Staff survey slams CSIRO Matrix

The results are in from the Staff Association’s Matrix review survey – based on the responses of over one thousand CSIRO employees.


The confidential online survey launched on 13 September, remaining open for two weeks using the same set of five questions as those used in CSIRO’s Organising Arrangement Review interviews. The survey was designed to allow respondents to provide both quantitative and qualitative feedback, with space attached to each question for participants to detail their experience in their own words. Over one thousand (1,039) Staff Association members took part in the online exercise.

Full report

  • Download the complete survey report here.

Creativity, innovation and collaboration

How effective are CSIRO’s current structural arrangements in facilitating creativity, innovation and collaboration in research?

Question One

“The matrix diffuses authority, creates confusion, dis-empowers staff at all levels, alienates, diminishes vision, allows laziness to take hold, causes stress and ensures people simply focus on only the smallest task at hand because any larger issue or work task becomes too hard. Apart from that, I think it’s great.”

“Under the Matrix system at one point I had a group leader located 500km away, a line manager that could not approve leave or complete an APA as he had nothing to do with my day to day job and a supervisor I worked with that had no responsibilities for me but had to keep the other two informed. This is not an efficient way to manage staff.”

Stress, ambiguity and transaction cost

How effective are CSIRO’s current structural arrangements in facilitating staff doing their best work without undue stress, ambiguity or transaction cost?

Question Two

“Currently all our staff are stressed due to massive work loads, need to do both business and business development, pushing down of administrative functions to scientists (I’m a chemist, not a HR specialist). I signed up to do science and I’ve become a manager – which I’m not very good at.”

“The current matrix structure is terrible. I find that I am often reporting the same information on many occasions along many different streams within the same organisation, including one input stream, and sometimes multiple output streams. This reduces my effectiveness to achieve my work goals, and places overhead on a number of managers for which the information is redundant.”

Allocation of resources and formation of research teams

How effective are CSIRO’s current structural arrangements in ensuring efficient allocation of resources and formation of research teams?

Question Three

“By its very nature the matrix appears to be designed to fragment teams rather than build them. It considers the human resource e.g. project officer CSOF ‘X’ as a kind of commodity that can be traded around as necessary. This is the antithesis of management, which needs to consider the human factors.”

“The matrix was intended to break down existing administrative barriers between programs and divisions. It might have worked in a capital-rich environment where capital was chasing labour. In a capital-poor environment where labour is chasing capital, new ‘silos’ are formed to replace the old ones as line managers seek to protect their staff via ‘strategic alliances’ between Flagships/Themes and Divisions/Programs.”

Research projects and programs

How effective are CSIRO’s current structural arrangements in the management of research projects and programs – particularly large scale, multi – disciplinary and collaborative research programs?

Question Four

“Large projects inevitably end up becoming a turf war between division and teams. These wars are very divisive and time consuming. Often a large portion of the project budget has been burnt during the early stage haggling which naturally gets subtracted from the real work.”

“There has been some limited success in the matrix for facilitating having people in different divisions working together, but that is where it stops. There is no functional list of skills in divisions (asked for many times in leadership meetings) and to find skills you get no help from the matrix but still rely on your personal contacts. Someone running a large project will be making decisions about your future without knowing what you do and what the importance is of your work into the bigger picture.”

Collaboration with clients and partners

How effective are CSIRO’s current structural arrangements in facilitating collaboration with clients and partners to deliver impact, without undue barriers or disincentives?

Question Five

“The matrix encourages/requires underbidding, to which the management response at project start is to tell the team we’ll shape the work to fit the budget. However in the end the underlings always end up having to do the extra work to meet the full set of deliverables, often in their own time, and at personal cost.”

“I am not aware of anyone praising the ease with which the current arrangements accommodated their client interactions or facilitated their client interactions.”

More information

  • Download the complete survey report here.
  • Visit the Matrix Review campaign page
  • For all other queries regarding the survey and report, contact Anthony Keenan.

Have your say 

Post a comment below.

One thought on “Staff survey slams CSIRO Matrix

  1. I’m a CSIRO employee who did well out of the matrix. I escaped the Divisional ‘ropes that bind’ and got to work on interesting projects across a range of capability groups and met good people. And even I can see how stuffed the matrix is. What I can’t see is how to fix something so badly broken. “Herding Cats” indeed. Let the dogs out.


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