Collaboration In A Matrix Environment

Most organizations today have some kind of matrix structure in place, rather than the traditional hard silos of the past. The challenge in a matrix environment is getting people to be accountable and work effectively outside of their function or division.

The problem fundamentally is one of ownership. Not knowing who owns what, whom one really reports to and what authority one really has often becomes an excuse for not taking responsibility for producing results.

People avoid accountability for the end goal of improving bottom-line profits by claiming conflicting priorities or lack of cooperation as the cause. “They” (meaning the other departments) “won’t come to our meetings to help us,” is the chronic complaint often accompanying a throwing up of collective hands.

But one myth that must be unwound in the matrix environment is that you can only affect things over which you have authority.

We hear this all the time from managers who tell us they can’t generate true alignment, effective communication and a strong sense of team with stakeholders who don’t report to them or in a group over which they have no authority.

But to be successful in a matrix environment, managers first have to abandon that paradigm and engage in a more empowering perspective — that everything is a function of influence, partnership and alignment of shared goals.

In reality, people have the capacity and the desire to be focused on, loyal to and aligned with visions, commitments and objectives they believe in, having nothing to do with structure. In the end, staff loyalty and passion can be driven by their relationship to a goal.

What are you doing to create teamwork in your matrix environment? I would love to hear your comments.

Different Behavior Means Better Meetings

In our last blog post on this topic, we talked about the difference between a meeting that is organized around an agenda and one that is oriented around outcomes. In today’s post, we further explore this topic by looking at the impact each type of meeting has on team behavior.

The fundamental difference between an agenda-driven vs. a results-driven meeting is that they elicit two very distinct types of behaviors from team members.

When a meeting is oriented around topics and an agenda, it brings about a greater degree of opinion swapping. For example: Someone expresses his or her point of view on a new product, provoking someone else to state his or hers. That then reminds someone else of something tangential which they share, and soon these conversations begin to resemble a yo-yo.

But a meeting that is oriented around outcomes provokes conversations that focus people on saying something that has to do with achieving a result. It cuts back on the tangents and encourages team members to put forth offers, recommendations and commitments that move the action forward.

Some simple ways to make sure your meetings are ‘result vs. agenda’ oriented include:

  • Declare the meeting objectives at the beginning of the meeting, rather than by the amount of time allocated to each topic. Encourage spending as much time as needed on each item to achieve the stated objective(s) of the meeting.
  • Invite people to the meeting who will gain from or contribute to the realization of the stated objectives of the meeting. Don’t invite spectators or people for political reasons.
  • Complete the meeting by summarizing the commitments made, not the topics discussed. Too often, the minutes of a meeting reflect what was talked about, not the promises made.
  • Don’t tolerate conversations that don’t directly forward the outcomes you want to achieve.

By focusing on these guidelines, your next off-site or team meeting can go from drowning in conversation to being infused with commitment.

How do you make your meetings effective? I would love to hear your comments.

Micro-management Is The Enemy of Strategic Thinking

In last week’s blog post, we discussed the way that leaders’ actions impact the cultivation of strategic thinking within their companies. This week, we continue the theme by examining the role that micromanaging plays in the process.

Heed the warning. Leaders who micromanage create an environment of compliance where people won’t think strategically and don’t act as partners.

Micromanaging suffocates strategic thinking because it forces people to interact at a tactical level only. It requires people to protect their world, and a huge amount of their energy just goes into how to survive and keep their boss off their back.

One research study on micromanagement by Dr. Robert Hurley PhD at Fordham University found that 30 to 35% of executives succeed as managers but faltered as leaders when they found themselves in higher-level positions. “For this sizable group of under-performing executives, the underlying root cause is compulsive micromanagement caused by perfectionist tendencies. By micromanagement we mean an over-controlling style that inappropriately inhibits the people the executive needs to mobilize,” says Dr. Hurley.

To counteract this, we suggest that executives and managers ask their staff to think about what they would do if they were put in charge of a particular situation, department or organization. Ask your staff what they would start, stop or continue, then discuss the responses as a group so people can learn to think strategically at a level or two above their current job.

Just remember that you will never get any company strategy perfect, rational or right enough to work without having engagement and commitment at all levels. Encouraging your staff to participate in strategic planning and practice strategic thinking is key to creating a strategy that does not just get talked, but walked.

Cheat Sheet of Strategic Thinking Dos and Don’ts


  • Actively ask for input from all departments and levels.
  • Promote and incorporate others’ ideas.
  • Ask your staff what they would start, stop or continue in your position.
  • Routinely balance out your meetings by discussing both strategic and tactical issues.


  • Make strategic development an exclusive club limited to the higher-ups.
  • Stifle strategic thinking by not being open to and acting on others’ feedback.
  • Try and maintain control by micromanaging.
  • Solely focus on and encourage tactical thinking in meetings.

How has strategic thinking been hindered in your organization? I would love to hear your comments.

Is Your Company Strategy Bold and Compelling?

Often senior executives define strategy in a limited and narrow way. They focus on a vision or a direction, or sometimes even clear, measurable objectives. But to be effective, a strategy needs to encompass all of these.

A solid strategy has to answer the questions:

  • Where are we headed?
  • What are we building?
  • How will we know when we get there?
  • What are we going to focus on to drive our success?
  • What are the key steps to take to address those areas of focus?

Many of the strategies we see in our consulting practice are vague rather than clear.  For example:

‘We want to be world-class’ vs. ‘We want to be leaders in our industry as measured by X’.

The other common flaw we encounter is that many strategic plans exist in a binder on a shelf, but fail to be lived out in the everyday way people work. Is your strategy alive in your leaders’, management’s and staff’s day-to-day actions? Most aren’t.

A truly bold and compelling strategy is ultimately one where staff can see the part they play in its accomplishment and participate daily in its fulfillment.

Is your strategy vague or bold and compelling? I would love to hear your comments.

Talking About What You Are Not Talking About

What do you consider to be the key drivers of your group’s effectiveness? Is it their ability to raise and address difficult issues? Is it their skill at being able to come to alignment on common goals or objectives? Perhaps it’s their ability to subordinate their personal agendas for the common good?

Regardless, the prerequisite for all of these is the ability to have open, honest and straight conversations. It’s not what you can talk about that makes a difference at work, it’s what you can’t. It’s always what you are not dealing with that’s controlling and shaping your team.

If you want things to be different in your organization, then you have to develop the willingness and ability to talk about what you are not talking about. Here’s one way to get started.

In functional groups, ask each member of the team to write down their background conversations (their stories, opinions, judgments, ideas and perceptions) about the company and the other departments within the organization they interact with.

For example: We had one manufacturing group whose background conversation about the engineering group went something like this:

Engineering is always building prototypes, which they design in partnership with the sales group and then take and sell to the customers. But they never consult with us (Manufacturing) about our capacity to build these or seek our input regarding the design.

This leads to customers saying, “Yes, we want that,” and engineering then handing off the design to us and our struggling to deliver what they promised. We resent engineering for not including us in the process and feel like they view us as an obstacle to success. The net result of this is poor customer satisfaction, loss of customers, poor product quality and lots of failures in output.

In order to address this issue, we brought manufacturing and engineering together to discuss their background conversations about each other, and, within 18 months, both profitability and customer satisfaction soared.

The bottom line is that you have to be honest about things that are not working company-wide. If everyone knows people are nervous about layoffs or competition, put it on the table. Discuss it. One of the myths is that you have to always be positive and pump people up. But the most refreshing thing is honesty — both about the good and the bad.