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Matrix Management and Collaborative Communities

Author: ; Published: Mar 28, 2012; Category: Cross-Functional Teams, Matrix Management; Tags: , , , , ; No Comments»


Matrix management presupposes collaborative communities, both within our organizations and among them when they are involved in strategic alliances and other multi-firm endeavors. Indeed, academic contributors are emphasizing the need to develop and nurture collaborative communities within your organization before you seek to form collaborative communities with external partners.  Structurally, this is what I call the “multi-organization matrix” requiring that matrix management be well-practiced in each of the participating enterprises prior to linkage.

A matrix management success factor involves the nurturing of a “shared-fate culture” which both reflects and fosters collaboration among people and the functions they deliver. The successful shared-fate culture requires a clear set of values which promote teamwork and trust. The shared-fate culture presupposes that employees be both willing and able to cooperate with one another. Caution: This condition must not be assumed but instead must be cultivated consciously. 

The oft-overlooked challenge in transforming towards collaborative communities is to avoid fostering a “group think” culture where conformity always trumps creativity. Indeed, a continuum of personalities must be factored. As one example, some employees may be “Dark Angels.” Dark Angels are often high producers who are viewed as significant assets by management precisely because their hard work leads to results, time after time.  However, at the darkest end of this personality continuum such individuals can be more feared than trusted by their colleagues.  Dark Angels can have a poisonous effect upon the formation of a collaborative community, let alone the shared-fate culture. Without reverting to the “cranky genius” caricature, it’s not unheard of for creativity to be accompanied by some anger and/or alienation.  The leadership challenge is to find the right balance where collaboration does not degenerate into quasi-robotic conformity and ensure simultaneously that creativity is heightened rather than stifled. In other words, let’s keep everyone awake – conscious and creative. 

I consult in many environments, particularly R&D but not exclusivel,  where this delicate balance between creativity and community is a near-constant dynamic tension, which must be managed carefully. Pursuing our example, the iconic Dark Angel may harbor disdain for peers, subordinates, and top management. In the end, such disdain limits professional impact and, ultimately, professional advancement – thereby adding to this anger and alienation which will eclipse creativity in the end. We do not assist the Dark Angel, the organization nor ourselves when we fail to coach the Dark Angel into the collaborative community we seek to build. However, we must coach this talent in a way which strengthens rather than weakens their creativity, and which encourages them to participate collaboratively by being themselves – but in a way which permits acceptance of them for who they are and for who they are becoming by the community into which they have been integrated.  A tall order—but it can be done.  Although the Dark Angel is our example for this posting, these principles apply to us all, regardless of where we sit on any chosen continuum of personalities.  Getting to creative and successful collaborative communities requires more than platitudinous exhortations and wishful thinking.  Getting the job done requires genuine leadership, management and careful coaching.


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