Upside-Down Matrix Management

A rowing team has a single point of reporting and allegiance, embodied by the coxswain. are assembling teams, and tend to build teams and organizations within the framework of the indigenous corporate structure.

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Sometimes it is difficult to reconcile a task or work function with the existing organization of the enterprise.

Assigning work to groups within your own organization may starve them from resources or expertise that they need. While GateKeeper and other roles can deal with this problem in degree, sometimes the need is so great that no existing organizational structure seems to fit the need.

For example, you may not have staffing resources that fit a given profile of domain expertise, which makes it difficult to achieve DomainExpertiseInRoles. Or you may not be able to achieve scheduling goals with the staffing constraints of your organization. Or the problem may beg interdisciplinary solutions that don't fit your current structure: the logical and physical business architectures may not be aligned.

You could reorganize into a new set of disjoint groups that are a better fit for the problem, but there are always concerns that cut across others, so there is no guarantee that a useful disjoint partitioning even exists.

Any team assignments you make may have long-term repercussions for the organization and architecture (per ConwaysLaw). While some teams can be created to address intermittent problems, some of these "misfit" needs reflect bona fide long-term core competencies or business concerns. That begs an organization to nurture such work.


Form new groups from the right roles and people in a way that may cut across the current organizational structure. Temper legacy structures that owe to casuistic barriers (historical, political, or organizational boundaries). Challenge financial barriers that keep the dysfunctional partitionings in place by adjusting funding models.

Often these new structures can be found in organizations other than your own. Consider creating these structures in the customer space, or partner with other internal organizations, external contractors, and suppliers to fill these organizational needs. However, beware of jumping to the outsourcing solution. Carefully create groups and teams around key areas of competency and concern, letting the partitioning fall across enterprise boundaries where it may. Temper with the pattern OrganizationFollowsLocation; its forces are probably more powerful than those at work here.

Note the name of this pattern. In a matrix-management paradigm, individuals or groups are asked to report to two (or more) managers in an attempt to solve this problem. This turns that notion on its head: instead of multiple reporting roles, a separate team is formed, so that the team members have a single point of reporting and allegiance.

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In his pattern WorkAllocation, which is related to this one, Beedle reports use of this pattern between Navistar and Good Year. Navistar has shifted some of its work back to its suppliers. Instead of managing its own warehouse inventory of tires to be installed on the trucks it manufactures, it delegates Good Year, its supplier to do that, because they have better inventory management methods. He also reports similar arrangements between Wal Mart and its suppliers, and between Ford and its suppliers.

TheWaterCooler is similar to this pattern, but works in the space of everyday social life rather than in institutional structures.