Strategies for success in a matrixed organization

Dear Joan:

I would like to ask what strategies you suggest for people in matrixed organizations; whose success is dependent upon influence rather than authority. Any advice for me?



Some of you are probably wondering about the meaning of the word “matrixed.” Basically, it refers to a matrix organizational structure; which involves being accountable to people, both in your chain of command (your boss), as well as to people outside of your chain of command (such as a manager in another department).


Matrix structures have become popular because these days, few people can operate in isolation from other departments. For example, engineering must design products in concert with manufacturing and sales, or the end product may end up being impractical, or unwanted by the customer.


Because it would be confusing to have multiple bosses, all with the same authority, solid line and dotted line reporting relationships are usually set up. So your primary, solid line would be to your boss, while the dotted line would refer to your accountability to the person outside your department.  So, an engineer may have a solid line reporting relationship with his engineering manager, as well as a dotted line to someone in manufacturing or sales.


Some organizations go a step further, and create a strategic business unit, where there might be several engineers, sales and manufacturing individuals all organized around a specific customer. In this structure, the solid line is often to the business head, with the dotted line relationships leading back to their specialty departments, such as engineering. This structure is intended to provide more seamless (and less “siloed”) products and service to the customer.


Your performance review rating is usually determined by a combination of your direct

manager’s assessment, along with a smaller portion determined by the dotted-line person.


Now, on to your question. Influence is a crucial part of being successful in a matrix,

since many people on whom you have to depend for success, are not under your authority. You can get into trouble if:


  • You have to compete for resources with other matrix partners.
  • Your goals are not aligned with other people you must depend upon for help.
  • Day-to-day priorities shift, making it difficult to finish a project in your own area, let alone be seen as reliable and responsive by others in the matrix.
  • You are not reaching out to partner and collaborate with others.


Since influence is built, in part, upon delivering what you promise-- being responsive and producing quality work-- demands are much greater than in a traditional, chain-of-command department, where you are primarily concerned with pleasing your boss and department team members.


Some strategies to help you succeed in a matrix organization:


  • Establish “contracts” with your matrix partners. Rather than assume you know what they want, meet with key people at least twice a year to discuss mutual expectations. Find out what “excellent” performance looks like to them. In turn, be clear about what you need from them to help you succeed.
  • Several times a year, particularly after big projects, seek out feedback from your matrix partners, to find out how you are doing. Don’t immediately justify why you did something; instead listen non-defensively, and ask for advice and alternatives. If the other person is receptive, offer feedback as constructive advice that will improve how you both work together.
  • At goal-setting time, meet with all the people in your matrix reporting relationship, to make sure you each have a stake in one another’s goals.
  • Have regular meetings to assess results and make changes in your approaches.
  • Never criticize your matrix partners to other people. Rather, go directly to someone if you are having a conflict, to work it out directly. It’s easy to point fingers at each other because everyone has their fingers in the pie, but you won’t win politically or professionally if you don’t accept responsibility when they don’t.
  • Share credit publicly and often. For instance, if you are asked to speak to senior management on a successful project, look for ways to include your partners to share the glory. You’ll still get plenty of recognition and you’ll build a reputation as a team player, too.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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