What is a Matrix Project Team Structure and Why is it Challenging?

Businesses today get a significant amount of work done through project teams that draw membership from departments and functions throughout the company. These teams are defined as matrix structures. Typically project teams are formed for a specified time frame and specific objectives.

In contrast, these same organizations also have a classic line-management structure where project team members report on a permanent basis to a supervisor, manager, department head or a designated executive.

Both organizational structures in the same company make for many challenges. However, matrix project teams have a long history of tremendous accomplishments that make them a valuable corporate tool. This article explores 3 challenges encountered by project teams and the organizations that use the structure to get things done.

Team Membership

Team membership is determined by the scope of the project as well as the skills and resources required to meet project goals. Team size impacts the dynamics of how project work gets done. Large projects may need 12 to 15 members or more. It is difficult to manage larger teams.

Even scheduling team meetings is more complicated as membership grows. Often in large project teams, members change over time as new skills are needed and other skills are no longer required.

Smaller projects may only need 3 to 5 members. However, with smaller teams it is critical that the right skills and functions are represented on the team in order to get the job done.A well-defined project scope determines how many people and what functions need to be on the team. And, it is important that each team member knows exactly what their role is on the project.

Team Leadership

Project team leadership is critical to success. Companies committed to the project structure need to provide project leadership training to prepare individuals for this unique position. In a matrix structure team leadership is a trained skill.

Project leaders must work with a group of people who report to someone else in the organization. Managing a team requires skills as a facilitator, organizer and motivator rather than the more traditional use of authority.

Successful team leaders know how to run efficient and effective meetings while establishing good lines of communication on an on-going basis throughout the life of the project. Project leaders are constantly resolving conflicts and anticipating issues before they come up.

Getting the Work Done

Each project team member represents an organizational function and draws resources from that line-management structure to get work done for the project. Therefore team members are responsible for effectively communicating the needs of the project to their line management and at the same time properly representing their line management to the team.

There are often different priorities for resource allocation between the project team and line management. The dual role for project team members is at the heart of the conflict between matrix project teams and traditional line management when they coexist in the same organization.

The matrix project team structure offers the opportunity for companies to accomplish great work that is not limited by traditional line management. Getting the best results requires putting the right team together, making sure the team has good leadership and providing the resources needed to get the best results.

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  • Good artice. Thank you for sharing!


    I've seen how a good and a bad matrix execution looks like. When it worked well, it did so due to the energy PM instilled in his team members, making them feel like a special team. There are somethimes members that were picked by line management against their wishes (pressured due to their knowledge, seniority etc.) or are conflict oriented by nature. These are often the ones that leaders forget to focus on. But if you work with them and give them a little more attention, can make a huge difference to your project. 

    I would live to read more about ways PMs helped their teams tackle their dual roles in the matrix project team. I've often had to help with managing member's time on and off the project, especially when there are important deadlines on both streams of their work coming up.

    • Thank you vey much for your feedback. Best regards.

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