A matrix organization is a fine thing for the top management, assuming due to the overlay of managers pursuing various different interests of the company, the organization requires much less control from the top, e.g. Sales Regions versus Products. That comes with some disadvantages, like additional costs for the ‘overlay’ matrix management, issues with two or more bosses and their respective performance goals per employee. So far very little attention has been given to the fact that a matrix organization is the ideal breeding ground for Social Loafing.

Social Loafing is the diminished effort of individuals when being part of a group. They feel less accountable and may think their contributions are dispensable. Social Loafing is stronger when individual contribution is not distinguished and all group members share equal benefits (independent of their contribution). Taking a free ride on the efforts of others is especially common among men in individualistic cultures¹.

What makes social loafing special in a matrix organization? An employee gets tasks from the manager on the horizontal line and from the vertical line, e.g. Operation manager and Product A manager.

matrix organization social loafing


An individual of a matrix team could always just when being given a duty get busy working for the other manager within the matrix. The task will most probably get forwarded to another member of that matrix team. Meaning some team member might work a lot while others regularly take a free ride.

That can go on undetected for extensive time periods. Imagine following situation: the team members are distributed over several locations and it is difficult for them see how occupied the others are, the managers are not communicating because they are on different continents, have never met or talked to each other and do not want to be complaining about staff they themselves hardly know. As long as other employees in the matrix team do well, the social loafer can enjoy free rides on the success of the group.


Top 4 measures for reducing social loafing:

  • distribute specific tasks to individuals, that they can get appreciated and measured on
  • reward individuals for their contributions
  • highlight the importance of each contribution
  • facilitate communication between matrix management lines


Keep this in mind when you got your strategic goals ready and contemplate about which organizational structure would be the best to get it implemented.

Example from South Park, from beginning until 01:10 minutes:


¹Karau Williams, 1993