a functional structure, but we tried several years ago to switch to a matrix. The plan was well thought-out and it appeared on the surface that all the right things were done to make the change successful. After a year or two, the company decided to switch back to a functional design. The main reason was our inability to communicate effectivly in the new structure. We realized that having a matrix degin did not automatically create great communication skills. In hindsight, we should have built communication competence in our business as an enabler of the change versus hoping the change would fix the problem. As you mention in your post, communcation is key.

  2. I too work in a project matrix environment. I am a technical resource on four projects at the same time. Each project has its own project manager. Its a balancing act all day all week. After raising the issue with my functional manager, my workload decreased a little bit , but still am stretched. Functional managers determine allocation based on best case scenarios across multiple projects. But its rarely the case that everything works according to plan on a project. But in these times when companies are trying to stretch out productivity out of its employees while trying to cut costs, it becomes difficult for employees to protest such allocations. The only way to balance effectively is , as molly indicated in the blog, communication. Effective communication with project managers, project owners and functional managers will help to preempt complaints. At the same time functional managers have a responsibility of being cognizant of over allocations of their resources.

  3. One of the biggest challenges and ways to succeed in a matrix organization is as you mention – communication! My organization is structured in this way and I find that the biggest problems come from various project team members and managers making assumptions that have not been validated with the other party. Making poor assumptions has led to missed deliverables, overworked people on the team, and ultimately dissatisfied clients.

    The key here is to have the right kind of communication and to have it at the right time. At the start of a project, it’s important to discuss roles/responsibilities and escalation procedures in case of a problem, so that everyone is aligned. It’s also important to define the scope of deliverables for each group/role, because this can become a point of confusion mid-project, leading to those ‘fun’ assumptions that “our group does not own it.”

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