We live in a complex world. Few things are easy or simple, and if they were, they would already have been done. In business, matrix reporting is one attempt to handle that complexity.
A matrix reporting relationship is where one person reports to two different people, each boss having authority over a different area of responsibility. Matrix relationships are often visually represented by dotted lines on organization charts, so it is sometimes known as dotted-line responsibility.
For example, The Collier Companies manages apartment communities. In effect, each community is a separate business, a stand-alone product. Each community has both a community manager (CM) and a service manager (SM). The community manager has primary responsibility for the community including leasing, customer service, and financial performance. The service manager is responsible for the physical maintenance of the community, preparing apartments to rent, and responding to service requests from Residents. Both are jointly responsible for the community’s overall appearance, its sparkling, crisp, and clean curb appeal.
The service managers (and the service techs who work for them) tend to be mature men who are hired for their technical skills. Community managers tend to be younger, college educated, who are hired for their leasing and customer-relationship skills. Community managers tend to be promoted from the ranks of leasing personnel and usually have limited knowledge of plumbing, carpentry, electrical, and other maintenance issues, and have limited experience at supervision particularly with the complexity of an age and knowledge gap.
As a result, service managers have two bosses: a matrix reporting relationship. Service managers report to both the community managers and to a regional service manager, an individual with decades of experience in maintenance and skilled at managing the trades. It is a team approach on steroids. Community managers know their Residents and direct the priorities of the service manager to maximize customer satisfaction. The regional service manager provides oversight on quality, productivity, and asset preservation.
The downside of matrix management is potential confusion: “Who is my boss? When is this one or that one my boss?” The belief is that in a team-oriented, cooperative environment where everyone shares common goals, these issues can be talked out and the team is stronger than the sum of the individuals.