Matrix Organization and Collectivist Task-Orientation

By Andrew J. Malanga, Hong Kong, 2014

How-to-Do-Many-Projects--Part-2----Matrix-Management-1-piMatrix 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 thatcontact-banner 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.

taskEffective 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 findingRole 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.



Chen, P., Partington, D., & Qiang, M. (2009). Cross-cultural understanding of construction project managers’ conceptions of their work. Journal of Construction Engineering and Management, 135(6), 477–487. doi:10.1061/(ASCE)CO.1943-7862.0000009

Larson, E. W., & Gobeli, D. H. (1987). Matrix management: Contradictions and insights. California Management Review, 29(4), 126–138. Retrieved from

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

Phua, F. T. T., & Rowlinson, S. (2004). Operationalizing culture in construction management research: A social identity perspective in the Hong Kong context. Construction Management and Economics, 22(9), 913–925. doi:10.1080/01446190310001631000

PMBOK 4. (2008). Project management body of knowledge, fourth edition (4th ed.). Newton Square: Project Management Institute, Inc.

Rowlinson, S. (2001). Matrix organizational structure, culture and commitment: a Hong Kong public sector case study of change. Construction Management and Economics, 19(7), 669–673. doi:10.1080/01446190110066137

Rowlinson, S., & Root, D. (1996). The impact of culture on project management: Final report to the British Council. Hong Kong.

Wang, X., & Liu, L. (2007). Cultural barriers to the use of Western project management in Chinese enterprises: Some empirical evidence from Yunnan province. Project Management Journal, 38(3), 61–73. doi:10.1002/pmj.20006

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

Leadership and the Ripple Effect

3 Management-Issues / 14 hours ago
Organizations are living ecosystems in which everything and everyone is connected, directly or indirectly. So it doesn’t matter if you’re managing a team of 10 or a company of 100,000, every choice you make as a leader has a ripple effect across your responsibility pond.

Review of Hertzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene Theory

Andrew  J. Malanga, Hong Kong, 2014

Sometimes It’s well worth going back through old journals and old articles to put management theory in perspective.  It’s almost like listening to rock from the 60s to understand many of the riffs and techniques musicians use today.  Sometimes we find that old classic remains relevant and elegant if not only for its simplicity.  The seminal work One More Time:  How Do You Motivate Employees?  by Frederick Herzberg represents, just such a relevant classic. 


Herzberg begins by dissecting, into its component parts, the conventional organizational understanding of “motivation.”  This understanding, says Herzberg, is not only incomplete, but is simply wrong.  Herzberg insists that management theories of the day mistakenly confuse motivation with another process: KITA (Kick In The Ass).  Herzberg suggests that KITA is a method of moving someone towards something by using negative or positive, physical or psychological inducements; what management would call “incentives.”  The real difference, says Herzberg, is that motivation, unlike KITA, is an impetus derived from an internal urge to move towards something: The carrot and stick mechanisms of KITA are inadequate and misleading.  To illustrate the folly in using incentives as a substitute for motivation, Herzberg identifies nine common employee incentives used by organizations to induce movement by employees toward increased productivity.  These incentives, says Herzberg, only stimulate an employee to reach for the next higher level of reward; not to perform more efficiently.  Ultimately, the organization may forever have to up the incentive ante if they want to keep the employees at the same level of performance.

Herzberg’s research unveiled an intriguing dichotomy: The things that make employees satisfied with the job are not the same things that make them dissatisfied with the job.  In other words, employee satisfaction is not the opposite of employee dissatisfaction.   An employee may be in any number of states: satisfied, not satisfied, not dissatisfied, dissatisfied.

Herzberg continues by examining two general factors of human needs that effect human satisfaction and dissatisfaction: hygiene factors and motivator factors.  Simply put, hygiene factors encompasses all those emotions and needs at the most base and instinctual level within humans, whereas motivator factors are the higher order needs uniquely characteristic of humans.  Hygiene factors, Herzberg concludes, are the primary cause of dissatisfaction, while motivator factors are the principal cause for satisfaction.


How do you motivate employees?  To answer this question, Herzberg unravels the inadequacies of three general organizational behavior approaches: organizational management, industrial engineering, and behavioral science.  Herzberg explains that his motivation-hygiene theory will result in “job enrichment” to bring about the most effective use of people.

Job enrichment, explains Herzberg, is best realized through a systemic and deliberate manipulation of motivator factors to create, within employees, a vested psychological interest in performing well.

Herzberg advances a method called “vertical job loading”; a process of distilling motivators from job enriching principles.  Removing some job controls, increasing personal accountability for one’s own work, granting additional authority, introducing new and more difficult tasks, and assigning specialized tasks are all principles which, if enacted at the workplace, will motivate employees.  Herzberg explains that these principles are the corollaries of high-order “motivator-factors” such as increased responsibility, recognition, achievement, and advancement.

Herzberg explains that changes brought about by job enrichment will have long-term effects on employee attitudes and that these changes should make each job challenging enough to exercise the skills of the employee hired for it.  Those with higher level skills will demonstrate such and, therefore, will win promotion to higher level jobs.  Ultimately, if even a small part of the resources we program for hygiene factors were re-programmed for job enrichment, concludes Herzberg, “. . . the return in human satisfaction and economic gain would be one of the largest dividends that industry and society have ever reaped through their efforts at better personnel management.”

Herzberg, F.I. 1987, ‘One more time: How do you motivate employees?’, Harvard Business Review, Sep/Oct 87, Vol. 65 Issue 5, p. 109-120

The prisoner’s dilemma

          The prisoner’s dilemma is renowned in game theory circles. It is an example of a game that demonstrates why individuals often fail to cooperate, even when it is in their best interests to do so.

In the conventional definition of the game, two men are arrested while in the act of a crime. They are brought to the police station and put in separate interrogation rooms. They are both offered the same deal, as follows:

  • If you both remain silent, we have enough evidence to put you each away for a month;
  • But, if you inform on your partner and he is silent, then you will do no time in jail and he will be put away for a year;
  • However, if you are silent and your partner informs on you, then you will be in jail for a year and he will go free, and;
  • If you both agree to testify against each other, we’ll go easy on you and you’ll each do three months in jail.

Interestingly, the rational decision for each is to betray the other, even though they would be better off if they both cooperated with each other by remaining silent. After all, in the best case scenario, if you agree to testify against your a partner, you will be afforded no jail time; in the worse case scenario you will get three months in jail – both appear to be better options than taking the risk of remaining silent and having to do a year in jail (if your partner informs on you).

Unfortunately, a version of the prisoner’s dilemma plays out in the business world every day. It’s not uncommon for people working within the same organization, even within the same unit, to operate in conflict with one another. Of course, there are many reasons for this.

Sometimes it’s due to incomplete instructions from above. Staff members think that they are working cooperatively only to find out at a later time that they’re at odds with other colleagues or units because of unclear direction from the top.

Uncooperative behavior can be further impelled when unreasonable expectations, aggressive deadlines and inadequate measurement criteria are lobbed on top of a process, as well. Stress can bring out the worst in people and we’ve all seen this play out at work.

If these realities aren’t bad enough, perhaps the nastiest form of this behavior comes when work units knowingly attend to parochial needs with complete disregard to any impact that such actions may have on other areas of the business. Sales people selling products/services that their firm’s operations staff can’t produce or provide is a classic example of this in action.

Regardless of the cause, uncooperative conduct hinders an organization’s performance. In fact, a steady diet of it leads to lingering, sub-optimal results – the consequences of which can be disastrous to the long-term health and prosperity of the enterprise.

Clearly, we as leaders must sniff this out and take the necessary steps to eradicate the behavior.

We can do this by:

  • Being very clear and deliberate with our direction-setting;
  • Establishing appropriate expectations, deadlines and goals;
  • Aligning measurements and rewards with expected results;
  • Stressing “team” over “individual” performance, and;
  • Raising awareness and providing appropriate training, as needed.

In this way, we can reset our organization’s group dynamics in a direction that enables success and help it avoid falling victim to the prisoner’s dilemma.