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Part 3 (Conclusion): The importanceof Culture in Matrix Organizations

Posted on October 18, 2010 at 3:44 AM

This paper was writtenby Lina Nangalia PCC as part of her doctoral work at XLRI, Jamshedpur.


Part 3: The importanceof culture in Matrix Organizations

(Levin& Gottlieb, 2009), remind us that a culture is the shared beliefs andvalues of its members that provide meaning and influence daily work life.  The authors discuss six principles and eightpractices that can help leaders realign their organizational cultures tosupport strategic change goals.  The sixprinciples are:

·      understand the required scope of change;

·      model, teach, and embed;

·      use multiple levers;

·      create broad involvement of key organizationalconstituencies;

·      manage with rigor and discipline;

·      and integrate into daily work life. 


Leaders who want tobuild and align the culture of their organizations need to keep these sixprinciples in mind as they lead the change effort.  The authors summarize eight practices whichcan help leaders align their organizational culture to their businessstrategy.  These practices are:

·      establish infrastructure and oversight;

·      define the preferred culture;

·      conduct culture gap audit;

·      ensure leadership modelling;

·      manage priority culture realignment levers;

·      promote grassroots efforts;

·      integrate into priority strategic initiatives;

·      and finally, assess progress. 

Building a culture isa long term endeavour that demands endurance and unyielding focus – there areno quick fixes. 

A five window cultureassessment framework which presents a map for directing cultural inquiry andoffers techniques for facilitating organization members’ interpretation ofcommon organizational events, routines, and preferred way of doing things isdescribed by (Levin, 2000).  The five windows present themes which helpunderstand the complex whole that is culture. The five windows are leadership, norms and practices, stories andlegends, traditions and rituals and organization symbols.  Through the leadership window one learns thepersonal values and beliefs of significant past and present leaders.  Through the norms and practices window oneunderstands the ‘unwritten’ rules of expected conduct and beliefs about howwork should be managed.  Organizationalstories and legends are the folklore and oral traditions of theorganization.  Traditions and rituals arethe repetitive and structured practices which place the culture on visibledisplay and dramatize important beliefs and values.  Organizational symbols include the array ofcultural artefacts such company’s logo, marketing slogans, design of officespace and dress code.  This framework canbe used to help an organization move its culture in the desired direction. 

In addition toculture, the success of matrix structures is influenced by the dominantcoalitions present in the organization. These coalitions can help or hinder thedevelopment of an enabling culture.

How do DominantCoalitions influence goal attainment within matrix structures?

A dominant coalitionconsists of the network of individuals within and around an organization thatmost influence the mission and goals of the organization (Cyert & March, 1992). Stevenson et al., (1985) defined a coalitionas an interacting group of individuals, deliberately constructed, independentof the formal structure, lacking its own internal structure, consisting ofmutually perceived membership, issue oriented, focused on a goal or goalsexternal to the coalition, and requiring concerted member action.  Coalitions are explicitly created by theirmembers for a specific purpose; this self-conscious formation and designdistinguishes them from other informal groups. Since coalitions lack a hierarchy of formal legitimate authority theirdecision making and conflict resolution depends on the informal influence amongmembers.  The key characteristic of acoalition is their attempt to operate in a concerted manner outside of theformal organizational structure (Stevenson,Pearce, & Porter, 1985).

In any organization,the distribution of power is influenced by the dynamic between the structureand behaviour. The structure of an organization provides access to and controlof resources, while the behaviours to acquire and use those resources areoccurring. Power in an organization can flow from the hierarchical level in anorganization (authority or legitimate power) or from the network position, aninformal source of power. Often, people in a position to mediate or control theflow of information in an organization can use that information to acquirepower by forming dominant coalitions, or exchanging the information for otherdesired outcomes (Brass &Burkhardt, 1993). Often, the dominant coalition maintains an influence on goals throughinformal, rather than formal, channels thereby allowing individuals other thanformal leadership to manipulate the goals of the organization; this can be doneby the control that dominant coalitions have on resources such as physicalresources, capital, or possession of tacit knowledge (Bowler, 2006). In the dominantcoalition model of team collaboration, a coalition of members directs theprocess of information extraction and decision-making; often, the coalitionwill make choices that promote the coalition's interests and protect itsdominance (Jenssens & Brett, 2006). However, this canaffect an organization’s competitiveness which requires a free flow ofinformation amongst all its members (Hatala& Lutta, 2009; Sy & D'Annunzio, 2005).

Bowler (2006) warns that when thegoals of the dominant coalition contradict those of the formal leadership, thestated goals of the organization often do not match the actual behaviour of theorganization.  At times, someorganizations pursue altered versions of their stated goals because of theinformal force of the dominant coalition. The goals of the dominant coalition also influenced an individual’sattention and focus on project; for example an individual will give moreattention and focus on what is seen as priority by dominant coalition membersand procrastinate on other projects.   


The objective of thispaper was to understand what literature says about the characteristics ofmatrix organizations, the influence of culture on the success of effectivematrix functioning, and the influence of dominant coalitions in matrix structures.From the literature review presented above, it is clear that matrix structuresdo present challenges in terms of misaligned goals, unclear roles andresponsibilities, ambiguous authority, lack of a matrix guardian and silofocused employees. Furthermore, literature brings out that the culture of aneffective matrix organization is different from that of a traditionalstructure. The elements needed for effective matrix functioning require matureleadership that is willing to function in a collaborative mode, share power,manage ambiguity, and develop emotional intelligence.

Many IT companies inIndia are known to focus exclusively on developing technical prowess, notunderstanding that many project challenges are caused by unhealthyinter-personal relationships and a culture that does not encouragecollaboration across silos. Culture in such companies is often influenced bydominant coalitions. Literature alerts us to the negative impact that suchcoalitions can have in undermining the stated goals and values of theorganization. The results from this study, when completed, will contribute tothe knowledge base by understanding how matrix structures function in an Indiancontext. 



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