Matrix Management in Hospitals: Testing Theories of Matrix Structure and Development

By Burns, Lawton R. | Administrative Science Quarterly, September 1989 | Go to article overview

Matrix Management in Hospitals: Testing Theories of Matrix Structure and Development


Burns, Lawton R., Administrative Science Quarterly


Matrix Management in Hospitals: Testing Theories of Matrix Structure and Development

A study of 315 hospitals with matrix management programs was used to test several hypotheses concerning matrix management advanced by earlier theorists. The study verifies that matrix management involves several distinctive elements that can be scaled to form increasingly complex types of lateral coordinative devices. The scalability of these elements is evident only cross-sectionally. The results show that matrix complexity is not an outcome of program age, nor does matrix complexity at the time of implementation appear to influence program survival. Matrix complexity, finally, is not determined by the organization's task diversity and uncertainty. The results suggest several modifications in prevailing theories of matrix organization.(*)

INTRODUCTION Organization theory and research have not empirically addressed the topic of matrix management adequately. While much has been written about matrix management since its implementation in the aerospace industry during the late 1950s and early 1960s, including several books (Galbraith, 1973, 1977; Davis and Lawrence, 1977; Knight, 1977), most of it has been case studies, descriptive articles, and chapters on organization design. Given the case-oriented and normatively based approaches, little effort has been devoted to identifying and measuring the characteristics of matrix structure. The majority of authors (e.g., Galbraith, 1972; Kolodny, 1979) has viewed matrix management as the final step in the utilization of lateral coordinative mechanisms, ranging from liaison roles and task forces to the pure matrix. This series of coordinative mechanisms is believed to represent various stages in an historical progression from one organizational form to another. Research has been plagued, however, by a lack of data and the inherent difficulties of studying a series of lateral coordinative mechanisms. The diversity in the types of coordinative mechanisms and the possibility that they evolve into higher forms (or devolve into lower ones) require that empirical studies be both comparative (i.e., with adequate sampling of each type of mechanism) and longitudinal (i.e., using panel or time-series data). The one previous empirical study of lateral coordinative mechanisms is comparative but not historical (Lawrence and Lorsch, 1967). This paper addresses the theoretical deficiencies in the literature by identifying the elements of matrix management and developing hypotheses about their interrelationships and determinants, based on earlier work by Lawrence and Lorsch (1967) and Galbraith (1971, 1972, 1977). These elements and hypotheses are then evaluated empirically in a study of unit management in hospitals. Unit management is a matrix program that exhibits patterned structural variation, much like a series of coordinative mechanisms. The paper also analyzes the development of matrix programs and the impact of matrix complexity on program survival. The findings confirm or invalidate many of the long-held assumptions about matrix management and suggest some refinements in current theories of matrix organization design.

THEORY

Matrix Management Structure and Development

Matrix management is typically viewed as the endpoint in a sequence of lateral coordinative arrangements. Following Lawrence and Lorsch (1967), Galbraith (1972:65) proposed a Guttman-type scale of coordinative devices ("cross-functional forms") in which the matrix organization evolves from and builds cumulatively on several earlier arrangements. This scale encompasses liaison roles, task forces, teams, integrators, integrating departments, and finally, the pure matrix organization. Galbraith used the function-by-project form to illustrate the matrix organization: functional (vertical) departments crosscut by project (horizontal) managers. He nevertheless made it clear that the matrix is not limited to these bases of the authority structure (1971: 29). …

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