“Every time we were beginning to form up into teams, we would be reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet new situations by reorganizing…and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization.”

This is what most people think of when they are told about a move to a matrix organization. Two points:

  1. The quote is from Gaius Petronius, A.D. 65 – Roman governor and advisor to Nero. So confusing reorganizations are not a new invention.
  2. Sometimes, not often but sometimes, a matrix is actually the right way to organize.

The framework for What It Takes To Accelerate Through A Strategic Inflection Point is laid out in that earlier article. The main point is that you must align your culture, organization, operations and CEO’s real job around one of four strategies. This current article explores the organization required to support a delivery or distribution strategy.

POI Framework



Done badly, matrices really do overly complicate things, blur decision rights, and cause mass confusion. And most of the time, they are a cop out decision by senior leadership trying not to offend anyone.

But if you are going to be best in class at delivery or distribution, your people have to operate interdependently. Matrix organizations are geared to encouraging interdependence with order and safety against a backdrop of shared responsibility. The “E” in CEO in a matrix stands for chief “Enrollment” officer, getting and keeping people enrolled in the matrix.

Amazon is eating the world of retail with its best in class distribution system. For the most part, they don’t design products, don’t make things, and had to buy Zappos to teach them the basics of customer service. They win by out-delivering everyone.

Part of what’s interesting about Amazon’s matrix is that it’s eco-system-wide and not just system-wide. They own relatively little. Others design and make the products they sell. Others do the actual physical delivery. Virtually no one does any customer service. (Pun intended as most of their customer service is virtual.)

Their core strength is in pulling others together in a matrix to work interdependently to deliver things more simply, easier and more cost-effectively than anyone else. In many cases it’s faster and less expensive for me to pay Amazon to deliver one of my books to someone than for me to buy a copy from my publisher and get it delivered directly to someone else.

Keys To An Effective Matrix

If you don’t set the matrix up for success it will fail. The key is clarifying roles and responsibilities.

Responsibilities are shared. The whole point is that people have to work inter-dependently – together. When people’s bias is to protect “their” teams and “their” turf, matrices fail. They work only when people work together to achieve common goals.

Accountabilities are not shared. You always need on throat to choke for each specific task. One single person has to shoulder each accountability. They work with other people who share responsibilities. But one person must own each deliverable.

Team charters are especially valuable. Use them to align all around objectives and goals, context, resources, guidelines, and accountabilities.

Implications For You

Don’t default to a matrix to assuage diverse, powerful personalities. Matrices are often the best examples of reorganizations producing “confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization.”

But being best in class in delivery or distribution cannot happen without a matrix and likely an ecosystem-wide matrix. You need the interdependence and shared responsibilities. You need a modicum of order and safety. As the chief Enroller, your job is to bring others into the matrix and keep them there.

In may ways, the choice of organization structure is the pivot from strategy to operations. Strategies are theoretical gibberish until they are put into action. Operators focus on getting things done. The organization choice brings the strategies to life. And a matrix organizational design can make it clear that you need people to swim together. In a matrix the more individuals cross swim lanes, the better the whole organization functions.