Matrix Management in Libraries: Exploring a Collaborative & Cross-Functional Management Model to Provide Greater Value & Increase Impact

Aerial view of pens organized in a color array
In a matrix model, workers are members of horizontal project-based teams, as well as vertical reporting structures. Photo by Faris Mohammed on Unsplash.

The Library Leadership & Management Association (LLAMA) presented the program “Matrix Management in Libraries: Exploring a Collaborative and Cross-Functional Management Model to Provide Greater Value and Increase Impact” at the 2019 ALA Annual Conference. The session featured staff from the George Washington University Libraries and Academic Innovation (GW LAI), who work within a matrix management environment. Bill Gillis, director of research services, gave context and an overview of the transition process. Hannah Sommers, senior associate dean and deputy university librarian, shared a leadership perspective on why matrix management has benefitted GW LAI. Peter Cohn, also director of research services, explained how matrix management is enacted day-to-day. Shira Ella, art and design librarian, presented on the experience of working as a front-line librarian within the matrix management environment.

Bill began with context and an overview for the matrix management process, the goal of which is to create organizations that are efficient and agile, and which can also be used for teamwork towards shared goals across units within complex organizations. A feature is often, but not always, flexible reporting structures, meaning that a staff person might report to different managers for different tasks. Administrators must be flexible enough to work in different operational areas and in absolute tandem with their colleagues. Matrix management seeks to build networks of skills employable horizontally across an organization rather than through a rigidly vertical or hierarchical structure. Front line staff have chances to engage in new activities, develop new skills and sometimes lead projects or teams. Caveats include increased need and time for communication as well as the time and training commitment necessary to shift a hierarchical organization towards matrix management. Bill encouraged the attendees to think of this in terms of a “matrix mindset,” as evidenced by the following position description:

The AD will join the other LAI ADs in working together as a team to consider the most effective approaches for providing services and solutions, and engaging students, faculty and staff to understand their academic support needs. Projects and activities will be viewed from a total GW LAI perspective, with librarians and staff performing together based on requirements and skills rather than reporting structures. This creates a healthy, vibrant organization that addresses faculty and student needs effectively. As a member of the senior management team, they will participate in planning, budget, operations, and personnel decisions for GW LAI.

The successful candidate will demonstrate dynamic, innovative and creative approaches to empowering and mentoring staff, leading projects and teams, solving problems, and initiating new services designed to meet user needs. The successful candidate must understand the broad landscape of current trends in research libraries and demonstrate successfully implementing new technologies and methods in an operational setting. The AD will have strength in multiple operational areas and flexibility to work towards library-wide goals. This will enable shifts of management responsibility as needed to support an efficient and agile organization that changes and adapts to the university’s needs over time.

Would you apply for this job?

Hannah Sommers, associate dean in the position described above, had previous experience with successful matrix management approaches at National Public Radio. Hannah explained that support for staff and leaders as change is implemented is a crucial factor in successful change management, and she saw outcomes articulated in the job description which demonstrated GW LAI’s commitment to support. Agile techniques are not sufficient in themselves without this support.

How fluid are roles & responsibilities?

Peter, one of three directors of research services directly supporting the matrix management teams, discussed the “how” of matrix management. The three directors meet weekly to re-prioritize, report and strategize about ongoing initiatives, ensuring they are in step with each other. Each director has a “sphere of work” and each staff team member officially reports to one of the three, but all three directors also extend their work across collection development, instruction, open educational resource development, user studies and liaison duties as necessary at a given moment. Their staff work along some traditional, functional lines, but also spin into groups on a project basis. Assignments are made to team members based on available “bandwidth,” their particular expertise and their interest. All staff on the matrix management teams convene weekly for a standup meeting, during which each person delivers a one minute report and forecast.

A frontline staff member’s perspective

Shira Eller, art and design librarian, explained that within GW LAI’s matrix management structure some standard library tasks are shared equally amongst librarians, such as responding to reference emails. Shira still bears responsibility in her subject area for collection development, instruction, and other traditional academic librarian duties. However, the matrix management structure has given her the chance to branch out on somewhat atypical collaborations, such as working with special collections on curating artist’s books. She also chairs a scholarly communication team which provides information and support across campus for publishing. Shira reports that this opportunity for collaboration with other departments, as well as opportunities for leadership are the benefits of working within matrix management teams. Potential drawbacks have proved to be over-extension, lack of clarity about which of the three managers to refer questions to, and a delay in decisions when the three directors have to confer.

The session concluded with a lively Q&A. Presentation slides, audio, and video are available to registered ALA Annual 2019 attendees.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.