People find all sorts of words to avoid saying ‘firing’ or ‘downsizing’. “Letting go” must be one of the most insulting, with its implication of the people being shunted struggling to escape from the clutches of their incomes. Disney, handing the exit card to some 7,000 people – said to be about 3% of their workforce – have come up with ‘de-matrixing’. Nobody is quite sure what they mean yet – some suggest ‘firing’, given the context. But there is a ring about it that I like. 

For many years I have been critical of the ‘matrix’ organisation concept for two reasons. First, it produces a confusion of reporting with “dotted line” connections. These are meant to facilitate access to others in the business who may be technically, organisationally, socially or in some other way, useful contacts. Dotted liners have little to do with pay and rations, more to do with executing help. Good in theory, they have developed to cross wires with the pay and rations bosses. They carry an ‘order’ about them that is restrictive.

People communicate with others because they like them, trust them, find them helpful and see that they have something useful to offer. Those relationships come about naturally in a culture of cooperation and where politics and disruptive competition are kept under control.  Since they involve personality assessing they are best left to individuals to establish, not commanded as orders to be obeyed. In a matrix society less than 50% of dotted lines are ever used properly. Look at the communications chart of a matrix and you see a squirm of connectivity enough to bedevil a plan for landing 1,000 drones on one spot at the same time.

The second reason I don’t like matrix organisations is because they are trying to apply ‘process’ to an area that is best thought about by the people concerned rather than insisted on as a policy. Dictated by bosses who often know little about the contact skills of their subordinates and by HR managers applying some theoretical master plan to ensure connection regardless of its quality, they end up with uncertainty about who will be recommending bonus, pay increase or promotion. You may not like your boss but it’s nice to know who s/he is.

We already remove too much decision making from those who do the work and hand it to higher-paid managers, some of whom have no clue about what are the real issues. Bob Iger is placing the responsibility of running his business in the hands of the people who actually do. Good on him. His statement  “Our creative teams will determine what content we’re making, how it is distributed and monetised and how it gets marketed. Managing costs, maximising revenue and driving growth from the content being produced will be their responsibility” is music. Let’s hope his message reaches other organisations where matrix has run riot leading to cost explosion. The British National Health Service is first in the queue.

Not all jargon is rubbish.

De-matrixing sounds like a commonsense breakthrough. 

Good morning

John Bittleston 

Do you know of a matrix problem? Please let us hear about it and we will try to flatten the management pyramid further. A line to will help us. 

Thank you.

10 February 2023