Matrix management was intended to be an adaptable management structure to permit organizations to be reactive to changes and uncertainties while enabling organizations to apportion vast resources while remaining task-orientated (Larson & Gobeli, 1987). This is a fundamental principle behind matrix organization. Matrix organization, to be effective, requires that the organization culture be task oriented. Matrix organizations requires that the task be the focal point in the organization and that the members pursue whatever means appropriate to accomplish the task (Rowlinson & Root, 1996). The concept of task-orientation, often appears in the literature as does its opposite; role-orientation. Generally, collectivist cultures such as those that exist in China (including Hong Kong), Korea, Thailand, Indonesia, and elsewhere are perceived as role-oriented societies; attentive to relationships and group harmony. In contrast, Westerners value task-orientation, productivity, and prefer employees to follow procedures and instructions so that they can work productively (Wong et al., 2007). Western project management espouses a strong task-orientation where relationships are secondary to task. When assessing the effectiveness of a project team, PMBOK 4 (2008) proposed that highly successful project teams are typified by task-oriented and results-oriented outcomes. In contrast, for Hong Kong Chinese project managers, tasks can only be accomplished if inter-group harmony and good relationships are achieved (Chen & Partington, 2004). In a study conducted by Rowlinson & Root (1996) the researchers discovered that the common culture of Hong Kong organizations was one in which role-orientation was predominant; that is, procedures and formal authority were seen as mechanisms by which work was undertaken (Rowlinson, 2001). Leung, Chan, & Chong (2010) conducted a study of 139 Hong Kong Chinese construction professionals who had grown up in Hong Kong, been educated in Hong Kong, and were currently living in Hong Kong. Their results, not surprisingly, showed that Hong Kong Chinese construction professionals were more focused on interpersonal team relations (Leung et al., 2010). The professionals sought connections and communications with supervisors, colleagues, and subordinates in order to clarify the scope and responsibilities of their roles. This was to avoid role conflict. Project team members deemed this more important than task-orientation (Leung et al., 2010). Consistent with this research are the findings of Chen & Partington (2004) who concluded that project managers working within collectivist cultures will pay more attention to building and maintaining personal relationships within the project team, while Western counterparts will focus more on task.
Effective matrix organization demands a task-orientation rather than a role-orientation because focus must remain on completing the job at hand and no distraction is permitted to keep one from completing the task (Wang & Liu, 2007). In fact, projects tend to be more task-oriented than the organizations within which they are pursued. Wang & Liu (2007) argue that Hong Kong Chinese culture favors strong hierarchies and large power distance making Hong Kong Chinese favor boss-orientation over task-orientation. Phua & Rowlinson (2004) reinforced this finding with their own research which sampled all construction firms operating in Hong Kong. The researchers observed that the Hong Kong construction industry inclination towards boss-orientation becomes a cultural obstacle to the task-centric matrix organizational structure (Phua & Rowlinson, 2004). This fosters an organizational culture in which employees are more apt to place greater weight on making the boss happy than on completing the task most efficiently (Wang & Liu, 2007).
There are congruencies between role-orientation and task-orientation. While role-orientation stresses making one’s boss happy, task-orientation emphasizes task completion. The research of Wang & Liu (2007) showed that the Hong Kong Chinese generally focus on making the boss happy, but in some cases, it is the same thing: People could make the boss happy by way of completing the relevant task (Wang & Liu, 2007).
The significance of this discussion is that it underscores the idea that relationships do exist between organizational structures and cultural behaviors and norms. It is important for project management practitioners to realize that by recognizing and understanding the organizational cultures within which they work, they can better formulate effective procedures, organizational structures, and communications practices that fit their work environments. If effective matrix organization implementation is to remain a primary factor in large complex business’s success, then project management professionals and senior executives must be aware of the interplay between organizational structures and organizational culture; the ways in which they change, and the ways in which they work together.
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Larson, E. W., & Gobeli, D. H. (1987). Matrix management: Contradictions and insights. California Management Review, 29(4), 126–138. Retrieved from http://cmr.berkeley.edu/
Leung, M., Chan, Y.-S., & Chong, A. M. L. (2010). Chinese values and stressors of construction professionals in Hong Kong. Journal of Construction Engineering and Management, 136(12), 1289–1298. doi:10.1061/(ASCE)CO.1943-7862.0000234
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Wong, J., Wong, P. N. K., & Heng, L. (2007). An investigation of leadership styles and relationship cultures of Chinese and expatriate managers in multinational construction companies in Hong Kong. Construction Management and Economics, 25(1), 95–106. doi:10.1080/01446190600632573