Lessons from Ratehub’s switch to a matrix organizational structure

You’ve definitely heard the phrase matrix organizational structure thrown around before. The grid-like reporting structure is beloved by such mega brands as Starbucks and GE – and, now, Ratehub.ca. CEO and Co-Founder Alyssa Furtado shares her learnings and challenges after implementing this structure at Ratehub.ca.

Alyssa Furtado Ratehub

Life at Ratehub.ca, Canada’s leading financial comparison website, is never boring – and the last several months have been especially exciting. We’ve been shaking up our operational structure, building new products and growing faster than ever before, all as part of our mission to help Canadians get the best deals on their mortgages, credit cards, insurance and investments.  

In June, we made the strategic decision to transition our work environment into a “matrix” model. Instead of organizing people into traditional silos, such as marketing, product management, engineering, etc., we’ve split people into individual business units based on our product lines. This means that the members of each business unit form a cross-functional team that get to focus on contributing to a single business line and a single set of goals. We’ve even shifted where people sit, so teams are organized by business units rather than by traditional departments.

Now that we have almost a full quarter of operating in this structure, we have some takeaways to share for other people leaders thinking about implementing a similar change at their organizations:

Positive outcomes

While we were all on the same team under our old system, it sometimes felt like we were working towards different goals. Orienting the team around a consistent set of metrics and KPIs has been a great way to simplify accountability and magnify outcomes for each team.

One of the more positive outcomes from moving to a matrix structure was uncovering all the discussions that weren’t happening in our old structure. Regular business unit meetings encourage people to communicate across functions, and the results have been incredible. The importance of this discovery cannot be undersold, as these are discussions that need to happen on a regular basis to ensure both sustained organizational and business unit success.

For example, when it came to launching our new platform for car insurance quotes, having developers, designers, marketers, and writers all sitting at the same table throughout the process made for an efficient and ultimately more successful launch. Every team member had valuable input to share, resulting in increased levels of knowledge-sharing and the best possible outcomes for the project. For example, in creating landing pages for our partners, our design, content marketing and engineering teams collaborated with our project lead to create the best possible user experience. By working together and communicating about the project in real time, the team launched more quickly and were also able to be more responsive when any minor changes were required.

It is difficult to overstate the impact of this information sharing. As another example, within our credit cards business unit, we have recently built a dedicated team that meets on a weekly basis. Everyone on this team is looped into what is happening inside the credit cards business unit, making it easier for them to share ideas and communicate more effectively. This has led to people regularly sharing data, insights and fresh ideas based on their expertise, and we’ve been able to make quicker and more informed decisions on how we can improve the experience for Canadians looking for the best credit cards in Canada.

It is difficult to overstate the impact of this information sharing. - Alyssa Furtado of @ratehub on switching to a #matrix organizational structure‏ Click To Tweet

In our regular business unit meetings, I find myself asking how these meetings weren’t happening before, and how we could have functioned without them.

Lessons learned

There have definitely been a number of challenges in converting to a matrix structure and functioning within that format.

The biggest issue we saw was the need for clearer accountability on different tasks. The matrix structure highlighted any unclear accountability and forced us to resolve it. In addition, the balance of communication is a challenging one – for people in more than one business unit, there are a lot of meetings, and we work hard to ensure every minute we spend in meetings is productive and valuable.

An issue unique to the matrix structure was the question of “Who’s my boss?” We’ve been giving our individual employees significantly more autonomy of late, which has given team members an excellent opportunity to grow as leaders within our organization. However, individual staff might get tasks from their manager as well as the business unit manager. Team managers and directors (e.g. marketing) are primarily focused on employee development and execution of their visions at a higher level across the company, while the business unit managers are tasked with mapping out and executing the day to day projects and strategic visions of their individual units with the coordinated support of their unit members.

To address this, we’ve adopted a policy of individual accountability and shared courtesy. Individual team members monitor their own workloads and regularly update both their business unit managers and department managers. At the same time, both types of managers coordinate vacation schedules, training periods and other changes that may affect team members’ core work. The result has been more cooperation and stronger people leaders at all levels within Ratehub.ca.

We've adopted a policy of individual accountability and shared courtesy. - Alyssa Furtado of @ratehub on switching to a #matrix organizational structure‏ Click To Tweet

We’ve also learned that business units and departments can coexist in harmony. By eliminating one set of silos in our organization, we need to be careful not to build another set. While people work in business units, they still benefit from working with their departments. A great deal of energy and best practice sharing still happens in our departments, and that is key to ensuring people can still grow within their roles while functioning in their business units.

Where do we go from here?

This move came at the end of several months of research and preparation and has been a pretty big adjustment for all of our employees. But so far, it’s been positive for our culture and for allowing people to do their best work.

We have a clear set of ambitious goals over the next two years and adopting the matrix structure has been an important part of supercharging our performance. It has firmly put us on the path to achieving those goals. Company-wide, we’ve embraced this change in a way that honours our cultural values, and we need to keep doing more of the same. Thinking and acting like business units results in better conversations and better outcomes for our users each and every day.

Interested in hearing more from Alyssa? Listen to her episode of the People leading Podcast, where she goes deeper into Ratehub.ca’s approach to setting and communicating goals. Listen to her episode here

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